GOP Climate Denial will Erode with Florida Beaches
October 12, 2016
I pointed out months ago that climate impacts in Florida could have an impact in swinging Republican climate deniers around – because any pathway to the Presidency becomes difficult, if not impossible, for GOP without Florida.
Al Gore is of course, always well briefed. In his appearance yesterday with Hillary Clinton at a post-Mathew Florida rally, Gore warned as usual of climate change, and Hillary joined in – here, AP fact checks the statements.
AP quotes MIT’s Kerry Emanuel, you can see my interview with Dr. Emanuel and others, above. Below, recent discussions on weather v climate, which if you have not seen, do so now.
MIAMI (AP) — During a campaign rally in Miami Tuesday, Hillary Clinton said Hurricane Matthew was “likely more destructive because of climate change.”
Clinton was campaigning alongside former Vice President Al Gore, who has become a leading climate change activist since leaving politics. She said near record high ocean temperatures “contributed to the torrential rainfall and the flash flooding” from the storm, particularly in the Carolinas.
Clinton also said that rising sea levels mean Matthew’s “storm surge was higher and the flooding was more severe.”
THE FACTS: Clinton is generally right in a big picture way, but scientists who study hurricanes and climate change were not quite as comfortable when it comes to attributing significantly worse harm from a single storm like Matthew.
MIT meteorology professor Kerry Emanuel, an expert on hurricanes and climate, called Clinton’s assessment “a simplification of the truth.”
Brian McNoldy, a hurricane researcher at the University of Miami, said the signs of climate change are only seen in “the long-term average.” Clinton’s statement, he said, was “a little bit strongly worded for a single event.”
But as for the storm surge being worse, Emanuel called that a “no brainer” because sea level is higher.
“The same storm in terms of a wind and pressure event 50 years ago would have produced a lower surge because sea level is lower,” said Emanuel, who was a registered Republican from 1976 till about seven or eight years ago.
McNoldy noted the differences are small.
“If Matthew had occurred 20 years ago the storm surge instead of being 8 feet might have been 7 feet 9 inches,” he said.
To a person whose house was flooded, those three inches might not have been noticeable, McNoldy said. But an extra three inches for someone on the edges of the surge could have made the difference between staying dry and getting any water in the house.
Hurricanes use warm water as fuel and the water in the part of the Atlantic that Matthew was in was about 1.8 to 2.7 degrees warmer, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. And that means more potential rain, Emanuel said. So does warmer air.
Warmer air holds more water — about 7 percent more for every 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit — and “you get more heavy rains with more moisture,” said Mark Boslough, a Sandia National Lab physicist who works on climate change.
“Matthew no doubt rained more than an identical storm would have 30 or 40 years ago because it is warmer,” Emanuel said. He said Matthew intensified incredibly fast — an additional 3.5 mph per hour — and studies have shown that in general “rapid intensification becomes somewhat more likely as the climate warms,” Emanuel said.
Others now picking this up.
Matthew is just the latest and most tragic example of why Florida is not abut the political battleground state for climate change. Lately, the state is a hot mess of climate change-linked apocalyptic disasters. The CDC has issued an unprecedented travel advisory for pockets of the state, due to the spread of the Zika virus, which is also enabled by climate change. In Miami Beach, tidal flooding—i.e. floods that are not even linked to heavy rain—has quadrupled over the last decade, a harbinger of the unabated sea level rise that could put more than 900,000 Florida homes underwater by the end of the century (by far, more than any other state). This year’s outbreak of sludgy toxic algae, exacerbated by warmer water, was so bad on both Florida coasts that a state of emergency was declared in four counties, as the algae sickened people and killed wildlife and fish.
The United States today is trapped along fierce partisan lines on the issue of climate change. Democrats correctly say it is the most urgent challenge of our time, while Republicans say it is a Chinese hoax—and it’s a cycle of partisanship that feels impossible to break. On the eve of Hurricane Matthew this week, as Republican governors like Scott and South Carolina’s Nikki Haley told millions of people to evacuate or risk death, conservative commentators Matt Drudge and Rush Limbaugh seeded weather conspiracies, with Drudge wondering if the “govt has been lying . . . about Hurricane Matthew intensity to make exaggerated point on climate.”
If this toxic political dynamic is ever to break—and it will have to break at some point as climate change worsens—Florida, as both a political and climate battleground state, is one of the best bets to lead change. As a state that is neither firmly Republican or Democrat, it is consistently a major swing state in presidential elections, and as climate-linked disasters get worse, it is possible to imagine the the climate denying voters and politicians finally being forced by reality to pull their heads out of the sand.
There are already early signs of this. Unlike Louisiana, another climate change frontline state—but one that is firmly held by conservative politicians with deep links to the oil industry—Florida has seen signs of bipartisanship on the climate issue. In February, two south Florida members of the House of Representatives, Republican Carlos Curbelo and Democrat Ted Deutch, formed the first-ever bipartisan climate change caucus. The Citizens Climate Lobby, a group that helped get it off the ground, says it creates “a safe place” for politicians to talk to each other on the issue. The group now has 20 members, and out of the seven Republicans, three are from Florida.
Miami Beach is one of the world’s most vulnerable cities to sea floods, but much of Florida’s coastline is facing similar problems. The Everglades wetlands is at risk from invading seawater and the Florida Keys are regularly flooded at extreme high tides.
Nasa is facing floods from Atlantic storms at the Kennedy Space Centre and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on the Florida coast. But the most urgent threat is to drinking water as saltwater, and the pollution it flushes out, invades underground, and is now moving close to drinking water supplies for 6 million residents.
So it’s no surprise that 81% of people in Florida polled recently said they believe that climate change is happening now – an increase on the 63% in 2012. And yet climate change has been drowned out in the US presidential primary elections – apart from political debates in Miami.
If demographics are destiny, Donald Trump’s political fate could very well be sealed in Florida.
The big demographic threat to the Republican Party isn’t a “blue” Texas or Arizona or Georgia, but the possibility that Florida will follow Nevada and New Mexico to the left. It’s extremely hard for a Republican to win the presidency without Florida’s 29 electoral votes.