Gov. Rick Scott should listen to students on climate change | Editorial

Traffic maneuvers through a flooded A1A just south of Dania Beach Blvd. on Oct. 4, 2017. (Staff file photo)

Florida’s children are tired of waiting for grownups to take action on climate change, and that includes Gov. Rick Scott.

So a week after the governor announced his bid for the U.S. Senate, eight students filed suit Monday to force him and legislative leaders to take action on climate change.

Good. The courts — including the court of public opinion — should hold climate-change-deniers, like Scott, accountable for failing to address the epic threat facing those of us at Ground Zero.

South Floridians know the floodwaters that more frequently overtake our roads and threaten our homes are a bipartisan problem that cannot be ignored.

Yet during his two terms in Tallahassee, Gov. Scott has done nothing to address the problem. Instead, he looked the other way as incentives to use alternative energies, like solar, were eliminated. And he reportedly prohibited his staff from using the words “climate change,” “global warming” and “sustainability.”

The lawsuit seeks to reduce Florida’s use of fossil fuels, which contribute to air pollution and worsen climate change threats, such as sea level rise.

Scott quickly dismissed the lawsuit as “political theater.” Perhaps it is. But if it raises the curtain on Tallahassee politicians who’ve refused to protect our state’s assets and future, it deserves a standing O.

The students, from elementary school to college, are teaming with Our Children’s Trust, an Oregon-based advocacy group that has filed lawsuits in multiple states — and one against the federal government — to force reluctant politicians to enact climate recovery policies.

In Florida, they want the courts to require the state to reduce its output of greenhouse gases by using alternative energy sources, such as solar and wind power.

It’s fitting that students, who will face the consequences of climate change, are the faces of this legal fight.

“Without a stable climate system, everything we care about is at risk,” said Oscar Psychas, a college student from Gainesville.

The lawsuit targets Scott and other state leaders, including Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who’s running to be our next governor.

Scott’s office responded by questioning the motives of those who filed the lawsuit and highlighting the $4 billion in environmental spending in the state budget. He failed to mention, however, that a 2014 constitutional amendment — approved by 75 percent of Florida voters — forces the state to dedicate a share of real-estate sales taxes to acquiring and restoring conservation and recreation lands.

In truth, it took a constitutional amendment to force Scott and legislative leaders to restore funding for water and land conservation. Even then, their first response was to spend the money on salaries and expenses at state agencies like the Forestry Service. It took a lawsuit to get them to uphold the Florida Constitution and spend the money as intended.

While Tallahassee ignores the reality, South Florida communities are adding pumps, raising roads and boosting sea walls. Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties for years have been working on regional plans to adapt to sea level rise and other effects of climate change. Those plans, by the way, expect the sea will be two feet higher by 2060.

But this isn’t just a South Florida problem. A state with more than 1,300 miles of shoreline can’t afford to ignore the threat of sea level rise, which is caused by a warming climate.

Neither should Florida leaders pretend the pollution we pump into the air by burning fossil fuels isn’t making matters worse by adding heat-trapping greenhouse gases.

“Those affect everyone … people from the Panhandle to Miami,” said Tampa attorney Guy Burns, part of the legal team behind the lawsuit.

Lawsuits are the only recourse when politicians fail to uphold their oath to protect our state. In the 1990s, it took a court fight to force them to get serious about saving the Everglades.

Parkland’s survivors have shown the power of student advocacy. Just a few week after a gunman killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, pressure from student activists helped pass Florida’s first new gun regulations in decades. A month later, those same students helped lead hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in a march on Washington for sensible gun laws.

When casting their ballots in November, voters will be asked to remember the Parkland students’ call for gun control.

Let them also remember the call of these eight students, who seek to protect Florida not only for themselves, but for the students of tomorrow.

Editorials are the opinion of the Sun Sentinel Editorial Board and written by one of its members or a designee. The Editorial Board consists of Editorial Page Editor Rosemary O’Hara, Elana Simms, Andy Reid and Editor-in-Chief Julie Anderson.

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