Editorial: Trump's climate policies are a disaster. For Florida's sake, Biden should undo them — quickly

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This doesn’t seem normal. Tropical Storm Eta, after making landfall in the Florida Keys this month, dumped almost 14 inches in 24 hours in Miramar.

Miami Lakes experienced “flooding we haven’t seen in modern times,” according to resident and Herald columnist Fabiola Santiago.

Sections of North Miami received about 7 inches of rain, while parts of Kendall were hit with about 6 inches. Overall, Miami-Dade saw 4 inches to 8 inches of rain, compared with normal rainfall of 3.27 inches for all of November.

And rainwater so overwhelmed Hollywood’s sewage treatment plant that officials told residents to shorten their showers, cut their use of washers and dishwashers and flush toilets less often.

Climate change is coming to your bathroom, and it doesn’t smell so good.

Eta was the 29th named storm of the year.

While it isn’t clear that climate change is responsible for increasing the number of hurricanes, scientists are certain that it’s changing tropical storms’ behavior: Warmer water is fueling them to be more powerful. It’s increasing the amount of water vapor the atmosphere can hold, producing more rain.

WE’RE GROUND ZERO

This isn’t news to South Florida. There’s almost no place in America — except for those growing parts of the West Coast where massive forest fires have turned the sky to orange and the ground to embers — that feels the impacts of climate change as we do. We’ve been drawing attention to this reality for more than two years with our ongoing series of editorials and expert columns, The Invading Sea.

Of all the damage that Donald Trump has done in his destructive presidency, perhaps none will be as consequential as his climate-change denial. It’s not merely that Trump took no action to curb the rapidly approaching point of danger that will be extremely hard to escape. His actions have sped up the timetable toward that calamity.

Placing agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and Interior Department in the hands of extraction-industry lobbyists like lambs for the slaughter,

Trump reversed almost 100 rules and regulations that had been reducing pollution to our air, water and atmosphere. With perverse relish, he pulled the United States out of the 2015 Paris Agreement, the best attempt yet by the world’s governments to slow the rising accumulation of CO2.

Thanks to the increasing use of natural gas, U.S. emissions of CO2 have been falling (2.9% in 2019 alone). Even so, global CO2 reached 417 parts per billion in May, the highest level in human history.

China and its heavy reliance on coal plants are much to blame.

But America’s withdrawal from leadership is making it harder for the world’s nations to pressure the Chinese to improve.

Much can be repaired. But not greenhouse pollution. Heat-trapping gases remain in the atmosphere for decades.

Enter President-elect Joe Biden. Biden won election partly by making climate a central plank of his platform. Crucially, he rebutted the paralyzing argument that fighting climate change threatens economic growth.

Biden says we can have both. Emerging green industries, such as in solar power and electric cars, can add and sustain millions of new jobs. Biden’s goal — zero net emissions by 2050 — may be too slow a schedule, but it’s a start in the right direction. And at this point, aiming in the right direction is no small thing.

REVERSE EXECUTIVE ORDERS

Right away, Biden can sign executive orders to undo dozens of executive orders that Trump signed to erase the environmental achievements of President Barack Obama. He can quickly restore, for example, the Obama-era regulations on emissions from cars and trucks.

Of course, Biden could do much more if he had a Senate willing to work with him on legislation. For that, we must rely on the voters of Georgia to turn the Peach State’s senatorial representation blue by electing Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock in an all-important runoff election Jan. 5.

If the two Democrats defeat the Republican incumbents, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, the two parties will be tied in the U.S. Senate, 50-50, leaving the deciding vote to the incoming vice president, Democrat Kamala Harris.

This would mean a new day for South Florida local governments, which have striven for at least a decade to prepare our region for the many impacts of sea level rise. It’s been a lonely effort. Our counties and cities have received precious little help from Washington, and barely more from Tallahassee.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis gave many hope that “climate change denial” would no longer carry the day in our state when, among other things, he hired a chief science officer and chief resilience officer.

But the latter office has been largely dormant since the first appointee left months ago, and there is scant evidence the former has had any impact on addressing threats like sea level rise.

With Biden assuming the presidency, there now exists the chance of real progress.

All eyes on Georgia.

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“The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state focusing on the threats posed by the warming climate.

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©2020 Miami Herald

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