Group working to educate public, find solutions to mounting ecological challenges in SW Florida
A group of community leaders, scientists and climate experts met in Fort Myers Wednesday to discuss how climate change is impacting lives, green spaces and property values in Southwest Florida.
Called the Southwest Florida Climate & Community Initiative, the group's goal is to help educate the public about climate change and how to better prepare for larger and more powerful hurricanes, rising seas and coastal erosion.
A larger summit is being planned by the group for October.
Molly Nation, with Florida Gulf Coast University's Department of Ecology and Environmental Services, said during a panel presentation that part of the challenge is getting people to open their minds.
"We're looking at the rapid intensification of storms and sea level rise project and I think it's clear as to why it's so urgent," Nation said. "The acceptance of climate change is still under 50% in some parts of Florida. Just that it's happening and is being influenced by human activities."
Nation said some conservative-leaning people simply can't change their minds about issues because that change could challenge all of their life views.
"Then you have to drop all your other conservative ideas — you can't accept climate change and hold onto conservative values," Nation said. "We need to convince our colleagues and friends that you can do both. The Florida Legislature is trying to keep what they would consider leftist ideology out of schools. It's really the politicians: there's not disputing it among scientists."
She said climate change and sea level rise have been at the base of a misinformation campaign for decades and that has allowed the fossil fuel industry to continue to make billions of dollars a year in exchange for crippling the planet.
"If you look at the geological record over millions of years, you don't see this rapid succession of warming that we're seeing today," Nation said. "It's also wrought with controversy because there have been real political moves to create controversy around this.
"It's an ideology. If I accept that this is not human caused, then I don't have to accept any blame and make any changes. If we accept ownership, we can't continue as we have for the past 100 years. (But) if (the fossil fuel industry) can continue denial for a few more years or decades, maybe they can make a few more billion dollars."
Twenty-four people were at the event, which took place at the Collaboratory in downtown Fort Myers. A similar meeting will take place today in Naples at the Collier Community Foundation on Pine Ridge Road.
Besides the fact that climate change is happening, the root of the cause is primarily the burning of fossil fuels over the past century or so. Having a way to prove that to a non-believer friend or relative is helpful when trying to better educate others about the challenges, many at the meeting said.
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"It's about shifts that we're seeing in the isotopic composition of carbon dioxide molecules in the atmosphere," said Florida Gulf Coast Coast University professor and researcher Mike Savarese.
"You can actually see changes that demonstrate unequivocally that it is from the burning of fossil fuels. We see shifts in isotopic records, and those shifts more and more represent the finger prints (of modern human activity)."
Disruptions to the nation's food chains will soon become more of an issue as the population continues to grow while weather patterns become more unpredictable.
Gene McAvoy, with the University of Florida's agriculture extension in LaBelle, said some farming techniques may not be viable in a world that needs more food, one that's also stressed more by excess heat and humidity.
"To produce the amount of food that we need, we may not be able to use those practices," McAvoy said of techniques like regenerative farming, where farmers rotate crops and allow some fields to remain fallow for years.
Keeping farm fields in place will also cut down on sprawl and will help ensure there is greenspace for wildlife and people, he said.
"What are now cow pastures were once vegetable fields," he said. "Our footprint has actually shrunken over the years and we may have to use more land in the future."
Lehigh Acres resident David Dutro came to the meeting to get more information about climate change and what community leaders are doing about it. Dutro accepts climate change and wants politicians and community members to recognize the magnitude of the problems.
But, he said, the effort needs to be on a grassroots level, and that some in the public don't want science and data thrown in their faces.
"Explaining this to the general public is probably the most important thing, and the economic aspect of climate change will make the most impact to the public," Dutro said. "The scientific stuff, the public will just start rolling their eyes."
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