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State-Level GOP Measures Focus on Adapting to Climate Crisis, Not Preventing It

This paradoxical approach is part of the GOP’s desperate commitment to a climate denialist agenda.

Florida Governor and 2024 Republican Presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis looks on during a news conference near the Rio Grande River in Eagle Pass, Texas, on June 26, 2023.

This summer is breaking records, with many days becoming the hottest in recorded human history, and Americans across the aisle are feeling the heat. Conservative-dominated states are not spared from the effects of climate change, yet conservative politicians are struggling to respond to the needs of their constituents as they experience climate disasters. On the national level, Republicans continue to push back against climate policy and are waging a climate misinformation campaign to discredit the science of global warming. A group of Republican senators is demanding that the Environmental Protection Agency withdraw the Clean Power Plan. However, on the state and local level, Republican politicians have no choice but to respond to climate disasters ravaging their homes. This contradiction between ideology and real-world pressures has left them with a disjointed climate track record. Republicans are forced to spend billions on climate adaptation but refuse to move forward with climate mitigation.

Republican-dominated states like Texas and Florida are at the forefront, as they remain especially vulnerable to extreme heat, hurricanes and flooding. Gov. Ron DeSantis launched a half billion-dollar project, the Resilient Florida Program, to help local governments adapt to rising sea levels and flooding. Yet he dismisses discussions of reducing fossil fuel as “left-wing stuff.” Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas has budgeted $1.6 billion in preparation for worsening hurricanes that have devastated the state. However, Abbott vowed to decrease financial support for renewable energy in the state while investing more in fossil fuels. Both initiatives avoid explicitly addressing climate change (and its root cause, fossil fuel emissions); instead, they focus on “extreme weather.”

This paradoxical approach is part of the GOP’s desperate commitment to a climate denialist agenda. Republicans in state and national positions are continuously funded by fossil fuel companies, assuring Republican political opposition to effective climate policies. Meaningful climate change policy must center rapid transition away from fossil fuels to meet international targets to avoid climate chaos. Without mitigation, climate adaptation is like trying to mop up water from an overflowing sink, while refusing to turn off the faucet. The severity of the climate crisis means time is running out to turn off the faucet and avoid irreversible damage. Moreover, the longer Republicans block effective climate policy, the more expensive future climate mitigation and adaptation will be.

Municipal governments are key in the fight against climate change, as their implementation capacities are necessary to enforce policies. Local governments are less encumbered in passing and implementing climate change codes, projects, funding and policies compared to federal and state governments. There are some genuine Republican climate defectors, and with their help, local governments can be a source of hope in bipartisan climate policy. My hometown of Miami, Florida, is at the front lines of this complex fight. Miami is extremely vulnerable to flooding, sea level rises, hurricanes and rising temperatures. It was named by scientists the most vulnerable major coastal city in the world due to sea level rise. I’ve witnessed the devastation of hurricanes, extreme heat and the now-common flash flooding. Even as the governor remains staunchly against acknowledging climate change, Miami is well-acquainted with its effects.

I was surprised that Republican Mayor Francis Suarez, a DeSantis critic, announced in 2020 plans to reach carbon net neutrality by 2050, aligning with the Paris Climate Accords. The plan was made across party lines, as Miami voters continue to support meaningful climate policy. Miami residents fear that the city will be underwater soon, so the mayor can’t feign ignorance. Mayor Suarez has joined international climate networks focused on empowering local governments in climate action, which have influenced Miami’s plans. However, there is still much to be done to strengthen and implement climate policies in Miami. Mayor Suarez hasn’t made any demands for his party to reconsider its alignment with climate change as he runs for the Republican presidential nomination. Unfortunately, as Suarez faces the national Republican stage, I fear he will retreat from his local climate interest to better align with the party. Not to mention the possibility of corporate capture as fossil fuel companies try to maintain power over the party, and buy out Suarez.

Similarly, across the country, a few Republican mayors like Suarez and Mayor Jim Brainard of Carmel, Indiana, are moving towards genuine climate policies, but are often doing so rather quietly. Local Republicans can be seen as between a rock and a hard place, as they must respond to the reality of climate change while fearing that they may alienate voters that more strongly adhere to Republican ideology. The Republican Party is experiencing slow shifts in its climate ideology, but we are running out of time. Subtle and toothless policies aren’t going to cut it. We need a bold vision to combat climate change, and strong legislation and funding to realize this vision. The local Republicans who are interested in genuine climate policy need to act now before it’s too late.

This delay in effective policies leaves all Americans, and humanity, vulnerable to climate disaster. Low-income, immigrant and communities of color are left especially vulnerable. I grew up in Little Haiti, Miami, and in response to rising sea levels, poor Black immigrant residents of the area are experiencing climate gentrification. Residents are being pushed out of their communities into more flooding-vulnerable areas, as developers prefer the more flood-resilient neighborhoods. I fear that as my home state drags its feet on climate action, my community will experience the worst of the climate disaster that hits Florida.

However, climate change knows no borders. The U.S. is among the top carbon emitters, so failure has international consequences. Republican politicians’ refusal to invest in effective climate action will derail national efforts to meet climate goals. Constituents are demanding more from their representatives, no matter their political party, and politicians must listen and create meaningful climate policies. Some Republican mayors are working towards meaningful climate policy, but we need more Republicans to get on board if we hope to stop the climate crisis.

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