Economic Yearbook 2007 - Global Warming
Can Florida become a model for how U.S. states adapt to climate change?
Across Europe these days, debate rages over how nations and states should prepare for a changing climate, particularly rising sea levels that will test waterfront cities from Venice to Amsterdam. Governments and insurance companies alike have started telling residents there that they'll have to make more drastic lifestyle changes than just switching to efficient light bulbs or hybrid cars. Serious questions about whether citizens can keep building homes on islands and near lowlands are the order of the day.
In the U.S., the discussion has been less urgent. Only this year have Americans begun dropping the question mark from their conversations about global warming, with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stressing in its latest five-year report that global warming is "unequivocal" and "very likely" man-made. The panel, representing 600 scientists in more than 100 countries, estimated in its February report a 3.5- to 8- degree increase in average surface temperatures, and a 7- to 23-inch sea-level rise, by 2100. Faster-than-expected melting of ice in Greenland and Antarctica could mean much higher seas.
Florida, with its already-hot summers and 1,400-mile coastline, clearly has a lot to lose in a world of warming temperatures and rising oceans. Early signs of global warming in the state include drought and increased forest fires, eroding shorelines, dying coral reefs, saltwater intrusion into inland freshwater aquifers and dying trees in low-lying areas such as Cedar Key, says Stephen Mulkey, director of special projects at the School of Natural Resources and the Environment at the University of Florida and science adviser to the Century Commission for a Sustainable Florida, which is charged with focusing longterm on Florida's essential interests.
According to a report to the Century Commission by the Virginia-based Institute for Alternative Futures, Florida has lagged as states from California to Texas to Maine have forged policies that now include greenhouse gas emission targets; carbon caps or offset requirements for power plants; climate-action plans; regional climate initiatives; greenhouse-gas reporting and registries; and state green-building standards. Given the state's vulnerability, "it is striking that Florida is not a leader of states responding to climate change," Mulkey says.