Three Democratic lawmakers marked Wednesday’s official start of hurricane season with a call for Gov. Ron DeSantis to declare a climate emergency in the state — and do his part to forestall a looming threat to Floridians’ way of life.
Central Florida Reps. Anna Eskamani, Joy Goff-Marcil and Carlos Guillermo Smith were joined on a Zoom press conference Wednesday by two activists sounding the alarm bells — and calling for action from the Governor’s Office.
The three politicians were among 30 state lawmakers who signed an April 21 letter in honor of Earth Day asking for DeSantis to utilize his emergency powers to address the climate crisis.
The letter has not produced a response since it was delivered to the Governor on April 22. But on Wednesday the Governor’s spokeswoman Christina Pushaw labeled the call for an emergency declaration “unserious activism.”
“We aren’t going to respond to partisan criticism like this,” Pushaw wrote in an email. “On the one hand, they assert that the Governor is a ‘dictator’ and make absurdly offensive comparisons to (Fidel) Castro, (Nicolás) Maduro and even Hitler — but on the other hand demand the Governor issues ‘states of emergency’ for a wide variety of problems to unilaterally expand his executive power and authority as actual dictators have done.”
The letter asks DeSantis to recognize Florida’s particular vulnerability to extreme weather events by taking some steps. Among them:
— Form a task force to address systemic change.
— Prohibit fossil fuel extraction in the state and along the coast.
— Encourage rooftop solar panels.
— Enact policies designed to increase the use of electric vehicles and mass transit.
More urgency on the part of Florida’s leaders is needed, the panel argued. The state can’t afford to keep hitting the snooze button on escalating costs posed by water intrusion, extreme weather events that require infrastructure to be rebuilt, coral reef destruction and harmful algae blooms, Wednesday’s panel said.
“There’s been a lot of Band-Aids put in place but there has not been a substantive, systematic shift in how we operate and it’s putting us in a crisis that we have the power to prevent,” Eskamani said, noting the Governor has ridiculed these measures as “left-wing stuff.”
Bruce Strouble, an adjunct professor at Tallahassee Community College and director of Citizens for a Sustainable Future, a Tallahassee-based nonprofit, said those who will feel the greatest effects of the climate crisis are those who can afford it the least. He cited the findings of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that cites Florida’s particular peril.
“We’re a peninsula and that puts us in a unique situation,” he said. “We expect more frequent and impactful inclement weather, storms, hurricanes, droughts, sea-level rise — which is a significant problem particularly in our southern Florida areas and the Miami-Dade County region — species extinction, food shortages. All problems that are already taking place.”
Goff-Marcil cited the exodus of 200,000 Puerto Ricans from that island after Hurricane Maria as a cautionary tale.
“The Governor has the authority to call together the best minds across the state to start this process,” she said. “The longer we wait to act on climate change — which means reducing greenhouse gas emissions and substantial investments in planning infrastructure — the more expensive it will be later.”
“The best time to act is now,” Goff-Marcil added.
Smith said Florida needs to be a leader in investing in clean-energy jobs. And President Joe Biden’s infrastructure law has opportunities for new and flexible funding states could leverage to create training programs for clean-energy employment.
“These are not blue-collar or white-collar jobs,” he said. “These are red, white and blue jobs.”
Pushaw, however, says Gov. DeSantis’ environmental record speaks for itself, but rejected the idea that policies could impact Florida’s extreme weather events.
“Unfortunately, no state government can possibly enact policies that change the weather,” she said. “But Florida has world-class disaster preparedness and response capabilities shaped and tested by the natural disasters that have impacted our state throughout history.”