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Florida can't be far behind to suffer from global warming

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By MARTIN DYCKMAN, Times Associate Editor

© St. Petersburg Times
published June 23, 2002


TALLAHASSEE -- Florida, which came from the sea, is heading back there faster than Nature intended. Global warming is the reason why, and those who still don't believe it belong in the Flat Earth Society.

Up in Alaska, no one doubts global warming any more. As the New York Times reported last weekend, an entire village is falling into the water, mosquitoes sting where there weren't any, roads are buckling and houses sinking as the permafrost melts, there is concern for the safety of the Trans-Alaska oil pipline, and beatles multiplying at twice the rate in cooler times have laid waste a spruce forest nearly twice the size of Yellowstone National Park.

"Alaska is harder hit by global climate change than any place in the world," said Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska.

Florida can't be far behind. Our low-lying, gently sloping shorelines are vulnerable to even a slight rise in the sea level, which already has risen as fast in the last 40 years as in the previous 100. According to the National Resources Defense Council, coastal Florida could see an increase of at least 8 inches and as much as 2.5 feet by 2100. Even a 16-inch rise would directly flood property up to 250 feet from the shore, erode or inundate entire barrier islands, and destroy freshwater aquifers in coastal areas. A Miami television station dramatized the threat by posting a reporter at Miami International Airport, which once marked the city's western fringe, to say that in a century it could be waterfront property.

You, too, may be living on what will be waterfront property some day. Then again, it could become submerged land.

The global temperature rise that shrank glaciers and polar ice caps would hurt Florida in other ways that would be even harder to cope with than the advancing sea. An average temperature 4 to 10 degrees hotter would, with humidity, feel 10 to 25 degrees hotter. Droughts would be longer and more intense -- with more devastating wildfires like those that nearly shut down much of Florida two years ago and are raging throughout the West even now. Storms, when they did come, would be more intense. Respiratory ailments and other diseases would multiply.

A report published last week in the Journal Science warned that climate change is already contributing to the geographic spread of tropical diseases such as dengue fever. One researcher referred to this as "a much more scary threat than bio-terrorism."

None of this is a surprise. Experts the world over have been speaking out for years. To the satisfaction of most governments, though not ours, they also have long since dispelled the fantasy that global warming is a purely natural phenomenon. At long last, even the U.S. government has now conceded that human energy consumption is the principal cause, through the production of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases.

Unfortunately, the government is proposing nothing except that we should try to adapt to the climate change as it occurs.

It makes you wonder what they would say if presented with incontrovertible proof that the Earth was about to hit by an asteroid like the one that missed by only 75,000 miles a week ago, narrowly sparing us the equivalent of a large nuclear weapon. Would they suggest trying to adapt to that too?

"It would depend on the coal industry," says Joseph Siry, director of the Florida Climate Alliance, an arm of the Natural Resources Defense Counsel. The intentionally sarcastic remark reflected the widespread and probably accurate view that Big Coal and its allies in the electric power are dictating the nation's policy on global warming, including President Bush's infamous flip-flop on his campaign promise to clean up power plants.

The future of the world is hostage to them because the U.S. is by far the largest energy consumer.

It figures. Cleaner power plants would cut into short-term profits. The vastly greater savings to society and to the economy would be counted only after the profiteers and their political puppets are long gone. So the scam is to pretend that nothing can be done except "adapt." (There's money to be made in that, too.)

The financial industry, we may surmise, will probably be among the first to adapt. Insurance on waterfront and other low-lying property will be even harder to get and cost a great deal more. The same will be true of mortgages. Property values will decline as flooding becomes more frequent and the future becomes more obvious. At some point, Florida will be hit with a land panic as destructive as the great bust of 1926.

You may not see it, but your children and grandchildren will. That's if the heat, the wildfires and the diseases haven't gotten to them first.

"Where there is no vision," says the Bible, "the people perish." The willful failure of the U.S. Government to envision a realistic response to global warming is a catastrophic betrayal of trust.

What you can do: Ask your senators to support S. 556, the Clean Power Act, which is due for a vote this week.

Visit www.floridaclimatealliance.net for more information on the issue.

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