The Key West Mystique

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Climate change

Climate change in the Keys | Casting blame sidetracks solutions

By Linda Grist Cunningham, editor and proprietor

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of Key West Island News and KeyWestWatch Media LLC. She and her husband, a park ranger at Fort Zach, live in Key West with their Cat 5s.


I’m amused when what I call the “oh-so-awares” get into a slugfest over who or what is to blame for climate change, for dying smalltooth sawfish, spinning sea creatures, King Tide flooding, sargassum carpets, supersized Cat 5 hurricanes, Wizard-of-Oz tornadoes, sea-level rise, coral bleaching and assorted other environmental disasters.

(Oh-so-awares is my shorthand for folks like me who are opinionated news junkies. We are a rainbow of political stripes and educational and economic backgrounds, but with one thing in common: We are hyper-aware of stuff and we get pretty tetchy when disagreed with. Oh-so-awares doom-scroll, looking for opportunities to post a satisfying social media retort or share a meme or story that’s not much more than a middle finger in the air. We already know who we’re voting for and we’ve got the yard signs and bumper stickers to match. If you’re not fer us, you’re agin us, so to speak.)

Whether you’re an oh-so-aware or a middle-of-the-road go-along-to-get-along, you can’t live in the Florida Keys and remain oblivious to the nightmarish effects of excessive heat, rising seas and dead reefs. Heck, we just struggled through 10 days of record-breaking temperatures, a series of thunderstorms and a darn unpleasant Monday with enough rain to drown folks who walk outside with their noses in the air. There’s enough sargassum headed toward the Keys this summer to take down any thought of a pleasant day at the beach.

Climate change
Dying sargassum lingers on South Beach in Key West in 2022. This year could be worse.

Climate change | Dispute the causes; the effects are real

Does it really matter if climate change was caused by humans being irresponsible for a couple hundred years? The results are the same whether the cause was a bazillion cows farting in fields, greedy corporations spewing carbon into the atmosphere or me forgetting to pick up plastic bottles and (gasp) casually mingling trash and recyclables in my green bin. For that matter, the cause could have been some otherworldly creature like Jean-Luc’s nemesis Q turning up his toaster too high one morning and setting his house — and the universe — ablaze.

Key West Island News
Water temperature in the Keys on May 29-30, 2024.

The polarizing arguments over what (or who) causes climate change drain the resources we need to cope with the undeniable results. Even if we could unanimously agree that climate change were the indisputable result of a celestial toaster fire, what would we do? Ban toasters? Haul Q into a global climate change court?

That’s almost as ridiculous as fixing climate change with Wite-Out, which is Florida’s current solution of choice. On May 15, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation that makes it official: Strike the words “climate change” from state documents, forego mandates that developers, businesses, governmental agencies and industries take into consideration the causes and effects of climate change and, voila, climate change not only doesn’t matter, it doesn’t exist.

“We’re restoring sanity in our approach to energy and rejecting the agenda of the radical green zealots,” as DeSantis eloquently put it when he signed the climate change changes, which go into effect July 1.

Despite almost two years in a row of record heat and deadly ocean temperatures, despite devastating hurricanes like Irma, Ian and Idalia, despite a flood, wind and homeowner insurance crisis, all of which we can see and feel, there’s now no such thing as climate change in Florida (except apparently among the crazy lefties).

And what better way to prove there’s nothing to heat and climate change than to also strike the mandates that once ensured outdoor workers got access to water and cooling breaks? That new legislation goes also into effect July 1 and will affect workers on airport tarmacs, in the fields and on your roof. Who needs a water break in the heat when the governor and legislature fixed the problem? From their climate-controlled office suites, I might snarkily mention.

Let me point to the heatstroke death of a 26-year-old South Florida field worker last September. In April, OSHA found his employer failed to provide adequate heat protection. The fine was $27,655, which for all I know is less than the company president’s country club fees.

But. There’s nothing in either of those two new laws that says we can’t do the right thing. The laws say “no mandates.” So there’s nothing to stop smart people, businesses, developers and governments included, from developing and implementing the workarounds that will make us in the Keys more resilient as we adapt to the inhospitable realities and challenges of our changing environment. We don’t need a law to make us provide some shade and water.

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