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Nature Is Dying. Florida Is Sinking. Are Republicans Up to the Challenge?

| November 15, 2018

hurricane michael chad boda

Hurricane Michael’s calling card in the Florida Panhandle a few weeks ago. (U.S. Customs and Border Protection)

By Chad Boda

In the wake of disastrous hurricanes, floods and fires around the country these past two years, the question of environmental conservation has been high on the political agenda. The centrality of issues like red tide, hurricane relief and climate change adaptation in Florida’s gubernatorial race between Ron DeSantis and Andrew Gillum was a case-in-point. In light of these pressing environmental problems, the fact that DeSantis is likely to win raises an important question: Is the GOP up to the challenge to fight off catastrophic environmental degradation?  

The deadly fires that have been plaguing California these past days and weeks offer a recent and tangible point of reference for what scientists are warning will become the new normal in a climate changed future. California burning comes only shortly after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Changed published a report warning that we have a dozen or so years to take action and keep greenhouse gas emissions within acceptable boundaries to avoid catastrophic levels of warming. The current trend is troubling.

Floridians don’t have to look across the country to see climate change in action. Record-breaking hurricanes including Matthew, Irma, Maria, Harvey, Florence, and Michael (all since 2016) are becoming familiar enough, and they are likely to become stronger and wetter as the climate warms. Florida will also have to face rising sea levels. Studies have shown that millions of people and billions of dollars around the state are at risk from the rising sea. And anyone who lived through the 1998 fire season in Flagler County, as I did, know how vulnerable Florida can be to fires, which are projected to worsen as summers heat up and forests dry out.

To make matters worse, among the recent mid-term chaos, a truly scary warning has managed to get precious little attention in the media and public debate. I am referring to the loss of the world’s biodiversity and wildlife, which like climate change, is quickly approaching the point of no return, and certain to have disastrous consequences.

The United Nations just released a startling and urgent plea to conserve the world’s remaining wild biodiversity, arguing that humanity has about two (two!) years to reach an effective, comprehensive international agreement on biodiversity conservation, or the sixth great mass extinction in world history will be locked in for good. The warning comes in anticipation of a long awaited report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services detailing the rapid and catastrophic decline of the world’s ecosystems and their related services.  

A recent report  by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) found that human activities have led to the loss of 60 percent of all wild animals since 1970. Another recent and comprehensive study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that today humans and their livestock far outweigh (in terms of biomass) all other wild mammal species combined, an indication of the extent to which we now dominate the biosphere. To the dismay of tree-huggers and hunters alike, species are currently going extinct at nearly 10,000 times the normal rate, and extinction is forever. Something has to be done.

Conservation is not just about snowflake environmentalism. It is just as important for sustainable economic development.

Conservation is not just about snowflake environmentalism. It is just as important for sustainable economic development. Economists themselves have long realized that, like love and marriage, you can’t have a healthy economy without a healthy environment. Protecting the environment is a pre-condition for producing economic well-being in the way that a fishing boat is only useful if there are schools of fish to catch, or a lumber mill if there are forests to harvest. Without the complementary environmental resource, much of our manmade capital would simply cease to have a function and become utterly useless. Consider, for example, that roughly half of the more than 100 million tourists who visit Florida every year come specifically for its beaches.

In the face of such daunting and urgent environmental challenges, the question is whether state and federal politicians are willing to adopt the appropriate measures to help curb biodiversity loss. In particular, given their control of the Senate, the presidency and most state governorships and an extremely sympathetic supreme court, it remains to be seen whether the Republican Party will step up to the challenge and work with, rather than against, any progressive environmental bills that may be passed on from the newly acquired Democratic majority in the House of Representatives.

Chad Boda.

Chad Boda.

