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Leon Kaye headshot

Despite Economic Benefits of Climate Change Adaptation, FL Senate Hopeful Remains Strident Climate Denier

By Leon Kaye

A year ago, Marco Rubio of Florida was a leading contender for this year’s Republican presidential nomination. While he was confident in his chances, in the end he lost his home state’s primary badly to the current nominee. He's trying to get his old Senate seat back and is maintaining a slim-yet-steady lead over his Democratic opponent, Patrick Murphy.

However, Florida -- the U.S. state that is arguably the most susceptible to sea-level rise in the long term -- will win little if Rubio successfully punches his ticket to another six years in the Senate.

Rubio has a longstanding reputation as one of the most vocal climate deniers in Washington, D.C. Past interview questions about the age of the Earth or his stance on climate change were often met with outright ignorance, with replies such as, “I’m not a scientist, man.” His refusal, or outright ignorance, to acknowledge climate change risks flies in the face of overwhelming evidence of the impact of sea-level rise on his home state. The high-water mark in his home base of Miami increases at a rate of one inch per year. And it is widely accepted as fact that Florida will confront more expensive flood risks than any other U.S. state in the years to come. The state's tourism industry, which contributes at least $75 billion annually to the state's economy, also faces significant threats do to sea-level rise and more volatile climate.

Rubio’s ongoing refusal to acknowledge climate change risks, despite the recent damage Florida suffered due to Hurricane Matthew, continues to slow the state's clean-energy sector, despite the its abundant sunshine. A decade ago Rubio was “bullish” on renewables, saying he believed they were key to Florida’s ability to generate electricity for a rapidly growing population. Even before the Iowa caucuses earlier this year, he claimed the U.S. needed to be "No. 1 in renewables.” But the truth is that Rubio’s reelection campaign, which scored millions of dollars from out-of-state donors, is also one of the largest recipients of money from oil and gas companies.

Meanwhile, Rubio has not taken a stand on the controversial Amendment 1 referendum to be decided by Florida voters next month. That initiative, which is backed by the state’s utilities, purports to expand access to solar energy. But the truth is that it would ban citizens who own solar power systems from selling excess electricity back to the grid. Hence the Sunshine State would be one of only five U.S. states that prohibit net metering.

Furthermore, although the solar industry is one of the fastest growing sectors in the U.S. -- employing more people than oil rigs and natural gas fields -- Rubio continues to insist any policies focused on reducing carbon emissions are bad for the state’s economy.

But what poses a greater risk for the state’s future economy is the unbridled development on its coasts. Investment in infrastructure that would mitigate risks from sea-level rise would create more jobs while minimizing damage from future weather-related disasters, but the state’s current leadership avoids any talk of such long-term planning. Hence Florida struggles with a bevy of ongoing water pollution problems, on which Rubio repeatedly blames President Barack Obama – even though it is clear the state’s junior senator has shown little understanding about how his home state stumbled into this mess.

The result is that Floridians will continue to pay high rates to insurance companies, which in turn will only continue to spike in price: One study suggested over $150 billion worth of real estate properties will be below local high tide levels by 2050. But as long as state leaders such as Rubio stamp out all constructive debate over how Florida can build for 21st-century realities, watch for the state to endure more financial losses due to extreme weather – and a collective eye-roll from a federal government that will be asked to pay for those damages.

Image credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye