Gov. Rick Scott faces a pivotal moment in his term today when he meets with climate scientists for 30 minutes, after being shamed into the encounter by rival Charlie Crist who agreed to meet with the academics after Scott demurred.
“As scientists, we’re map makers and policymakers like Gov. Scott are the navigators. He needs to tell us where to go,’’ said David Hastings, professor of marine science and chemistry at Eckerd College.
Hastings is one of the state’s top scientists from the Florida universities and colleges who sent a letter to the governor last month, asking for a chance to be able to explain the impact human-induced global warming will have on Florida.
“Regarding climate change in this state, we have been leaderless,’’ Hastings told the Herald/Times. “The challenge now is that the Climate Action Plan that the EPA has put forward requires us to take some action – we have to reduce emissions by 38 percent in 15 years. That’s not very long and so the governor at this point needs to set up a transparent process.”
The governor initially denied the impact of human-induced global warming when he first ran for office in 2010,saying he has "not been convinced that there's any man-made climate change."
He has since been reluctant to engage on the issue, answering only, "I’m not a scientist,’’ when he was asked about it.
“This is his moment for leadership, and it’s his moment to demonstrate to his constituents that he cares – and that he understands it,’’ Hastings said. “His role is to understand these things.”
After Scott initially announced that his staff would meet with the scientists, he agreed to personally meet with them after Crist, the former governor and Democratic candidate for governor, announced he would have a meeting with the experts.
Crist said he’s already a “believer” in climate change but said he listened to a scientific presentation in July to underscore the differences between him and his rival. After the meeting, Scott's campaign noted that Crist flew to the press conference on a plane owned by James Finch, owner of Phoenix Construction whom Scott volunteers called a polluter.
Will the governor continue to do what he has carefully done this year and avoid taking a position that would inform Floridians where he will lead the state as it faces federal deadlines to address EPA rules to lower carbon emissions?
Will he let the climate experts persuade him that action is needed to avoid the rising tides that imperil its shores. Or will he tell them their thinking is wrong, pushing back in a fervent defense like the conservatives oil industry leaders such as the Koch Brothers?
Scott told reporters Tuesday he is looking forward to "listening to their solutions."
The scientists, who are the top in their fields at the universities of Miami, Florida State, Florida International and Eckerd College, plan to show the governor a few slides and convince the governor that “this is not complicated,’’ Hastings said. “We teach this to 18-year-olds every year and I’ve been doing it for 25 years. It’s not hard science.”
Scott and his environmental officials face new deadlines under President Obama’s Climate Action Plan. Under the plan, the Environmental Protection Agency has required that Florida reduce greenhouse gas emissions from future and existing power plants by specific levels by 2030.
Under those rules, Florida must prepare a plan to reduce it greenhouse gas emissions by about 38 percent by 2030 within the year.
According to the EPA, Florida has the 13th lowest historical fossil fuel emissions of any state. But the EPA gives the advantage to other states over Florida when calculating the 2030 standard because Florida doesn't have a robust plans to increase renewable energy output and displace coal-fired fuel generation.
A study by the environmental consulting firm the Brattle Group calculated that the EPA rule will require Florida to reduce its CO2 levels by more than 40 million tons, at a cost of about $1.3 billion.
Hastings said that while science is often blurred by lack of consensus, this is an issue that “is very clear.”
The ability of science to use sophisticated technology to determine the shift in global temperatures and the rise of carbon in the atmosphere presents an irrefutable picture that “it is in fact human induced,’’ Hastings said.
He noted that Miami Beach streets flood on a regular basis as the tide rises and it will cost hundreds of millions of dollars to remedy those concerns.
“Florida is ground zero for climate change,’’ Hastings said. “Not only sea level rise, we’re looking at increased intensity of hurricanes. We need to be concerned about our coral reefs that are affected by increase in temperature and increased acidity of the ocean. All around us we see Florida being affected by the impact of climate change.”
Because climate change is a planetary problem that requires collaboration with other states and nations, and leadership, he said. “We can change something.’’
He compared it to driving on a freeway, seeing a car stopped in front of you. “You don’t sit there and have a conversation about what to do. You slam on the brakes right away even if you think you may still hit the car.
“…This is a great time to act and I’m so looking forward to what Gov. Scott will do,’’ he said.