Environment

South Florida at forefront of climate planning, top U.S. scientist says

White House chief scientist John Holdren, provided an overview of the findings that the National Climate Assessment released earlier this year during the annual climate summit held Wednesday on Miami Beach.
White House chief scientist John Holdren, provided an overview of the findings that the National Climate Assessment released earlier this year during the annual climate summit held Wednesday on Miami Beach. Miami Herald Staff

A week before a seasonal high tide is expected to soak Miami Beach, the White House’s chief science adviser visited the city Wednesday to praise regional leaders for their work on climate change.

“What’s going on... here is really a model for what we need to see going on around the country,” John Holdren told an audience of about 650 at the Sixth Annual Southeast Florida Climate Leadership Summit at the Miami Beach Convention Center.

Holdren, who last month landed on The Daily Show after skirmishing with the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology over polar ice melt, got a decidedly warmer welcome at the gathering that drew a wide audience from government, private industry and nonprofits.

The summit, part of a compact forged four years ago among South Florida’s four counties, serves as annual wrap-up and rallying cry for addressing threats from climate change. The two-day event features about a dozen panels on public policy and and planning.

This year, the conference coincides with a renewed push to address climate change. Activists descended on Manhattan last week for a march that preceded a United Nations summit where President Barack Obama singled out South Florida as one of the country’s more vulnerable regions. And on Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson told trustees of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce that he planned to show a group of senators flooding on Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale next week.

In his address, Holdren ran down a laundry list of climate-related risks from rising temperatures to worsening storms. Sitting just feet above sea level, South Florida is particularly vulnerable to both flooding and saltwater tainting water supplies.

Because porous limestone lies under Florida, controlling water can be tricky, Tommy Strowd, director of operations for the Lake Worth Drainage District and a former deputy director at the South Florida Water Management District, told the group. The system of canals and flood control structures built a half century ago to drain the Everglades that covered much of South Florida only made matters worse.

To address threats, the White House has taken a number of steps, from setting carbon limits on power plants to committing $1 billion to Everglades restoration, said policy adviser Mike Boots, who chairs the White House Council on Environmental Quality. In March, the administration also released federal data hoping to encourage scientists and private industry to come up with solutions.

“We do not have the luxury of time on this issue, so we need you... to keep acting boldly,” he told the group.

Holdren said afterward he considers South Florida a leader on the issue because it is one of the few regions that has formed a compact.

“Not that South Florida is the only place, but it’s really a great collaboration,” he said. “We’ve made a lot of progress, but we have a lot more to do.”

Miami Herald staff writer David Smiley contributed to this report.

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