Florida Governor Hosts Climate Change Summit; Signs Plan to Cut State Emissions 80 Percent by 2050

Charlie Crist

Florida Governor Charlie Crist recently hosted the Florida Climate Summit, bringing together leaders and experts in order to generate solutions for the crisis of global warming. The following is an excerpt from the speech given by the governor at the summit, in which he details the unique threat of global warming to the state of Florida, as well as the ambitious course that the state must take if it is to solve the environmental impacts of climate change in one of the regions in the country most vulnerable to its effects.


Governor Crist: Our purpose during these two days is to hear from the experts. Together, we will identify specific actions we can take here in Florida to address the causes and the effects of global climate change....
 
....But these experts are not merely talkers. They are achievers—people of action—working hard to explore and experiment, envision and imagine. They are developing new ways to power our homes, our businesses, our vehicles—while also preserving our natural resources for generations to come.

I, too, am committed to being a person of action. Here in Florida, we plan to reduce greenhouse gases and increase our energy efficiency. Florida will pursue renewable solar energy sources—after all we are the Sunshine State—as well as wind and alternative energy such as ethanol and hydrogen.

I know there are some who still debate global climate change. While debate is healthy, we must acknowledge that there is a strong body of scientific evidence indicating that global climate change is real. We know that carbon emissions have grown exponentially, that they take time to dissipate – and that they are contributing to this change. We cannot afford to ignore this issue any longer. We have a responsibility to face this reality head on and take action to address it.

Even if it turns out some day that global climate change is not as serious as scientists believe, the actions needed to reduce greenhouse gases can have nothing but good outcomes for Florida and for our nation. We cannot be so foolish as to think that our natural resources are inexhaustible—or that the exhaust from our energy plants and vehicles has no impact on our environment. We must wisely use our resources and protect our environment—or future generations will not enjoy them as we do today.

That is why we must take action. We must be people of action who make every effort to boldly do our best to do what is right—for our environment, for our quality of life and for future generations. We have a responsibility to be good stewards of our natural resources, of our beautiful surroundings. And no place is more beautiful than our Florida.

Much of the Florida lifestyle we enjoy is connected to our state’s beautiful natural environment. Our weather, beaches and fishing attract 85 million visitors each year. Tourism is our number-one industry. Many visitors come to enjoy our almost 1,350 miles of coastline, our freshwater springs, and the national treasures entrusted to our care, such as America’s Everglades and our 130 miles of coral reefs, the third largest in the world. FloridaBay—between Florida’s peninsula and the Keys—is the world’s largest sea grass bed and breeding ground for 22 fish species important to commercial and recreational fishing.

With such a wealth of natural resources, it is easy to see why Florida is also one of the fasting growing states. Almost 1,000 new residents arrive daily. Regrettably, the natural beauty that draws people to our state is also vulnerable to the impact of those who are attracted to it. As the fourth most populous state, we rank third in energy consumption. And 70 percent of Florida’s electricity is generated by fossil fuels. For these reasons, the long-term economic well-being of our state is dependent upon the strategies we develop to address global climate change. It is one of the most important issues we face this century.

Our state is uniquely vulnerable to the impact of global climate change. Bordered by bodies of water, Florida has the longest coastline in the continental United States. We boast the second largest lake in the nation—Lake Okeechobee—and thousands of miles of rivers, streams and waterways. Our waters define our state’s identity. And, climate change can threaten that identity.

Rising sea levels are one threat from climate change, especially to sensitive coastal areas, America’s Everglades and our coral reefs. Scientists estimate that sea levels will rise five inches during the next 25 years, and by 20 inches by the year 2100. These changes can affect water temperatures and salt levels, disrupting nature’s perfect balance and endangering Florida’s water supply.

Our state is already experiencing many changes that may be attributed to climate change. Due to declining rainfall, parts of Florida, including South and Southwest Florida, are currently experiencing long-term drought conditions. Earlier this year, as we battled wildfires across our state, there were times when 57 of Florida’s 67 counties were fighting fires.

