St. Petersburg Conference on World Affairs brings climate change discussion to the Bay



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Climate change was one of the many topics of the St. Petersburg Conference on World Affairs on Friday, with the seminar titled “Global Warming Will Give Us More Time On The Beach” allowing for an in-depth discussion of the risks of continued pollution, particularly in Florida.

The discussion panel included Frank Alcock, an Associate Professor at New College of Florida, Mark Hambley, a former American ambassador to Qatar and Lebanon and Consul General in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and Jennifer Rubiello, a field associate at Environment Florida. The session was moderated by Robert Noun, the adjunct professor at the University of Denver's Strum College of Law.

The conversation opened with a takedown of the obviously tongue in cheek title of the session.

“My interpretation was that the thought is global warming means more warm days which means more beach days, is that where you're going?” asked Alcock. “Well I don't think here in the state of Florida warmth is actually a constraint to go to the beach for the most part. … Cold usually doesn't keep us from going to the beach here in Florida. Extreme weather might, and extreme weather might increase in a warming world. … I think the more important point that I would come back to is we've got this thing to deal with called sea level rise and sea level rise projections over the next 30-50 years are concerning to say the least, alarming perhaps, for the state of Florida. We have a fairly hardened coastline with a lot of development, so what would naturally happen if we weren't around is the beaches would just migrate. They're not going to be able to migrate. So over the next 30-50 years, if global warming continues and it will, I think there might not be as much beach to go to in the state of Florida.”

“I would actually argue that you would probably be spending more time snorkeling or kayaking here in St. Pete,” added Rubiello.

There was plenty of criticism for the United States inability to make any substantial progress on the issue. Alcock criticized both sides of the political spectrum, the right for ignoring the environmental reality of climate change and the left for ignoring the political reality of getting a bill through Congress.

“On the right, I think there are lots of what I would refer to as inferential misdemeanors and felonies and a reluctance to come to grasp with what has become very clear on the ecological side. But I don't want to devote too much time to that. I want to move over and actually express my frustration with the left, ... Conversations about ecological imperatives and where the climate is going and what moral responsibilities we have, what technological abilities are out there. What would be economically lucrative for us and the rest of the world to do, I'm not comfortable with my colleagues in those areas. We have lots of areas of agreement, a few areas of disagreement. When it comes to the politics though, that's where I think the conversation tends to be naïve to a point of, not destructive, but they certainly don't help the cause as I would like.”

Alocock referenced the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, also known as the Waxman-Markey Bill, in this regard. He felt the Democrats allowed the bill to die a “valiant death” which has prevented political progress since.

Rubiello outlined the consequences of failing to act on climate change in Florida, which she described as the front line of man's war with nature.

“Our coral reefs are eroding and as the sea level rises salt water enters our fresh water aquifers. Our water supply is threatened. Coastal cities, for folks that live in Miami Beach and St. Petersburg, we're going to see increasingly severe flooding. Our health is also at risk. Deadly heatwaves are going to become more intense and frequent and that's going to inrcease the number of deaths that are caused by heat stress. Smog pollution, which is fueled by warmer air, is going to grow worse.”

On the topic of solutions, an inward-outward approach was recommended. Hambley, who described his time in the Middle East as easy compared to being the US Special Negotiator on climate change, suggested the personal steps of cutting back on electricity, using ecologically friendly topics and walking more. Rubiello positively acknowledged President Barack Obama's directive to get the EPA to develop carbon pollution standards, and hoped that despite interference by the fossil fuel industry, what she referred to as the most powerful special interest in the world, these efforts can lead to substantial legislation. Still, the group acknowledged that climate change was a global issue and thus should be treated as such.

“Clearly the US is behind, and there is a lot we could be doing to catch up,” said Rubiello. “We do also have to set an example and urge other nations to follow suit. We are definitely a huge source of the problem, but China has surpassed us and we'll ultimately have to act globally if we're going to solve this problem.”

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