Global warming isn't just a hotter day at the beach in the Sunshine State
Since 1970, the U.S. Southeast has warmed about 2 degrees Fahrenheit. As warming continues, Florida is expected to be one of the hardest hit in the region. For unabated emissions, the number of 90 degree Fahrenheit days is expected to rise significantly. Throughout much of Florida, there were approximately 60 such hot days per year in the 1960s and 70s; by the end of the century, that is expected to climb to approximately 165 hot days.
Rising sea level is one of the most threatening impacts of climate change in Florida. Satellite observations show that global sea level rise is accelerating. By 2100, sea level rise could well exceed 3 feet if greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated and a 6 foot rise is possible. The higher end of the estimates could be realized if the Greenland and West Antarctica ice sheets break up more rapidly. This threatens to submerge Florida's coastal communities and economies since roughly 9 percent of the state is within 5 feet of the existing sea level. Rising sea level also threatens the beaches, wetlands, and mangrove forests that surround the state. Some of the small islands of the Florida Keys could completely disappear due to rising sea levels. Inland ecosystems will also suffer as salt water intrusion into the Everglades or up rivers impacts freshwater plants and animals. Critical habitats for fish and birds, as well as endangered species like the key deer, American alligator and Florida panther, will be severely reduced and could disappear altogether.
Human-caused climate change is expected to make hurricanes more intense and wet. There is also an expected increase in the number of the most intense hurricanes. Florida is well-acquainted with the health and economic damages of hurricanes. In 2005, a record breaking hurricane season hosted 26 named Atlantic storms, four of which made landfall in Florida. The combination of more intense hurricanes and elevated sea level may also combine to amplify the climate change impacts to Florida and other coastal states.
America's biggest living coral reef, a popular tourist attraction, is found in the Florida Keys. Florida's coral reefs are already experiencing bleaching - a potentially irreversible process - due to environmental stresses, including warmer ocean temperatures. Additionally, carbon dioxide absorbed by the ocean from the atmosphere alters the chemical balance of sea water, resulting in ocean acidification which inhibits the ability of corals to construct their skeletons and build reefs. In four Florida counties (Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade, and Monroe), this threatens a reef-based economy currently worth around $4.3 billion and annual income for workers estimated at $2 billion.
But Florida is also waking up to the solutions needed to prevent the most severe effects of global warming. In July 2007 Florida's Governor Charlie Crist signed three executive orders designed to reduce the state's global warming pollution. Miami-Dade County has initiated the Urban CO2 reduction plan to curb heat-trapping emissions. The Everglades "re-plumbing" programs are also enhancing the area's water flow to protect against salt water intrusion. Testifying before the Select Committee on Global Warming and Energy Independence, Mayor Pegeen Hanrahan of Gainesville remarked on steps her city has taken to combat global warming, including incentive programs to cut energy use, conservation efforts, and enhancing public transportation. However, she also acknowledged that even Gainesville's local efforts fall short of what is necessary to prevent potential catastrophe and urged the adoption of national legislation to combat the problem that affects her state so drastically.
Florida has great potential for being part of America's clean energy future. As the Sunshine State and a top agricultural producer, Florida has the capacity to harness the energy from the sun and plants for solar power and cellulosic ethanol. With miles upon miles of coastline, Florida could also utilize power systems that capture wave energy to generate electricity.
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