For Florida, Not Acting on Climate Change Could Be Costly

Written by Lisa Hayden on . Posted in Learn

Florida has a lot at stake in a world with a changing climate.

With a $60 billion tourism industry that depends on its 1,200 miles of coastline, the Sunshine State is vulnerable to climate disruptions such as rising sea levels. But it is also positioned to benefit from opportunities for innovation in a low-carbon economy.

In a St. Petersburg Times editorial this week, two Miami-based economists argue that Florida has too much to lose to sit on the sidelines when it comes to developing a green economy, and action to reduce carbon pollution.

The far-from-left-leaning authors include Tony Villamil, who previously served as chief economist to former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, and Robert D. Cruz, chief economist of Miami-Dade County (whose view, the article duly notes, does not necessarily reflect that of county government).

The economists cite a 2007 study by the Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts University, which tallied some costs of climate inaction for Florida. For example, if the world keeps burning coal and cutting forests without restraint, Florida’s costs are estimated at $92 billion (in 2006 dollars) by 2050, from loss of tourism revenue, increased hurricane damages, at-risk residential real estate, and higher electricity usage with warmer temperatures.

Under business-as-usual emissions, Florida could experience in the range of 23 inches of sea-level rise by 2050 (turning 70 percent of Miami-Dade County to swamp), according to the Tufts report. A more manageable rise of 3.5 inches is projected in that timeframe if Florida and the world attain ambitious emissions cuts.

The Tufts study posits: “If a bad outcome is a real risk — and run-away greenhouse gas emissions lead to a very bad outcome indeed — isn’t it worth buying insurance against it?”

Though it stands little chance of resuscitation in the current political climate, the Miami economists take a closer look at the American Power Act, the Senate bill proposed last year by John Kerry and Joe Lieberman that included an upper limit on carbon emissions and a system of tradable permits for carbon-emitting industries.

Estimates based on Department of Energy models indicate the typical Florida household would pay an average additional $19 per year from 2011 to 2030 under the legislation. If national energy policy stimulated investment in clean-energy generation, Florida could also pursue renewable energy development.

“Comprehensive energy policy reform, moreover, has the potential to stimulate the growth of a state-of-the-art, renewable energy cluster of industries in Florida, creating thousands of high-paying jobs over many years, and at the same time protecting the tourism, construction and agriculture industries that represent Florida’s traditional economic base,” write Villamil and Cruz.

For organizations like The Nature Conservancy – which works to conserve natural areas such as estuaries, bays and barrier islands, important to both human communities and wildlife – the potential costs of climate change, and the links between economic and environmental health, are clear.

“This finding is a win-win for both the environment and the economy. Policies that will reduce the release of emissions that impact Florida’s climate will simultaneously positively support the state’s natural and human resources,” said Jeff Danter, director of The Nature Conservancy in Florida.

Posted by Lisa Hayden, The Nature Conservancy’s climate change writer.

Photo by: Flickr user Debs (ò‿ó)♪ (Coastal development in Harbor Beach, Fort Lauderdale) Used under a Creative Commons license.

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Planet Change is a Nature Conservancy blog site designed to share stories about actions the Conservancy and others around the world are taking to fight carbon pollution and the impacts of climate change, and to help people feel the connections between climate change and their daily lives and understand actions they can take.

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