The GOP’s alarming embrace of climate denialism is the first and most obvious barrier to addressing the double climate-biodiversity crisis, with the withdrawal from the Paris Agreement perhaps the strongest statement of the Trump administration’s in this regard. Beyond open climate skepticism, the GOP’s other anti-environmental tendencies are clearly spelled out in the party’s official platform. The section on America’s Natural Resources: Agriculture, Energy, and the Environment, is replete with bold inconsistencies, decrying regulations pushed by “radical environmentalists” while claiming credit for environmental improvements since the 1970s.

If one looks behind the political rhetoric at the underlying strategy, it becomes clear that there are much deeper, indeed insurmountable, tensions between the GOP’s adopted approach to environmental conservation and widely recognized best practice in conservation science.

For example, among the “solutions” to persistent environmental problems, the GOP peddles increased public and private competition and environmental deregulation. They also promote the devolution of responsibility for environmental management to state, or even local governments, which they justify based on some vague notion of “boots-on-the-ground conservation,” and which they promulgate without the necessary dollars.

The main outcome of this fund slashing and devolution is that states and local governments will be made to take on more and more of the administrative and financial obligations that come with conservation, a burden many are unable to bear. Crushed under the weight of this burden, many will be forced to sell off or pimp out their public lands to private investors, just to make ends meet.

And that’s the whole point. “We assert”, the GOP platform tells us, “that private ownership has been the best guarantee of conscientious stewardship, while some of the worst instances of degradation have occurred under government control.”

This position relies on a faith in the idea that government is inherently evil, while the benevolent “invisible hand” of the market, driven by competition, is the most appropriate way to coordinate environmental, economic and social affairs, even to secure freedom itself. But when it comes to conservation, no amount of assertion will square this belief with the empirical and theoretical evidence. In fact, all levels of government are indispensable for effective conservation.

In a recent study  published in the prestigious journal Science, researchers synthesized 35 years of scientific conservation experiments. The researchers’ findings confirmed long established conservation principles, namely that the larger and more connected conservation areas are, the better. And the most effective way to ensure large-scale conservation across boundaries is through collaboration and coordination both within and between levels of government, from federal to state to local. This is the underlying philosophy of, for example, the numerous North American Conservation Corridor projects.

The current GOP’s insistence that it can shift responsibility, slash funding and deregulate its way to sustainable development is theoretically inconsistent and empirically bogus. Conservation requires coordination, collaboration and, of course, funding. Promoting more intense competition won’t lead to coordination and collaboration, and gutting the ability for governments to collect public revenue won’t provide the necessary funds needed to ensure the natural environment is kept intact. Currently, their policy goals threaten both current and future generations’ right to enjoy the natural endowment that is our public heritage as American citizens.

There is some hope. Now that Democrats have regained control of the House, which includes the Committee on Science, Space and Technology, which under Republican control was openly anti-scientific, perhaps science can find its way back into the discussion of how to ensure we avoid environmental catastrophe. If it does, two things need to be prioritized first – 1) acknowledging climate change and taking swift action to mitigate emissions and adapt to coming change and; 2) passing biodiversity conservation policies and funding programs aimed at preserving existing, and restoring degraded, habitat corridors to connect local, state and federal public lands.

Dr. Chad S. Boda, a Florida native who has advised the Flagler Beach City Commission on beach erosion, researches and teaches on Sustainable Development at the Lund University Center for Sustainability Studies in Sweden.


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28 Responses for “Nature Is Dying. Florida Is Sinking. Are Republicans Up to the Challenge?”

  1. Mark says:

    Dear Dr Chad,

    Is there something our politicians can do? Can they stop China or India from emitting what they do? We, including the GOP, has enacted many business strangling policies to clean up our act. Yet many other countries around the world will not come on board unless we pay them billions. Not!Label me what you will, do I believe we have some impact on the climate, yes. Do I believe we are the cause of climate change, no. Do I believe the U.S. can fix it, no. Maybe the UN should do something. Why rely on us deplorable?

