Fred Grimm

South Florida’s mayors face reality of rising seas and climate change

Once again, it was the mayors taking on climate change. It was the mayors talking green energy, carbon footprints and the urgent need to rebuild Florida’s vulnerable infrastructure before an encroaching sea overwhelms seaside communities.

And not a governor in sight.

On Wednesday, mayors from Miami, Pinecrest, South Miami, Key Biscayne, Cutler Bay and Palmetto Bay (along with Miami-Dade Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava) gathered at Pinecrest Gardens to embrace the Sierra Club’s 100 percent clean municipal energy goal. One after another, they talked, and proudly, about commitments to solar power, electric cars, charging stations, walkable streets, bike paths, smart growth, wetland preservation, energy efficiency. They spoke of redesigning sewers, drainage canals, water systems, streets to prepare for rising sea levels.

And not a climate change denier in the bunch.

In January, 15 Florida mayors wrote to Sen. Marco Rubio, begging him to face the reality of climate change. On March 4, 21 Florida mayors signed letters sent to moderators of the upcoming Democratic and Republican debates describing their common concern “about sea level rise and climate change,” and saying that it “would be unconscionable for these issues of grave concern for the people of Florida to not be addressed in the upcoming debate.”

Five days later, the Miami Herald featured an op-ed by Republican mayors Tomás Regalado of Miami and James Cason of Coral Gables, declaring that “for us and most other public officials in South Florida, climate change is not a partisan talking point. It’s a looming crisis that we must deal with — and soon.”

The two mayors warned: “The overwhelming scientific consensus is that the rising sea levels are caused by the planet warming, that the burning of fossil fuels is driving this warming, and that we need to act quickly to avoid the worst impacts ahead.”

Back in 2010, city and county governments from Miami-Dade, Broward, Monroe and Palm Beach counties, with scant support from state government, formed the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact to take on the global warming crisis. (President Obama called the compact “a model not just for the country, but for the world.”)

Because local government leaders, water lapping over local roads and sidewalks, know that political prevarication has become akin to municipal suicide.

This sense of emergency shared by the mayors makes for a bizarre contrast to our state leadership. Gov. Rick Scott has donned the mantel as Florida’s denier in chief. (Happily proving it with his veto pen.)

Florida’s other leading Florida Republican, Sen. Rubio, once talked about making Florida “the Silicon Valley” of green energy. All that was abandoned when the ever changeable Rubio’s ambition for higher office led him to embrace the tea party’s militant denial of climate science.

Rubio must find it a bit disconcerting as he limps back home from his failed political campaign to a community where the civic leadership, Republican and Democrat, has utterly rejected his “I am not a scientist” approach to the climate crisis.

Mayors — unlike senators or governors or presidential candidates — can’t afford such foolishness.