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Climate Change/JUN 2019

Hope Winsborough | Published on 6/26/2019

On June 12, LWV members and their guests heard from Central Florida’s experts on the Hot Topic of climate change—its local impact and how area governments/municipalities are addressing the issue. Moderator and WMFE environmental reporter Amy Green began by asking Sergio Alvarez, a natural resource economist with UCF’s Rosen School of Hospitality Management, to weigh-in on the impacts of climate change to the state. 

More frequent flooding, due to sea-level rise from the greenhouse effect, is the most visible impact, said Alvarez, as well as fresh- and salt-water algae blooms, which reproduce faster in warm water. Red Tide is now present in Florida waters for as many as five months per year, he explained, up from around two months annually for the decade ending in 1968. Other crucial impacts include coral bleaching and more frequent category 3-5 hurricanes in recent years.

Chris Castro, director of sustainability and resilience for the City of Orlando, discussed local initiatives to address such problems. Earlier this year, Orlando was among 25 cities recognized by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s American Cities Climate Challenge as a national leader on Climate Change.  The initiative awarded a $2.5M grant, “to essentially ramp-up a bold commitment to actions that focus on reducing the city’s carbon footprint” by focusing on three areas: enhancing energy efficiency in homes and buildings, “decarbonizing” the energy supply by moving to 100 percent renewable energy, and accelerating the adoption of electric vehicles while reducing the number of miles driven. 

Orlando’s strategies to achieve these goals include several that drew cheerful applause from Hot Topics attendees, such as analyzing the city’s own critical services/facilities to enhance resiliency and increasing renewable-energy sources. Castro announced that the city would be deploying nearly $7M in solar and battery storage at critical sites and facilities over the next two fiscal years. 

Another strategy involves expanding solar offerings for businesses and homeowners. The city, which now offers 20 megawatts of community solar, has recently contracted to bring in 108.5 additional megawatts—bringing the portion of OUC’s electricity supply from renewables to 10 percent by the end of 2020.  

Jenifer Rupert, regional disaster resilience coordinator with the East Central Florida Regional Planning Council, shed light on how efforts like Orlando’s might translate more broadly. To help smaller cities and counties deal with the shocks and stressors of climate-related issues, her group aims to amplify successful efforts so everyone can benefit and to “institutionalize this work in a way that makes sense for each and every local government.” 

To that end, the East Central Florida Regional Planning Council recently formalized its partnership with local jurisdictions and agencies, called the Resilience Collaborative with a focus on three pillars of People, Places and Prosperity. 

Castro shared Rupert’s excitement, noting that the new collaborative provides a “candid [way] to share best practices around policies and programs” that support taxpayers and address climate change with a resilient infrastructure. “It’s a really exciting move for our region.” 

Panelists also discussed the importance of resilience after climate-related stressors and storm-related migration, the immediate and long-term priorities facing the new state Sustainability Officer, and the potential for change within the current political climate. 

Castro’s view is that sustainability and climate are increasingly important political issues, aligning both parties more than ever before—driven in part by younger generations. “Kids are skipping school to strike about this issue,” he noted. 

“Studies are showing that more than 70 percent of the population realizes that climate change is the reality and we need to do something to address it.”