  2. Richard says:

    Chad, sure they can IF they get bi-partisan support from the democrats who haven’t shown even a ticks hair of evidence that they want to work with the republicans. Tell me what the democrats have been doing for the past 10 years in regards to saving Florida from sinking?

  3. Ben Hogarth says:

    After watching the last 20 years of rhetoric, it’s incredible to see that still, so many Americans subscribe to this notion that government is evil and corrupt, yet the corporations who are the primary contributors of environmental pollution and the erosion of solution-based governance – are seen as “job creating angels.”

    It’s beyond idiotic. The Democratic Party in Florida is especially flawed when compared to like parties in other states, but they support smart reforms and enforceable measures against the primary contributors of pollution and the destruction of our environment. For that reason, they are our only hope in solving these problems.

    The Republican Party is largely funded by super PACs and ultra-rich monopolies with some of the most influential lobbyists on earth. Again, all of the corruptions that Democrat’s are accused of – yet entirely identify the core power element of the Republican Party. Thank God the people are starting to see through the smoke screen.

  4. Agksitrodon says:

    Chad, ALL the things you mentioned were ALSO happening before Republicans, and Democrats, and Human’s for that matter, but YOU lay the Blame and responsibility on Republicans. Where were YOU the LAST eight years, cause it was happening then too…..Also I got one word on uber rich funding politics Tom Steyer, you could throw also throw Soros in there, and Ian Hoffman, Steven Spielberg, Bloomberg, etc. and for the all time great PAC Planned Parenthood, dispatching babies for over 40 years, maybe don’t only look at one side of the card, the other side has relevant info as well……..I am neither R nor D so I felt I should point that out.

  5. Trailer Bob says:

    All I can say is thank God I am getting old. Greed and excess has ruined the planet, and most of the destruction is not caused by the US. No matter what we do, nothing will work without the rest of the planet being on board. So, I will drink another beer and enjoy the view outside. But thanks for trying to ruin my day…

  6. Robert Kappelmann says:

    Many scientists have labeled deniers and heretics not for denying that the climate is changing but rather not blaming human activity for all the change. This ironic in that the last IPCC Annual Review of the climate science AR-5 attribute at least 30% of recent climate change to anthropogenic CO2 emissions and 15% to land use changes.
    If you had a good geology course, you would remember that the earth has been warming and the sea levels rising since the last ice age ended 25,000 years ago. More importantly, the little ice age ended officially around 1880 the time official temperature readings were started. No surprise that temperature and sea level should rise after the end of the little ice age.
    Adaptation is the only effect response to climate change!!

  7. oldtimer says:

    The problem no one wants to address is the fact that the human population is out of control, quite simply there are TOO MANY OF US ! Nature provides natural checks and balances but we short circuit the prosess because we are on top of the food chain

  8. Pogo says:

    Q: Nature Is Dying. Florida Is Sinking. Are Republicans Up to the Challenge?

    A: No.

  9. atilla says:

    The prior administration had 8 years to destroy the USA and they left it in a shamble. Now the stronger GOP will have to and will replenish it.

  10. Jim says:

    California fires climate change lol how unaware can man get? Go look up “dew operations” on YouTube! Climate change doesn’t exist it’s a shame to tax and pilfer from!

  11. Michael Cocchiola says:

    The only things Republicans are “up for” is the next Trump-driven conspiracy theory. Republicans live in a fantasy bubble where up is down, left is right, facts are negotiable and truth is fake news.

  12. Sherry says:


    President Donald Trump signed an executive order curbing the federal government’s enforcement of climate regulations, a move that represents a sharp reversal from his predecessor’s position.

    The Obama administration put in place a number of programs that attempted to address the impact of climate change, including rising sea levels and temperatures.
    Trump said those actions harmed American businesses.
    “With today’s executive action, I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion and to cancel job-killing regulations,” he said at an event marking the signing of the executive order.
    Here’s a look at six climate change policies affected by Trump’s executive orders:
    What Trump’s executive order on climate change means for the world
    Climate Action Plan
    This 2013 plan rolled out by President Barack Obama focused on three areas: cutting carbon pollution in America, preparing infrastructure for the impact of climate change and making the United States a global leader on efforts to combat climate change.
    It also called for reduction of greenhouse gases, a strategy on methane and a commitment to protect forests.
    Trump’s executive order rescinded the plan.

