(Context Florida) On climate change adaptation, the hour is very late.
Only seven years ago the mainstream media began reporting the likelihood that warming temperatures at the arctic extremes could begin releasing vast quantities of methane gas into the atmosphere, with its potential to rapidly double the amount of global warming gases already overloading the atmosphere. With a summer that has produced astoundingly high temperatures and forest fires in arctic North, that hypothesis is coming to pass.
It is no surprise that climate scientists, as a result of data pouring in, are beginning to publicly express what they privately experience: despair.
So what is the single, effective step that President Barack Obama could take on climate change?
Obama has already inveighed in language approaching that of Pope Francis about the risks and moral imperative to recognize climate change as an existential threat. The response by the Republican Congress is to propose legislation prohibiting federal scientists, the Pentagon, and U.S .military from talking about climate change. (In Florida, on that front, Gov. Rick Scott beat them to the punch.)
Obama has issued an executive order — also challenged by Republicans — to press operating changes on industries to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. It’s not enough.
He should step up to the bully pulpit and demand more: a fundamental rearrangement of the nation’s utilities. Climate change is not waiting for Americans to take incremental steps toward change.
This will be hard because a lot of political capital exchanged between the nation’s utilities and the president on his way to the White House. However, Obama does consult the foremost experts on climate change. He reads threat summaries from the military and understands the terrible outcomes for his children’s generation and beyond because of global warming.
Unless he takes on the utilities, he will be remembered for not doing enough.
In his ascent to the bully pulpit on this point the president should take energy from states he won during his campaigns. States such as Florida have gone backward on climate change adaptation because of a gerrymandered Republican majority in the state Legislature and an intransigent governor.
Florida Power and Light, for example, is a wealthy, stubborn utility obstructing consumer adoption of solar power. In Florida, residents have been forced to mount a statewide ballot referendum to force the Legislature to free up solar energy to consumers; an avenue of incentives shuttered by Republicans in this year’s Regular Legislative Session.
Some of us blinked at the Fourth of July news that a young Maine man — to amuse his friends — lit a firework mortar on his head and killed himself instantly. You want to shake the nearest teenager and ask, how stupid can anyone be? But isn’t that what adults are doing with the politics of climate change and our failure to act? Our willingness to let utilities determine our future course of action based on past financial performance is like lighting that firework mortar on the top of our collective head.
President Obama must take on the nation’s utilities now.
There’s a reason solar panels are not on every unused industrial park warehouse in the Sunshine State, like the ones you see when you fly into Miami International Airport. Florida Power and Light is blocking solar energy owned, maintained and transacted by private entities.
Please, Mr. President, you have run your final election and civilization is running for survival: Make it clear that how our nation produces and consumes electricity and transports goods and services has never been an affair of the “free market” and less so now, than ever, given the threats. In delivering this message you will have no help from the GOP but you must speak to the American people and not to their politics: This is your last chance to define how you will be remembered as president by every child you kiss and hug for the rest of your life.
Get on the bully pulpit. Take on the nation’s utilities.
Writer’s note: for ongoing reporting on these issues, if you would like to contact the author with new information, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alan Farago is president of Friends of the Everglades. Column courtesy of Context Florida.