Jacksonville Scientists, Academics Urge Mayor And City Council To Take On Climate Change

Oct 31, 2019

A group of scientists and academics from local universities and colleges have signed onto a letter asking Mayor Lenny Curry and the City Council to develop a plan for reducing fossil fuel emissions in Jacksonville and to start preparing the city for the impacts of climate change.

“Jacksonville is the largest city in Florida and we are the only one of the major cities that does not have some kind of climate action plan, a sustainability action plan, or a chief resilience officer,” said Adam Rosenblatt, an Assistant Professor of Biology at the University of North Florida.

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Rosenblatt is one of eleven professors from UNF, Jacksonville University, and Florida State College at Jacksonville who signed onto a letter asking city leaders to develop a comprehensive climate action plan.

Related: Read the letter

As a coastal city with a huge river running through the heart of downtown, Jacksonville is extremely vulnerable to flooding and sea level rise, both of which are being exacerbated by the changing climate. Dangerous extreme heat is also projected to become more and more common.

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“For those people who live more inland who aren't directly threatened by storm surge and water related risks, the issue is really that as we lose property, whether that's business properties or residential properties, if those people don't rebuild, and if they move away from Jacksonville to somewhere else in Florida or somewhere else in the country, then we're losing our tax base,” Rosenblatt said. “And if you lose the tax base, then that's going to cut the kinds of services that we all depend on, whether it's education or transportation, or whatever it might be. So there's really a long term threat to the viability of Jacksonville if we don't come up with a plan to deal with these issues.”

Because of these vulnerabilities, Rosenblatt said the city’s future may depend on significant emission reductions. And he believes Jacksonville can’t wait for others to take the lead.

“How can we expect any other people, in the country or in the world, to cut their emissions and do what's necessary to stop the worst effects from hitting Jacksonville if we don't do it ourselves, if we don't try and make that a priority?” he asked, rhetorically.

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If Jacksonville does significantly reduce local fossil fuel emissions, there will be other positive outcomes as well.

“The other benefits of cutting greenhouse gas emissions, beyond just affecting climate change and slowing the pace of climate change, is that it has all kinds of other extra benefits for human health, air pollution, and water pollution,” he said. “So we should want to make these cuts to emissions just for those reasons alone.”

There are also economic benefits to cutting emissions and embracing renewable energy sources. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the two fastest growing jobs in the country are solar installers and wind turbine technicians.

“I'm not saying there's not going to be costs, especially to certain industries or to certain communities, but we need to balance that against the overall cost to society and the globe in general,” Rosenblatt said. “The costs of mitigating climate change and trying to adapt to climate change, they are far less than the cost would be of doing nothing.”

Mayor Lenny Curry is in London this week, so he was unavailable for comment before this story’s deadline.

Rosenblatt said he’s already met with one City Councilmember and he has plans to meet with another next week, though he refused to name those Councilmembers on the record.

Rosenblatt and his colleagues say the city’s Adaptation Action Area Working Group and Storm Resiliency and Infrastructure and Development Review Committee have done good work, but there’s still much that needs to be done in Jacksonville.

“The whole point of the letter was really to start the conversation,” Rosenblatt said. “I think the conversation has started, and I'm just curious to see where it's going to go.”

Brendan Rivers can be reached at brivers@wjct.org, 904-358-6396 or on Twitter at @BrendanRivers.