    Executive order on climate change
    Obama instructed the federal government to prepare for the impact of climate change in a 2013 executive order.
    It created a Council on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, charged with overseeing such a national effort. The council was made up of representatives from across the federal government to work with a task force of state, local and tribal leadership also created by Obama’s order.
    On Tuesday, Trump revoked Obama’s executive order.
    Clean Power Plan
    Obama to unveil major climate change proposal

    Obama to unveil major climate change proposal 01:54
    This 2015 plan limits carbon pollution from power plants.
    It sets goals of reducing greenhouse emissions 32% from 2005 levels by 2030. It also requires states to meet specific carbon emission reduction standards based on their individual energy consumption and offers states incentives for early deployment of renewable energy.
    The Clean Power Plan is not in effect pending a challenge in the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

    Critics, including EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, say it was the Obama “administration’s effort to kill jobs across this country through the Clean Power Plan.”
    Under Trump’s executive order, Pruitt is to review three of the rules in the plan and decide how to deal with them.

    Moratorium on federal coal program
    The Obama administration placed a moratorium on coal leasing on federal lands in 2016. The move didn’t affect leases already in effect but paused new applications.
    Environmentalists had long criticized the practice, saying coal companies paid so little for their leases that the US government and taxpayers were subsidizing coal production, which harmed health and the environment.
    The former administration wanted more transparency, including a public database on the carbon emitted from fossil fuels developed on public lands.
    Trump ordered Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to lift the moratorium.
    “My administration is putting an end to the war on coal,” Trump said.

    Climate change’s ‘growing threat to national security’
    This presidential memo in 2016 outlined the “growing threat to national security” that climate change poses.
    It stated that federal government policy was “to ensure that the current impacts of climate change, and those anticipated in the coming decades, be identified and considered” in terms of national security policies and plans.
    That memo and two others were revoked Tuesday.
    Waters of the United States
    EPA head defends Trump order on water rules

    EPA head defends Trump order on water rules 01:37
    This 2015 rule put the Environmental Protection Agency in charge of protecting streams and wetlands, with the aim of protecting water sources from “pollution and degradation,” according to an EPA statement at the time. It gives the government the authority to protect ponds and other small bodies of water from pollution.
    Trump signed an executive order in February calling for a review of the rule.
    “The EPA’s so-called ‘Waters of the United States’ rule is one of the worst examples of federal regulation,” he said on February 28, calling it “very destructive and horrible.”

  13. Veteran says:

    People please read some books on planetary science and evolution. The time humans have been on the earth is but a second compared to the time since the earth was formed. Man might be causing problems, but have very little effect. Sorry, but in 5 billion years our sun will expand and become a red giant burning the earth to a crisp and I’m sure the democrats will blame Trump!

  14. Edith Campins says:

    The level of ignorance and denial among trump supporters is truly incredible.

    The enire world is moving towards policies to protect the environment. To those who claim Democrats did nothing for the last eight years I say did you forget the hstoric agreement Pres. Obama made with China on climate? Did you forget his work towards the Climate Treaty? Yes, the one trump refuses to participate in. Only two countries in the world have refused to participate, the US and Nicaragua.

    And yes even trump recently admitted that climate change is not a hoax.

    Never mind the irrefutable science, think about the number of cars on the road in 1950, the number of factories, the vast amounts of forests that have been cut down. Yes, the earth has always been changing, the difference is that humans have accelerated the rate of change beyond that wich nature can cope with.

    And lastly, trump has cancelled and revoked all types of measure put in place to protect our environment, just to do big business bidding without any logical or scientific basis for doing so.

