The terrible devastation wrought by Hurricane Ian on Florida’s southwest coast — among the most powerful hurricanes to hit Florida in a century — has been wrenching to watch even from afar: so many lives lost, homes shattered and livelihoods swept away by the storm surge, winds of up to 150 miles per hour and flooding rains. The single comfort has been seeing Floridians rise to the challenge working around the clock, united and determined to make things better for their neighbors.
In such a terrible disaster as this, one obvious question arises: What can be done to prevent such calamitous consequences from storms in the future? Officials in Florida and other states affected by Ian and the Atlantic hurricane season, including South Carolina, have begun taking stock of the ways evacuation orders were handled and safety precautions taken. But a critical component is missing from these discussions: climate change.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has appointed men and women to help the state adapt to sea level rise, protect its coasts and prepare for storms, but he and many other Republicans in the state actively oppose efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, often criticizing such talk as left-wing zealotry. They acknowledge that rising tides and worsening weather are real but express no interest whatsoever in reducing the human-made circumstances that scientists recognize as having made such events more powerful and more frequent.
Storms like Ian are intensified by warming oceans. That’s just a scientific fact. And burning fossil fuels has so increased the levels of carbon and other harmful gases in atmosphere, that the greenhouse effect has worsened. That’s undeniable, too. So at what point does refusing to advocate for reducing greenhouse gas emissions stop being a political two-step for a man who wants to be the next president of the United States and, instead, become a kind of suicide-pact? While it is surely not within Florida’s power to reduce global carbon emissions, it is easily within the power of the state’s elected leaders, and anyone else who cares about its residents, to call for those reductions at the local, state, national and international level. Floridians facing disaster must care enough to lobby for energy conservation or similar measures.
The timing stinks, of course. With the midterm election fast approaching, it’s difficult to get politicians to speak on difficult subjects in any terms other than political party talking points. And it’s not necessarily even in the interests of Democrats to press a Republican-leaning state in their hour of need. How does that translate on television — as compassion and wisdom or political brinkmanship? There is nothing wrong with focusing on the immediate needs of the survivors. But if that’s all we do, what will be the cost?
If events like this don’t rally Americans to the cause of dealing with climate change, of essentially warding off future disaster, we will lose far more lives than were lost in Florida this past week as the effects of unchecked climate change march on.
The warning signs are all around. Floridians put their faith in the science of weather forecasts, and it saved lives. To ignore the science of climate change now would be to give credence to the claim that it’s all about politics and not about facts. And the harm that does extends far beyond the shores of Florida.
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