The rising tide in Florida

December 22nd, 2023 by Tom Lynch

Your name is Ron DeSantis, and you are the Governor of Florida. You are naked ambition personified, and you are running for President, but that hasn’t been going too well for you lately. I wonder why?

Could it be that you have shown yourself to be quite the heavy-handed bully, a cranky, “my way or the highway” kind of guy? After all, you’ve publicly fired elected prosecutors (twice), tried to kneecap the Walt Disney company for disagreeing with your demeaning approach to the LGBTQ+ community, insulted and intimidated high school kids (on broadcast television, no less) for wearing “ridiculous” masks during the pandemic (they kept them on, to their credit), and in your “anti-woke” campaign you personally took control  of public education in the state from kindergarten through college and dictated what could be taught and by whom. You have sown fear throughout state college faculty with the result many faculty have left the state or retired. And woe be to anyone who mentions the country’s history of racism.

But perhaps nothing is worse than your response to the defining issue of our times — the changing climate and its effect on the people of earth, especially those in your little corner of it — Florida.

The just-published Fifth National Climate Assessment suggests dire consequences if states do not make serious mitigation efforts to significantly reduce the burning of fossil fuels in order to forestall what is looking more and more like an approaching, inevitable, global warming catastrophe.

As the Assessment succinctly puts it:

The  observed over the industrial era is unequivocally caused by greenhouse gas emissions from human activities—primarily burning fossil fuels. Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2)—the primary greenhouse gas produced by human activities—and other greenhouse gases continue to rise due to ongoing global emissions.

The Assessment’s good news is that we are making progress toward reducing fossil fuel dependence. The bad news is it’s nowhere near enough, and if we don’t do better we will lose the battle with calamitous results by 2050. A terrible legacy for our children and their children. Here’s a snapshot to chew on from the Fifth Assessment:

Florida sits on a peninsula with ocean water on three sides. Since 1980, it has suffered 75 disasters, each costing more than a billion dollars. In 2022, at $113 billion, it was the victim of the worst hurricane disaster in U. S. history. That would be Hurricane Ian. According to the Assessment, since 2018 Florida has suffered more damages from billion dollar disasters than any other state.

You would think that might be enough to convince Governor DeSantis there is no time to lose. However, as the Fifth Climate Assessment documents, while cities, such as Orlando, have taken actions to adapt to climate change and mitigate net greenhouse gas emissions, the state of Florida has taken no statewide mitigation efforts since the current governor and candidate for President took office in 2018.

In doing his best to convince Americans to install him at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Governor DeSantis’s coldly calculating character and personality have not lurked obscurely in the political background. Lately, he has put this on full, stark display in his reaction to two pieces of federal legislation: 2022’s Inflation Reduction Act and 2021’s bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

The two Acts complement each other. The Environmental Energy and Study Institute published a detailed analysis of these two mammoth pieces of legislation. Taken together, they total nearly two-trillion dollars. The Infrastructure Act, itself, is the largest infrastructure undertaking since the Eisenhower Administration in the 1950s. The Institute prepared a chart showing how the two Acts work together in a whole-being-bigger-than-the-sum-of-the-parts manner.

The Inflation Reduction Act would have provided $6.4 billion to states to curb tailpipe emissions and reduce the effects of climate change. Florida was set to receive $346 million of that, the third most of any state.

When the Biden Administration announced the funding, the Governor’s Transportation and Environmental Energy departments prepared detailed plans addressing how they would use it and put the plans on their websites. Their focus was on adding trucker parking at rest stops, which staff said could fix the statewide shortage that kept drivers on the road longer, polluting more, as they searched for a place to stop. In 2019, 682 million tons of freight were hauled in Florida, the Transportation department noted. Nationwide, 98% of drivers reported nearly an extra hour of drive time looking for parking. The more time truckers search for parking, the more they burn fossil fuels.

The plans also suggested spending the money on things like electric buses and roundabouts, which reduce the amount of time idling cars spew out climate-warming emissions at traffic lights.

And then,  Ron DeSantis said, “No.” Florida would not accept the money. He had his Secretary of Transportation, Jared Perdue, send a letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation declining participation in the federal program. Perdue said in the letter that the program was an example of government overreach that was “the continued politicization of our roadways.” He was echoing DeSantis, who has said that climate change is “politicization of the weather,” whatever that means. The real reason for rejecting the free cash? It came from the Biden Administration and the DeSantis candidacy could not accept federal largesse from the man he wanted to replace.

DeSantis’s Florida now stands alone as the only state to say it would turn down the money, federal officials told the Tampa Bay Times. Any mention of the plans was wiped from the state’s website.

Even Texas, whose governor often tries to outshine DeSantis on conservative credentials, plans to take its share of $641 million, federal officials told the Times.

In reporting about this, the Tampa Bay Times wrote:

Rather than accepting the federal money, Perdue wrote in the letter that Florida would focus on building roads and bridges, “not reducing carbon emissions.”

While Perdue downplayed climate risks in his letter, the now-deleted documents from within his own agency emphasized bracing “for current and future impacts of climate change.”

Perdue cited state data when he claimed Florida has the cleanest air on record, “with emissions continuing to fall as fast as our state grows.” Yet according to the department he oversees, Florida ranks among the 15 states with the highest levels of diesel emissions. The report with that statistic also appears to have been removed from the department’s website.

To me, there is one particularly heartless aspect of DeSantis rejecting $346 million to help the citizens of Florida. The funding contained provisions to allow Floridians to upgrade the energy efficiency of their homes and receive substantial rebates for doing so. An example is installing split unit heat pumps, which can reduce electricity costs by about 30%. In Massachusetts we already have a similar program, and I have taken advantage of it by installing heat pumps and a new furnace and water heaters in two homes. The rebates from these projects reduced the total costs by about 40%, and I’m grateful. Now, Florida homeowners will not have the chance I had, because their Governor wants to be President more than he wants to give Floridians opportunities others enjoy.

Where he was once the preferred candidate of major Republican constituencies, it now appears Ron DeSantis has about as much chance of becoming President as I do, maybe less. Florida might have taken to his bullying in your face attitude, but the country knows better. Americans seem to be rejecting him with the decisiveness with which he rejected the hundreds of millions of dollars that would have helped Floridians improve the quality of their lives.

A personal note

First, I’ll be taking a short break from writing the Insider to share what I’m sure will be a marvelous holiday season with my family. See you shortly.

Second, I send my very best wishes that you, the readers who continue to accept my screed into your lives, have a wonderful holiday season, as well as the happiest of New Years and a 2024 that brings all of us something we desperately need: peace in our world.

Finally, a heartfelt wish that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar recovers from his broken-hip-fall suffered as he was set to participate in the celebration of the final performance of the Manhattan Transfer at Disney Hall this past week. As he put it in his must-read Substack column, “I’d like to say I fell while trying to save a child from plunging over a balcony, but I just tripped. Hard for me to accept that a once world-class athlete just stumbled. But age is the great equalizer and humbles us all.”

Humbled or not, Kareem is an inspiration in his dedication to telling many truths twice a week. If you don’t subscribe to his column, I strongly urge you to do so. You’ll be glad you did.

Get well soon, Kareem.

Happy holidays!