TALLAHASSEE, FL – Since taking office in January, Florida’s Republican governor has appointed a science officer, established a climate change czar and pledged to spend billions of dollars to restore the Everglades and combat the pollutants that spawn blue-green algae and red tides.
A top Republican lawmaker in the state, meanwhile, recently stood on the House floor and implored his party “to stop being afraid of words like ‘climate change’ and ‘sea level rise.’”
While President Donald Trump and his administration reject the urgency of the threat, leading Republicans in Florida and other states find themselves under political pressure to address the immediate impacts of climate change. As a result, these leaders are increasingly changing their message, and in some cases their policies, to acknowledge climate science and discuss mitigation, even as the Trump administration dismisses both.
In the Southeast, where Republicans in South Carolina and Georgia control the legislature or occupy the governor’s mansion, the GOP is acknowledging, even if begrudgingly, sea level rise and the growing threat from intensifying hurricanes.
Nowhere is the break from Trump’s path clearer than in Florida, his adopted home state, where Gov. Ron DeSantis is a close ally and where Republicans are sounding the alarm about the harm that rising oceans pose to coastal communities.
With its 1,350 miles of coastline, Florida faces some of the starkest risks from rising oceans. Higher global temperatures bring extreme weather conditions, including more intense and destructive hurricanes. Miami and other cities could find themselves submerged as glaciers melt into the oceans.
While it’s hardly the dramatic call to action that environmentalists and scientist say is needed, the shift signals a new pragmatism among many Republicans, especially in states where their constituents already are grappling with the consequences of a warming planet.
“This isn't about the next election. This is about the next several decades and what our environment is going to look like for our children and grandchildren,” said GOP state Rep. Chris Sprowls. At 35, he is poised to leads Florida’s House of Representatives next fall. His district northwest of Tampa lies along the Gulf Coast.