Florida GOP Gov. DeSantis denies science as state faces climate change-fueled disasters

834

'We're not seeing a whole lot of common sense in his policies. He tends to toss aside serious ideas about climate change as just left-wing politics,' said Sierra Club Florida political director Luigi Guadarrama.

Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has been energetically whittling away at civil rights in his state, pursuing anti-LGBTQ policies, pushing intolerance and censorship in schools, and restricting voting rights.

The U.S. Supreme Court's decision on June 30 in West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency will factor into another ideological battle the governor is fighting. Representatives of environmental groups in Florida told the Tampa Bay Times that the ruling, which restricts the EPA's ability to limit emissions from power plants, will have specific impacts on Florida. Susan Glickman of Florida Clinicians for Climate Action said, "It will slow Florida's transition to getting to zero carbon emissions" but added that "some of the transition to clean energy which is already underway will continue under its own momentum."

DeSantis has signed legislation during his term in office allocating resources for restoring the everglades and for sea-level rise preparedness. However, he has not addressed the overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change is real and caused by the burning of fossil fuels, facts that a majority of Republicans in Congress, for example, deny are true as well.

Luigi Guadarrama, the political director of the Sierra Club's Florida chapter, said in an interview with the American Independent Foundation that DeSantis' support for so-called resiliency programs "makes him seem as if he's got environmental policies. But climate change is something around which there is scientific consensus. We're not seeing a whole lot of common sense in his policies. He tends to toss aside serious ideas about climate change as just 'left-wing politics,' not expert opinions from scientists." 

During a press conference in December 2021, DeSantis accused advocates for the environment of having ulterior political motives and claimed that there has been no increase in the number of storms due to climate change:

What I've found is, people, when they start talking about things like global warming, they typically use that as a pretext to do a bunch of left-wing things that they would want to do anyways. And so, we're not doing any left-wing stuff. What we're doing though is just reacting to the fact that, OK, we're a flood-prone state, we do have storms. I don't know that, we really haven't had more storms in the last 10-15 years than we had in other portions of — you can pick different periods, we've had a lot. But the bottom line is, this is something that has a huge impact. As our state becomes more populated, of course there's more property that can be damaged, there's more human lives that would be at stake. ... Be very careful of people trying to smuggle in their ideology. They say they support our coastline or they say they support, you know, some, you know, difference, our water, environment, and maybe they do, but they're also trying to do a lot of other things, and if you look at the price of gas now, just imagine if they had their way, gas would be six or seven bucks a gallon, and we need to make sure people are able to have affordable energy.

However, recent studies have provided evidence for an increase in the frequency and intensity of strong hurricanes, to which Florida is vulnerable, as a direct result of fossil fuel-driven climate change. Michael Mann, a climate scientist at  Penn State University, told Reuters, "There has been more uncertainty about the trends in tropical cyclone numbers." Evidence shows, he said, that "these will continue to increase, as long as we continue to warm the planet through fossil fuel burning and carbon pollution." 

The Yale Center for Environmental Communication's Yale Climate Connections website ran a climate explainer story in 2019 that concluded "threats from tropical systems, and in particular from the most intense cyclones, are increasing. This trend will continue for the foreseeable future. Although some of these anticipated impacts are already baked into our warmer climate, the most serious escalations can still be averted. The only remedy is a rapid decarbonization of our economy and a society that is better prepared for threats coming our way."

In April, the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its latest conclusions on climate change, noting, "Net anthropogenic GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions have increased since 2010 across all major sectors globally. An increasing share of emissions can be attributed to urban areas. Emissions reductions in CO2 from fossil fuels and industrial processes (CO2-FFI), due to improvements in energy intensity of GDP and carbon intensity of energy, have been less than emissions increases from rising global activity levels in industry, energy supply, transport, agriculture and buildings." U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres warned:

We are on a fast track to climate disaster: Major cities under water. Unprecedented heatwaves. Terrifying storms. Widespread water shortages. The extinction of a million species of plants and animals. This is not fiction or exaggeration. It is what science tells us will result from our current energy policies. ... Some government and business leaders are saying one thing – but doing another. Simply put, they are lying. And the results will be catastrophic. This is a climate emergency. Climate scientists warn that we are already perilously close to tipping points that could lead to cascading and irreversible climate impacts.

These are issues that hit Florida hard. The state is low-lying, with what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration calculates as 8,436 miles of coastline vulnerable to sea level rise and an aging demographic especially at risk from hotter, more humid conditions. A serious threat is salt water intrusion, jeopardizing freshwater resources like the Biscayne aquifer, which provides drinking water to 4.5 million people in Dade County. 

DeSantis' promotion of measures to confront sea-level rise, among other environmental challenges, is good Florida politics: Guadarrama said that most Floridians support, for example, bans on offshore natural gas drilling. Environmental spending was a key issue in DeSantis' 2018 campaign for governor. 

In May of this year DeSantis signed into law S.B. 1954, establishing a Resilient Florida Grant Program within the state's Department of Environmental Protection to help local governments plan programs for dealing with sea rise and mandating a statewide assessment of vulnerability to sea level rise and the allocation of resources to vulnerable areas. 

DeSantis in May also signed H.B. 7053, which shifts the Statewide Office of Resilience from the state environmental protection department to the direct control of the governor; however, the Legislature blocked amendments submitted by Democrats that would have required actions aimed at achieving carbon neutrality and reducing "the root causes ... of sea level rise and flooding."

Sierra Club Florida acting director Deborah Foote stated in March 2021: "Governor DeSantis continues to avoid the important issues of addressing climate change by ending our dependence on dirty fuels and transitioning Florida to 100% clean energy. There isn't enough money in all of Florida to raise our roads, elevate buildings or create higher seawalls to avoid the impact of sea level rise."

Nikki Fried, Florida's commissioner of agriculture and a Democratic candidate for governor, tweeted on June 30 that the Supreme Court ruling in West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency "is a dangerous setback. We're in a race against time to minimize and avoid the host of calamities that will ensue if we fail to act on climate change, and Florida is ground zero for climate change"

Fried's opponent in the primary, former Florida governor and current House member Charlie Crist, tweeted: "Floridians feel impacts of the #ClimateCrisis daily. Today's SCOTUS ruling throws Florida under the bus by curtailing @EPA's ability to regulate harmful emissions from power plants. This is unacceptable - we can't continue to stick our heads in the sand!"

The Sierra Club's Guadarrama says that the governor's race will be tight. But, he said, "Floridians know that climate change is not theoretical anymore. It is here and now. They are motivated by this, especially the younger voters." 

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.