The battle in the country’s largest swing state offers a preview of what could be a pivotal fight in the next presidential election.
Crist is running for his old job as a Democrat, criticizing Scott and Florida Republicans for reversing his efforts to curb global warming.
“They don’t believe in science. That’s ridiculous,” Crist said at a recent campaign rally in Miami. “This is ground zero for climate change in America.”
Nationally, the issue could prove tricky for Democrats.
Polls show a bipartisan majority of Americans favor measures to reduce planet-warming greenhouse gases, such as the new federal rule to limit carbon emissions from power plants. But they routinely rank climate change far behind the economy, the centerpiece of Scott’s campaign, when prioritizing issues.
In Miami Beach, which floods even on sunny days, the concern is palpable. On a recent afternoon, McKenzie pulled out his iPad and flipped through photos from a 2009 storm. In one, two women kayak through knee-high water in the center of town.
“This is not a future problem. It’s a current problem,” said Leonard Berry, director of the Florida Center for Environmental Studies at Florida Atlantic University and a contributing author of the National Climate Assessment, which found that sea levels have risen about 8 inches in the past century.
Miami Beach is expected to spend $400 million on an elaborate pumping system to cope with routine flooding. To the north, Fort Lauderdale has shelled out millions to restore beaches and a section of coastal highway after Hurricane Sandy and other storms breached the city’s concrete sea wall. Hallandale Beach, which lies on the Atlantic Coast between the two cities, has abandoned six of its eight drinking water wells because of encroaching seawater.
By one regional assessment, the waters off South Florida could rise another 2 feet by 2060, a scenario that would overwhelm the region’s aging drainage system and taint its sources of drinking water.