Editorial: Climate change report: It’s the Florida economy, stupid

Florida is no stranger to bad news when it comes to climate change. The state has pretty much established itself as ground zero for its negative effects.

However, no matter how many times scientists have warned of the Sunshine State’s world-famous beaches flooding due to rising sea levels, they’ve gotten comparatively little rise out of state government and business leaders.

As a new report released last week shows, however, Florida is also No. 1 when it comes to property and economic exposure from global warming. And, as the new projections from the nonpartisan Risky Business Project suggest, the coming damage is not so far off that many of us won’t see it.

That’s a bit scary.

Here are some real numbers: Florida, along with the rest of the Southeast, will have up to 62 days per year over 95 degrees by 2050. By the end of the century, that number will likely double.

As a result, sea levels are projected to rise anywhere from 6 to 10 feet this century. Florida currently has some 2.4 million residents living within 4 feet of sea level

“Florida faces more risk than any other state that private, insurable property could be inundated by high tide, storm surge and sea-level rise. By 2030, up to $69 billion in coastal property will likely be at risk of inundation at high tide that is not at risk today. By 2050, the value of property below local high tide levels will increase to up to about $152 billion,” the report says.

Again, this is not a problem for tomorrow. The consequences are already mounting along the Florida coasts from Miami to St. Augustine, with flooding into the storm drains and saltwater intrusion into drinking water supplies.

We’ve heard those grim tales before. But the Risky Business Report also highlights the threats to Florida industries — including real estate, manufacturing and agriculture. Even our natural resources and energy infrastructure are at risk.

According to the report, rising temperatures will destroy significant portions of the state’s agricultural production. Indeed, the rising temperatures may kill the viability of what is left of Palm Beach County’s beloved Agricultural Reserve.

Expect sustained high temperatures to also put a huge strain on energy and water. Increased use of air conditioning and other cooling systems will put a strain on the energy supply, and likely produce a sharp increase in costs. While Southeast Florida will probably see a 4 percent to 12 percent increase, the report notes that energy prices are volatile and costs could rise even faster.

In laying out the consequences of inaction in economic terms, here’s what the report also does: calls out the business community. And the Risky Business Project’s leaders — former U.S. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, former New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and hedge fund maven Tom Steyer — are the right people to do it.

Their message of policymakers and business leaders working together to mitigate the effects from a changing climate is a good one. Business folks understand risk. They have better access to the ear of government leaders — especially our climate change denier governor, Rick Scott (“I am not a scientist”) — who can mandate the changes needed to protect this state, its economy and residents.

A joint public-private response can ensure policies that begin lowering emissions, changing building codes and using more sustainable methods in development, industry and agriculture. It will take a statewide effort to address it. And we have had ample warning.

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