  15. gmath55 says:

    Al Gore still laughing all the way to the bank.

    Al Gore’s Climate Change Hypocrisy Is As Big As His Energy-Sucking Mansion. Climate Hoax: Not A Single G-20 Country Is Close To Hitting CO2 Emission Targets.

  16. PCer says:

    You cannot change what happened yesterday. You can be responsible for today and tomorrow. Who cares what previous administrations did. What is THIS administration doing? What are YOU doing?

  17. Willy Boy says:

    Malthusian catastrophe.

  18. Sherry says:

    @ Veteran. . . WOW! I had no idea you were such a scientific expert on Climate Change! “Man might be causing problems, but have very little effect”. That is NOT what the vast majority of actual scientists say. The human impact is huge. . . and, it is the only thing humans have a chance of changing.

    I’ve read what our noted scientists at NASA have to say, have you, Veteran? To our beloved fellow citizens. . . read this carefully, and then call your elected representatives. . . it is NEVER too late!

  19. Agkistrodon says:

    Sherry please tell us where YOU received your degree in earth science, Please enlighten me. Also I would like to know how many times you have been published. You seem to always have a lot of “stats” and Info, but I really hesitant the believe you understand anything you say about the Planet and it’s history or science.

  20. Sherry says:

    @ whoever. . . I don’t “pretend” to be a scientist. . . like others do . . . please take a moment to stop trolling long enough to actually read my comment, and you will see the link I have provided to the actual scientists at NASA. Thank You!

  21. Agksitrodon says:

    Good for you sherry, I happen to actually be retired from NOAA, and I fully understand how data is manipulated with statistics. And I actually have the degrees and publications to boot. I really do not think you understand the immense number of variables involved, when it comes to the planet, it’s history, and it’s CONSTANTLY changing Climate. yes MOST Scientist agree the earth’s climate is changing. HOWEVER to state that Scientist have a consensus that humans cause or are the sole cause is utter nonsense and a downright LIE.

  22. Concerned Citizen says:

    If you live on this planet and are a human being you are responsible in some form or fashion for environmental impact.

    Labels and name calling won’t mean a thing when none of us has air to breath and everything is either burning or under water.

    Climate change knows know foundries. It’s up to ALL of US to make a difference.

  23. Sherry says:

    Despicable “name calling” aside. . . I have NEVER stated that humans are the “SOLE” cause of climate change. I refuse to climb in the gutter and respond further to those who, like trump, attack people with no basis in fact.

    What I will do is post the following links to hopefully provide some factual reading material for those in our community who are concerned with actual “consensus” of scientific information and analysis on the subject at hand:

    And there are many, many more. . .

  24. Dave says:

    Regardless if humans are the cause or not. We are the only living thing on this planet with a chance to do anything. It has to be up to us to try and do something even If we aren’t the cause we cant just sit back and watch our air deplete and resources dwindle. That’s idiocracy. God gave us the intelligence to save the earth and everything on it. Instead we are arguing who’s fault it is as the earth spins toward oblivion.

  25. Agkistrodon says:

    I am not like Trump, and I did not vote for him.

  26. Sherry says:

    Thanks Dave. . . very well said! Regardless of the “cause” of climate change, it is up to we humans to do all we can to clean up the environment. We all need to pull together and demand that our political decision makers stop taking money from lobbyist and step up to doing EVERYTHING they can to save planet Earth. We should have never pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord, or put in an EPA head that has seriously weakened that agency! Under the current administration, we are most definitely moving in the WRONG direction!

    In addition, we can also help with our choices in things like energy, preserving water, recycling, the cars we buy, etc. etc.

  27. Agkistrodon says:

    In the 1700’s on average 4.5 millions acres burned annually. In 2017 approx 1.3 million burned………….And those are facts, if you want to know where it came from research it, will make you smarter.

  28. Agkistrodon says:

    Those numbers were for what would become the state of CALIFORNIA as it is NOW.

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