Obama’s Florida Visit Will Hopefully Bridge Local, State and National Climate Action
Today, President Obama is visiting South Florida and the Everglades to draw attention to the impacts that climate change and sea-level rise are having on one of our national treasures. He won’t just find rising seas, though—he’ll witness bipartisan, local governments rolling up their sleeves and working to increase resiliency and help minimize future impacts.
At the local level, people are not bickering about the existence of climate change or whether to address it. They’re on the frontlines of climate change, seeking to implement solutions to the already visible impacts that threaten both the landscape and private property. Consider the following:
Florida is the most vulnerable state to sea level rise, and its coastal counties represent three-fourths of the state’s population and generate nearly 80 percent of its annual economy.
Miami has the largest amount of exposed assets and the fourth-largest population vulnerable to sea level rise in the world.
Saltwater intrusion has reached several miles inland in places like Fort Lauderdale, and has forced city officials in Hallandale Beach to abandon six of their eight drinking water wells.
Miami Beach has begun upgrading their stormwater drainage system, a project that is expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars over the next five years to reduce flooding that now occurs from high tide events alone.
As ground zero for sea level rise, Southeast Florida’s local communities are showing considerable leadership. The Southeast Florida Regional Climate Compact, made up of four counties representing 5.6 million people, provides a model of bipartisan collaboration to address the impacts of climate change and its root causes through a comprehensive plan of 110 action items they are working to implement.
Local Communities Are at the Forefront of Climate Impacts and Action
Southeast Florida is not alone in showing this type of local leadership. Rising seas in Hampton Roads, Va. are not only threatening cities, but jeopardize the region’s numerous waterfront military facilities, including the largest naval base in the world. So city managers, planners and bipartisan elected officials are now collaborating to protect the community and military assets through initiatives like an intergovernmental planning pilot project that involves the Department of Defense, City of Norfolk and Old Dominion University. In California, record warm temperatures and drought conditions covering 98 percent of the state have contributed to reducing average snowpack to a record-low 6 percent. Local leaders like the Republican Mayor of San Diego, Kevin Faulconer, are taking action by incorporating greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction goals and resiliency in their climate action plans. And places like Dane County, Wis. and Philadelphia, Pa. have developed strategies to deal with heavy precipitation that’s increased by 37 percent and 71 percent in the Midwest and Northeast, respectively, since the late 1950s.
Local Communities Need Support at the State and National Levels
The president realizes that these communities need support at the federal level, which is why the second pillar of his Climate Action Plan involved establishing a Task Force of local elected officials around climate preparedness and resilience. The administration has since acted on key recommendations from the Task Force, including recently creating the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard, which will help improve the nation’s resiliency by mandating all future federal investments account for higher flood elevation standards.
But Communities Need More Help
Yet current local action is still not enough to overcome the climate change challenge. Following through on the administration’s initiatives to curb carbon pollution are vitally important to avoiding the worst of future climate impacts. The Clean Power Plan is a significant step in the right direction, aiming to cut emissions from power plants, the largest source of carbon pollution in the country. Local, state and national leaders serious about addressing climate threats will need to support solutions like these to curb carbon pollution and protect communities across the country.
While there is much to applaud in places like South Florida, this local leadership has still not penetrated the state and national dialogue. Florida is the poster child for both the best and the worst in this paradigm – with model, pragmatic, bipartisan cooperation and real solutions being put forward locally, but also failure to show appropriate responsiveness at the state and national levels.
Hopefully, continuing to increase the visibility of both the severity of the impacts and the local leadership to address them—as President Obama is doing today—will help unlock the political logjam in Congress and spur action at the state and national levels. Communities need leaders to step up to the plate both with resources for local resiliency and additional measures to curb carbon pollution. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait too long to see the reality of climate impacts trump partisan ideology at all levels of government.