Gov. Ron DeSantis recently passed a suite of measures to clean up Florida’s waters and prepare coastal communities for sea-level rise and flooding. But, he never mentioned the word climate change. Why? Politics.
During his first week in office, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced a suite of measures to clean up Florida’s waters and protect its fragile coastlines. The policy calls for $2.5 billion to be spent over the next four years toward Everglades restoration, protection of water resources and an algae bloom task force.
“The protection of water resources is one of the most pressing issues facing our state,” DeSantis said in a press release announcing the measure.
On the campaign trail, DeSantis was criticized by environmentalists for being noncommittal about climate change. Mainly, he felt it was a national, not a state or local government issue.
“I certainly don’t think in Tallahassee, you know, we’re going to be able at the state level to do things that are really global in nature so that’s something that I think is more of a national and international issue,” DeSantis said to a crowd during a visit to Englewood last August.
Ironically, his executive order also calls for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to establish an Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection. The office would provide funding, technical assistance and coordination among state, local and regional entities to help coastal communities prepare for the impacts of sea-level rise.
DeSantis probably knows he doesn’t have a choice. Scientists estimate that sea levels will rise 2-3 feet in South Florida by 2060.
But, why would DeSantis acknowledge the threats of sea-level rise and not climate change?
It’s true that tackling climate change and sea-level rise is going to take bipartisan efforts. But, Florida’s political climate is only becoming more and more polarized. Politically charged words like “climate change” can cost a candidate a primary win.
Dave Jenkins, president of Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship, reminds us that this wasn’t always the case.
“President Reagan was talking about climate change. George H.W. Bush was talking about climate change and how we needed to address it. Margaret Thatcher was sounding the alarm on climate change,” Jenkins told The Marjorie. “There was this acknowledgement that we needed to do something about it.”
But, in the past 30 years, issues related to the environment have skewed more toward the political left. Jenkins said political tribalism, gerrymandering, special interest groups giving more money to the right and prominent voices on talk radio like Rush Limbaugh are to blame for the tone switch.
Jenkins, a lifelong conservative, is on a mission to equip Americans for long-term solutions to climate change and other environmental issues. He spends part of his time on Capitol Hill, helping conservatives craft talking points that resonate with their audiences.
When framing climate change, he is sure to mention the conservation values of President Theodore Roosevelt.
“We are preserving land for our children and grandchildren,” Jenkins reminds his peers.
He also reminds people that landmark environmental bills like the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act had strong bipartisan support.
“That was back in the 70s and they’re still in effect today,” Jenkins said.
Some more recent climate legislation, such as Obama’s Climate Action Plan, was pushed through by way of executive authority. The Trump administration has been actively reversing it.
“But if it was a bipartisan bill that moved through Congress with support from both sides,” Jenkins said, “it would be able to endure the future.”
And, there’s hope for bipartisan support on action to fight climate change.
A study released by the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication found that 73 percent of registered voters believe climate change is happening, and that includes more Republicans than you might think based on today’s media landscape. In fact, 66 percent of Republicans believe climate change is human caused.
Jenkins backs this up. He said that the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act of 2018 has recently been passed in both the House and Senate and was co-sponsored by both Republicans and Democrats.
“This legislation will reduce greenhouse gas pollution by placing a modest fee on carbon intensive fossil fuels to spur innovation and encourage the use of cleaner energy sources,” he writes in a blog post about the legislation.
Jenkins has some advice for conservatives in Florida, a state that is sometimes referred to as ground zero for sea-level rise and climate change.
“[Supporting climate action] shouldn’t be an exception to being a conservative, it should be because you’re a conservative, because of your values. Because [being a] conservative has always been about the long-term, not short-term self interest.”
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