Let’s Not Miss the Opportunity to Act on Climate Change Again

1979-1989: Thirty Years Ago, We Could Have Saved the Planet

Journalist Nathaniel Rich - in a recent groundbreaking article in The New York Times Magazine entitled Thirty Years Ago, We Could Have Saved the Planet - writes that 30 years ago, the United States’ had a significant understanding of global warming science and was poised to take action.

 “Nearly everything we understand about global warming was understood in 1979. By that year, data collected since 1957 confirmed what had been known since before the 20th century: Human beings have altered Earth’s atmosphere through the indiscriminate burning of fossil fuels.” 


One of the central figures in this pioneering piece, Rafe Pomerance - currently a consultant to ReThink Energy Florida’s Sea Level Rise Project - worked on environmental issues in the Clinton State Department and is now Chair of Arctic 21. In 1979, Pomerance was first introduced to a study by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on the impacts of coal. He was alarmed at the report’s findings on environmental regulations which concluded that the continued use and burning of fossil fuels would cause “significant and damaging” effects on the global atmosphere within the next two or three decades.

As predicted, in the decade following, we have witnessed an increase in global temperatures, emissions and sea levels. This was detailed in our recent blog on  the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Underwater analysis of Zillow data and the potential for lost revenues to local governments from sea level rise. By 2045, 64,000 homes in Florida will experience chronic flooding.

So with all we know, why is there not a full court press to stop climate change in its tracks here and now? There are a number of factors including systemic social and economic inequalities. When one is dealing with more immediate threats like low wages or lack of healthcare, it is difficult to focus on issues with a longer-term horizon such as climate change.

We must all recognize that climate change is happening NOW and it IS already impacting us. Some people may find it hard to understand the immediate effects of climate change because some of our political leaders deny it at a fundamental level. The fact is that Big Oil has known about the impact of burning fossil fuels for decades. Not only did they do nothing to stop it, they recklessly deceived the public on the science of climate change. If we had confronted the challenge of climate change at that time, then companies like Shell and Exxon would have had to move past fossil fuels. But unfortunately, as we all know, that didn’t happen.

So here we are, in the inferno we have created - rather, what Big Oil has created.

This is special interests at work - pure and simple.

Rafe’s Discussion with Allies

On Thursday, August 9th - in a webinar sponsored by ReThink Energy Florida - Rafe Pomerance discussed the politics of climate change. He stated, “When I jumped into the issue back in early 1979, we were at a point of zero public knowledge...Society was simply not aware.” Today, we are seeing increasing concern over climate change impacts such as sea level rise and the algae blooms currently plaguing Florida.

People are fighting back. On July 30th, the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of 21 courageous, young plaintiffs in Juliana v United States. It’s a lawsuit filed against the federal government which The Trump Administration attempted to block but the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs thus preserving the U.S. District Court’s October 29 trial date often referred to as The Trial of the Century.

In Florida, a similar lawsuit by youth plaintiffs has been filed against Governor Rick Scott, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, and Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Susan Glickman, Florida Director of Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, stated that this lawsuit “is not just about a lack of action on climate but it’s about willfully and knowingly retreating from efforts to move away from a carbon based economy”.

Later during the discussion, Glickman dove into the connection between climate change, and the algae blooms that are plaguing Florida’s waters. “There is a relationship with climate change because warmer, wetter weather absolutely makes algae blooms worse.”

Today’s Action for Tomorrow’s Future

As Glickman said, climate change makes things like hurricanes, algae blooms, mosquito-borne diseases worse. If we do not act on the climate crisis, we are likely to see more and more of these environmental tragedies that are devastating Florida residents, our tourism based economy, and our natural environment.

To bring about greater public awareness, ReThink Energy Florida has been hosting Tidal Town Halls - primary election forums across the state of Florida - in partnership with First Street Foundation and countless local organizations. These events have connected voters and candidates and provided a nonpartisan platform for a conversation on climate change impacts like flooding, sea level rise, and increasing algae blooms. Our efforts have sparked newfound conversations on what we can do as Floridians and how candidates seeking office can implement policies to address the threat of climate change. For the general election, we will begin a second round of Tidal Town Halls.

Florida is ground zero for climate change. It’s a challenge, but we are very determined to bring about action. It’s urgent but we have the opportunity to send a clear message to Florida’s legislature: it is time to act. We can’t afford another decade of understanding Climate Change but not acting on it.

Stay tuned to our website for video coverage of the Tidal Town Halls!