Republicans and Democrats Together on Climate Change...in Florida

It's easy to forget that climate change hasn't always been  such a partisan issue. This is Mitt Romney, current Republican front-runner, in 2003: “I think the global warming debate is now pretty much over and people recognize the need associated with providing sources [of energy] which do not generate the heat that is currently provided by fossil fuels.”

Good luck trying to get him to say anything remotely similar today. The closer he gets to leading the Republicans in the next US election, the more he is distancing himself from climate policy.

But an article by Micheal Lemonick on Yale's E360 shows unlikely partnerships forming between Republicans and Democrats in the US as lower levels of government begin to tackle the need to climate proof their cities and counties.

The piece, which focuses on Florida, is interesting in its own right. I've included some excerpts below.

But the question that it leaves me with is: what will the start of local adaptation planning mean for the politics of climate change at the federal level? Can Republican politicians in the House and the Senate continue to block climate action, while their colleagues at the state and county level are working to protect coastal properties, and deal with declining agricultural yields, and shrinking water supplies?

Looking into this a bit more, I was hoping to find a map overlaying different climate change impact scenarios. No dice. (If anyone has , please send it my way). What I did find was a thought-provoking piece by Jim Tankersley over at Slate's Climate Desk. Working with a 2010 report from The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Tankersley looks at how the US political landscape could shift as changes in climate become more significant. Among other things, he summarizes:

“Both major political parties could see their power bases erode as Americans, responding to warming temperatures and rising seas, flee the Republican-dominated South and Democratic-friendly coasts. Drought in the Southwest could reignite water wars between California suburbanites and Rocky Mountain swing voters. In Iowa, where floodwaters will rise more often and corn yields could suffer from heat waves and insect plagues, wanna-be presidential contenders could end up talking FEMA as much as the farm bill.”

The Slate article looks all the way out to 2035, and the shifts it discusses are massive. What's interesting to me is that we are already seeing a political shift around climate change in areas that are on the leading edge of feeling its impacts. If Republican and Democrat politicians at the county level are working together on climate – when will the pressure mount for their federal counterparts to do the same? As it happens, Florida is a swing state. So real attention to climate change there could have an impact well before 2035.

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From: Florida Counties Band Together To Ready for Warming’s Effects


[Faced with inaction at the State and Federal level] the four county commissions — two dominated by Democrats and two by Republicans — signed on to what would come to be known as the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Compact. They began holding their own annual summits starting in 2009, working toward the goal of a unified action plan to limit local emissions of greenhouse gases and, because there’s no good reason to believe worldwide emissions will slow down any time soon, to protect themselves against the changes that are already happening.

It didn’t hurt, says Murley, that “we live under constant climate events.” Much of South Florida is crisscrossed with drainage canals, built to turn swampland into solid ground. The canals were built at a time when sea level was lower; now, during particularly high tides, or in the aftermath of heavy rains, the canals can’t drain properly into the ocean. “We get water backing up along the beaches,” he says. “People see that and they ask officials, ‘What’s going on?’”

Rising seas have also begun to have an impact on drinking water, as the salty ocean forces itself into underground aquifers. City planners all along the coast are now laying out plans to retreat from the contamination by drilling new wells further inland. “The point,” says Murley, “is that you can do all sorts of adaptation [to climate change] without using the term” — raising coastal roadbeds, for example, in the name of highway improvement rather than climate adaptation, even though that’s what it really is. The pumps installed by the South Florida Water Management District on some of the region’s canals to handle backups during high tide or torrential rains are another good example.

image: huffington post

Comments

3 Responses to "Republicans and Democrats Together on Climate Change...in Florida"

David Pritchard said... 24 January 2012 at 21:12

Alex - If you want a "cute" take on what climate change might do to American politics 30-40 years out, try reading "Ultimatum" by Matthew Glass. It's a straight-up political thriller covering a bland Obama-esque politician's attempt to deal with climate issues in the near future, from coastal evacuations to US-China negotiations. The prose is... well, at the Tom Clancy level. But the political analysis is spot-on and it's a very readable take on what the future likely has in store.

Alex Aylett said... 25 January 2012 at 10:36

Thanks David,
Good to read you - it's been a while!
I just downloaded a sample for my Kindle. I'm looking forward to checking it out.

Alex Aylett said... 25 January 2012 at 10:39

By the way, I'm going to be in Toronto in a few weeks. Send me an e-mail, it would be great to see you.

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This is a blog for news and views on the future of sustainable cites. A major revamp is in the works. Until then I am keeping this version up as an archive of my past writing.

You can expect occasional updates, but not with the same frequency as in the past.

You can also find my writing on urban redesign and sustainability in ReNew Canada, The Mark, Sustainable Cities Canada, WorldChanging, and other more specialized academic publications.

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