Three years after he held a field hearing in Miami Beach to draw attention to a region at ground zero for climate change, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson convened a second hearing in West Palm Beach on Monday with a new target: the Trump administration’s attack on climate science.
Held just across the Intracoastal Waterway from Mar-a-Lago, President Donald Trump’s vulnerable island retreat, the hearing highlighted worsening conditions — and the need to free science from politics.
“There are people trying to muzzle scientists. I’ve seen it in Washington. I’ve seen it here in the state of Florida,” said Nelson, a Democrat and the state’s former insurance commissioner.
Southeast Florida is often considered a model for planning for climate change as it grapples with sea rise that has increased five to eight inches over the last 40 years. Four counties, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach, formed a compact eight years ago, vowing to work together to make the region more resilient for what could be a nearly three-foot rise by 2060.
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But progress has been slow, in part because South Florida has often been at odds with a Republican-led state and the administration of Gov. Rick Scott, who reportedly banned the term climate change.
Now comes the Trump administration. In recent weeks, Nelson said he has met with supervisors in federal agencies who say the administration has issued the same ban. Worse, he said, the administration has proposed scaling back agencies, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Environmental Protection Agency, that provide critical research and enforce regulations that deal with climate-related problems.
What we need is bipartisan common sense.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-FL
“He’s cutting so many programs that are so helpful, that just doesn’t make sense,” Nelson said. “So what we need is bipartisan common sense.”
To make his case, Nelson lined up some of the region’s experts — University of Miami climate scientist Ben Kirtman, Leonard Berry, former director of Florida Atlantic University’s Center for Environmental Studies and Broward County resiliency chief Jennifer Jurado — to testify Monday.
Much of what was said will come as no surprise to residents used to warnings about climate change. Carbon dioxide, the gas blamed for driving up global temperatures, has more than doubled in the last 150 years, an increase far surpassing the variations documented over the last 40,000 years, Kirtman said. Sea levels that have been stable for the last 3,000 years in Florida have steadily crept up since about 1900.
14 to 34 inchesThe projected sea rise above 1992 mean sea level by 2060
What’s alarming now, Kirtman said, is the shift from an Obama administration that backed climate research to a new administration aimed at ending it.
“If we stop collecting data, that’s truly putting your head in the sand,” he said.
That data becomes even more important as climate-related problems — sea rise, more intense hurricanes and drought — become reality. Much of the research also helps forecast hurricanes, rainfall, drought and other weather events.
Last year, the U.S. suffered 91weather catastrophes that caused $43.9 billion in losses, but only $23.8 billion was covered, said Carl Hedde, head of risk assessment for Munich RE, a global reinsurance company. Property owners picked up the tab on the rest, he said. That’s because the industry forecasts risk, and issues insurance, based on historic events that do not include changes linked to a warming planet and rising seas. To cover those risks, the industry needs data collected by scientists.
We must address climate change on multiple fronts.
Carl Hedde, head of risk accumulation at Munich RE
“We must address climate change on multiple fronts,” he said.
Nelson, who last month introduced a bill to keep politics out of federal research, said he has also met with twice with Vice President Mike Pence in recent weeks to discuss an infrastructure bill to address climate needs. Paying for the work would likely require income tax reforms, he said, that eliminate deductions and loopholes. And just might be needed to keep the winter White House open.
“We are in a state that is growing at a thousand people a day net,” he said. “If our roads and bridges weren’t already at max capacity and debilitated...what it’s going to be like in a few more years. You get the picture.”
Follow Jenny Staletovich on Twitter @jenstaletovich