50-year fears are panel's 1st focus
An initial report on Florida's future thinks big: global warming and land preservation.
By CRAIG PITTMAN
Published January 22, 2007
A new commission studying the state's future has delivered its first report to Gov. Charlie Crist and the Legislature, and it's not lacking in ambition.
The Century Commission for a Sustainable Florida says the state needs to figure out how to deal with global warming, work toward weaning the state off foreign oil, research the state's long-term water supply and map out what environmentally sensitive land deserves to be preserved from development.
"I think we hit a couple of big issues," said the commission's executive director, Steve Seibert, a former Pinellas County commissioner who was secretary of the Department of Community Affairs.
Crist has been busy with the special session and has not had time to read and evaluate the report, spokeswoman Vivian Myrtetus said Monday.
The commission's members, selected by the governor and legislative leaders, are not known for being dreamers or utopians. The chairman is St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker, and among the 15 members are developers, politicians and planners.
The commission's assignment from the Legislature is to envision what Florida should be like in 50 years, when the current population of 18-million could double, and produce a report every year on how the state can deal with the changes likely to occur by 2057.
The first report doesn't address such major issues as education, demographics or economic development "because we haven't gotten our arms around where to even start on those," Seibert said.
At the first of their six meetings, Seibert said, he asked the members, "What is the Florida that you fear in 50 years?"
That prompted them to talk about what they want to avoid - and focus on what the state's essential interests should be, he said. That includes recommending the state start figuring out where to get the water for 36-million residents, while reducing carbon emissions from cars, trucks and power plants that contribute to global warming.
Tackling the potential impact of global warming on Florida was one task that all the commissioners agreed would be necessary. A rise in sea level could wipe out the beaches that draw tourists, and higher global temperatures could spur an increase in hurricane intensity.
"If we did nothing else - and remember, we're supposed to look 50 years into the future - this is the one big 'X factor' we ought to know more about," Seibert said. "It would be irresponsible not to."
The commission's recommendation drew praise from Susan Glickman, Florida director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, who said the report will challenge state leaders "to take climate change as the sobering and serious issue it is."
The commission's discussion about things they want to avoid in the future also led to a recommendation to "identify Florida's most precious natural resources and develop a comprehensive Conservation Blueprint for the state."
That recommendation received praise from the new Department of Community Affairs secretary, Tom Pelham, who said it's essential to map out what natural resources the state wants to save, so growth can be directed elsewhere.
"Mapping always scares people to death," he said, noting that there could be private property rights concerns. "For that reason no one has really done it."
But when private citizens and businesses wipe out wetlands, dry out springs and damage other vital resources, he said, the public usually winds up paying the price - both in environmental degradation and in the price of restoring what was lost.
The state has already collected a lot of the data necessary for just such a map, Seibert said. It's just a matter of collating it and deciding what's most important.
"Wouldn't it be something," Seibert asked, "if data actually drove government policy?"