The economic impact of climate change on Florida’s agriculture could be devastating to our second largest industry. Currently, more than 270 different crops are grown in our state, making us the tenth largest agricultural state in the nation. During winter months, we are the only state that can supply the country with many types of fresh vegetables.

Many scientists link climate change to violent weather patterns, such as the ones Florida experienced during the unprecedented 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons. Florida alone was hit by seven hurricanes, with 215 lives lost and a price tag of more than $36 billion.

Drought, endangered agriculture, violent storms, and changing sea level—and their impact on Florida’s economy—these are just a few of the reasons why we must take action. We must search for and then put into practice climate-friendly strategies for our families, our communities and our state. Ultimately, this is as much about conservation as it is about climate change. We must look for ways to be more energy-efficient, to use less fossil fuels and more renewable energies. In these ways, we can reduce greenhouse gases and preserve our state’s natural beauty for generations to come.
We know we must reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Renewable energies such as ethanol and biofuels, solar, wind and nuclear energy can help us be more independent of oil from other countries. This issue is not only an environmental concern, but a matter of national security.

Energy diversification is vital to Florida’s economic development and security. It can reduce Florida’s dependence on foreign oil and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Florida has the potential to become a leader in the production of alternative fuels. In fact, biofuels experts believe that Florida has the greatest capacity in the nation to produce ethanol.

We have a year-long growing season and robust agricultural lands. We have an existing sugar cane industry and a fertile but suffering citrus industry. I believe that we can turn citrus waste from an industry liability to a statewide asset. For this reason, we must continue to encourage research and development of ways to convert sugarcane and citrus waste into ethanol in an environmentally responsible way. By doing so, we will develop reliable energy supplies and increase economic opportunities.

We know we must ensure that our state’s air quality is the best it can be. We can lessen traffic congestion and improve the quality of life and physical health of our residents and visitors.  To reduce the impact of climate change in Florida and beyond, we must develop and implement real solutions. We must be men and women of action. You are an important part of this process, and your input and expertise is critical. During this summit, we are involving leaders from all levels of government, of business and the environmental community. Our purpose is to explore how we can be both prudent and pro-active in the face of global climate change.

State government is the largest single enterprise within Florida. It makes sense for us to lead by example, and over the course of this summit, we will begin that leadership. We can make sure that any new state government buildings are energy efficient and include solar panels whenever possible. We can choose energy-efficient buildings when we need to lease office space. We can choose fuel-efficient vehicles—especially those that use ethanol and biodiesel fuels when available.

We can require electric utilities to produce less carbon emissions. We can adopt motor vehicle emission standards, just as California did under the leadership of Governor Schwarzenegger. We can ensure that appliances sold in Florida are more energy efficient. And we can require our energy plants to use more renewable energy such as solar and wind energy.

In just six months and 11 days, we have launched Florida to the forefront of the worldwide movement to reduce greenhouse gases and address global climate change.

As with most innovative policy, the states have taken the lead on addressing global climate change. However, the states must go one step further and build broad-based, regional coalitions. Without them, corporations that do business across state lines are challenged by differences in state standards and expectations.

I thank you for actively engaging in the discussion about global climate change during this summit. Addressing such a complicated issue requires government to work alongside the business, science and community service sectors. No single sector can do it alone. Innovative solutions to Florida’s energy and environmental future can happen only as all of us bring our expertise to the table.

And we must not stop there. We must educate our citizens, businesses and policy makers on this mission. I am pleased to announce our new “Serve to Preserve Florida” partnership. With the help of Volunteer Florida, we will engage volunteers of all ages and from all walks of life in this mission. Children, adults and retirees alike will become an army of conservationists. They will restore and protect our natural environment. They will enhance Florida’s environment and natural beauty. Just as we have precious natural resource, our volunteers are a precious resource of energy, enthusiasm and expertise.

We must be good stewards of the land, air and water. We must not live only for today—only using and not replenishing the resources we use. We cannot thoughtlessly waste what God and nature have so bountifully supplied.

The very nature of our democracy depends on conserving our natural resources. I thank you for your interest and partnership in taking the first steps forward to face this challenge....