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Conference: Climate Change Worse for Florida Than Predicted, if no Action

October 26, 2009

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - "It will be worse than predicted unless we take action." That's how scientists and government leaders described the effects of climate change on Florida at a recent conference in St. Petersburg sponsored by Audubon. Sea level, by some new estimates, is expected to rise over 3 feet within the next couple of decades - that is twice as high as previously estimated, and much sooner.

With Florida having 1,200 miles of low-lying coastline, Eric Draper, deputy director of Audubon Florida, says we need to act with a sense of urgency.

"We need to move very quickly. Huge glaciers are falling into the sea. It's not just a question of melting - it's like putting a bunch of ice cubes in a glass. Eventually it's going to overflow, and that overflow is going to start tearing away at our beach and coastline."

Draper says Florida is at risk for sea-level rise, increasing storms, drought and extreme heat. He adds this could threaten coastal communities, the health of people and wildlife, and the water supply. Florida has been a leader in efforts to lessen the impact of climate change by conserving wildlife habitat, and by working to increase sources of renewable energy and to reduce greenhouse gases. Critics say these efforts are expensive and unnecessary because the climate has changed throughout history and is not affected by human actions.

David Moore, with the Southwest Florida Water Management District, says Floridians use 7 billion gallons of water a day, 1 billion of that just to water grass. He says no silver bullet exists to fix the problem, but the best bets are conservation and developing diverse sources of water.

"During the wet years or the average years, you live off of floodwaters and you rest ground water and seawater desal. In the dry years, when the rivers aren't flowing, you turn to your ground water and your desal. It's going to take strategies that mimic Mother Nature."

Mike Sole, secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, says the state needs to be smart in developing new strategies to lessen the impact of climate change.

"Real actions are happening in Florida. Not just talk, but boots-on-the-ground actions to improve renewable energy, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to reduce our dependence on foreign oil."

Gina Presson , Public News Service - FL