FROM THE LEFT- The Daily Commercial

Facing threats from climate change in Lake County

Jane Hepting Guest columnist

Almost daily, our local newspapers carry articles on climate change. The science is clear: greenhouse gases are causing our planet to get hotter, which means more droughts, more fires, more severe rainstorms and hurricanes, bigger algae blooms, rising seas, salt water intrusion, flooding and many other threats to the health of all living things.

Lake County particularly is vulnerable to climate change, not just because we live in a subtropical zone, but also because our population is growing rapidly. More people mean more greenhouse gas emissions, more water pollution and more strain on our water supply.

To eliminate our greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050 and to ensure an adequate supply of clean water, we must put sustainability policies in place now. Also, we must implement resiliency measures to prepare for climate threats.

Although Rick Scott dismissed climate change worries while he was Florida’s governor, GOP attitudes may be changing in Tallahassee. Republican state Sen. Jason Brodeur, who chairs the Senate’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee, recently stated, “More so than perhaps any other state, Florida is vulnerable to the impacts of our changing climate and increasingly severe weather events.”

This is a great time to urge Gov. De-Santis to appoint a Sustainability and Resiliency (SR) Officer who can lead the state in developing a climate action plan for Florida. That plan needs community input to ensure that the burden of addressing climate change does not have a disparate impact upon the poor and people of color.

We also should urge our county government and our 14 municipal governments to likewise hire an SR Officer to create local climate action plans, with input from resident advisory panels. Those officers and panels should consider the suggestions listed below as they search for solutions to each of our environmental challenges.

What can we do to decrease our greenhouse gas emissions? We should phase out coal- and gas-powered plants, and end oil drilling and fracking. We should reward utility companies for promoting solar and wind energy. We should require that new homes be equipped with solar panels and be built with other green technologies. Starting immediately, state and local agencies should spend their transportation dollars on electric vehicles and their construction dollars on building green. In addition, they should expand public transportation and install more charging stations for electric vehicles.

What can we do to stop water pollution? All of our municipal governments should follow the lead of the Lake County Commission and adopt a fertilizer ordinance. Septic systems that are polluting our waterways should be replaced with sewer systems. More monitoring should be done to ensure that industry is not discharging harmful chemicals. We should ban plastic bags and foam containers.

What can we do to ensure that we have enough water? To allow our rainwater to be absorbed back into our aquifer, we must keep open spaces. Real estate developers should minimize impervious surfaces and should be required to install landscaping that does not require frequent watering. River water should be stored in shaded, swampy areas rather than in dams where loss from evaporation is high. Utility companies should set higher rates for above average water use. What can we do to become more resilient to climate change? We need protections for employees who work in the hot sun, more shelters and trained volunteers during climate disasters, and more funding to help low-income families weatherize their homes. In addition, we need to help farmers switch to drought-resistant crops. Because trees provide shade and capture carbon dioxide, we should protect them and plant more.

Each of us should make sure that climate change is an important topic at all governmental planning sessions. Consider forming an environmental committee at your place of worship, work or recreation.

One way to become a better advocate is to join one or more environmental advocacy groups, such as the Ocklawaha Valley Audubon Society, Friends of the Wekiva River, the Lake County Conservation Council and the local NAACP’s Environmental & Climate Justice Committee. As we learn more together, we can envision and create a hopeful future — one with abundant, clean and affordable water and energy.




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