For the last five years my wife and I have been blessed to call southwest Florida our home. It's a beautiful place with abundant opportunities to enjoy and thrive in God's good creation. (For me this includes chasing down snook and tarpon in my kayak.)
But it's also a vulnerable place, so over the years I've been involved in helping conserve and protect the health of our land and waters. I've volunteered with various organizations to protect sea turtles and gopher tortoises; I've helped gather data about the health of sea life in coastal regions affected by human impact.
But climate change is a much bigger threat than any of us can address on our own, and we're already experiencing the rising health, economic, and environmental costs of inaction. We need our political leaders -- beginning with Gov. Rick Scott or his successor -- to join us in tackling the diverse challenges and seizing the rich opportunities that climate change brings.
Gov. Scott used to assert that he was unconvinced about the science of climate change. Most recently he appeared to nuance his position by saying simply, "I'm not a scientist." Fair enough. Gov. Scott is not a scientist. But he's supposed to be our leader, and a good leader would listen to the consensus of our best scientists. Contrary to the false impressions presented by one cable news network, they agree nearly unanimously that climate change is real and human-induced and demands bold action.
With Congress too gridlocked to act, and backed by rulings from the Supreme Court, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced draft standards that would limit and reduce emissions from the largest source of carbon pollution in America: power plants. These proposed standards are significant but pragmatic and have been written to give states considerable flexibility in coming up with the required compliance plans.
Florida has to develop a plan that will reduce our emissions by 38.3 percent over the next 15 years, from 1,200 pounds of CO2 per MWh of electricity in 2012 (the chosen benchmark year) to 740 pounds of CO2 per MWh in 2030. So Gov. Scott has a critical role to play here, and the EPA's carbon standards present him with a timely and tangible opportunity to make Florida a much-needed leader in climate action, not a laggard.
In the recently released National Climate Assessment, our country's foremost experts laid out the climate impacts we have experienced and will continue to experience in our lifetimes and those of future generations. Here are some of the points that the assessment makes concerning Florida in particular:
- Stronger and more devastating hurricanes (categories 4 and 5) "have increased substantially since the early 1980s" and are projected to continue worsening. We in Florida are only too aware of the damage that major hurricanes such as Wilma, Katrina, Jeanne, Ivan, Frances, Andrew, and many others have caused.
This is a sombre list. Add to it a precipitous drop in real-estate values as these impacts intensify and you have a nightmare scenario. We have already locked in some of the consequences of climate pollution, and we should be preparing for further impacts, but thankfully we can still avoid a great deal of harm by choosing the right path forward today.
The carbon standards being proposed by the EPA are an important step in the right direction. Now it's up to the states to respond.
Like Gov. Scott, I am not a scientist. That's why I listen to the testimony of scientists who know much more than I, and they agree that global warming is real and poses a historic threat to human civilization. As a Christian I see protection of God's creation as a spiritual responsibility and an expression of my faith. That's why I'm asking Gov. Scott and other leaders across our beautiful state to take advantage of the opportunity that these new carbon standards presents: an opportunity to transform and strengthen our economy, protect our natural heritage, safeguard our children's future, and once again make Florida the climate leader we can and should be.