BRICKELL -- South Florida business and political leaders must work together to protect the local economy from flooding and climate change, a White House adviser told a room of about 50 people including Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine at a meeting in Brickell.
"There's probably no place in the country where you can have less of an argument about climate change than South Florida," said Robert Simon, an adviser in the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy. "You see it everyday in Miami Beach."
Flooding and coastal erosion could threaten Miami's tourism and real estate sectors, he said. And climate change-caused disruption around the world could disrupt the global supply chain, killing the region's ability to import and export valuable goods.
"Business leaders are getting more and more engaged in discussion about climate change as they see it as a core threat to their future profitability and even their existence," said Simon, who added global warming was undeniably the result of human activity.
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The evidence that the problem is real continues to mount: 2015 was the hottest year on record, according to a report released Wednesday morning by U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. South Florida also experienced its hottest ever year in 2015, said Arlena Moses, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
If sea levels keep rising as polar ice melts, one analysis shows Miami property owners could lose billions from coastal flooding. No region in the country faces a greater threat from flooding, the analysis found.
The meeting was held Tuesday night and co-hosted by Pipeline Brickell and Business Forward, a nonprofit group that seeks to connect business leaders with Washington officials. Also in attendance were Miami-Dade mayoral candidate Raquel Regalado, Miami Beach Commissioner Ricky Arriola, Miami Commissioner Ken Russell and Key Biscayne Mayor Mayra Peña Lindsay.
Simon said Florida had made more progress than many states in cutting down on carbon dioxide emissions as part of a national push by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to encourage the adoption of low-carbon sources of energy.
He said there was still room for improvement. Florida has the third-largest potential for rooftop solar but only the 13th-most solar production, he said.
"This is the Sunshine State," he said. "There is a lot of untapped potential."
In a question-and-answer session, Regalado said that the Miami-Dade County School Board, on which she serves, had investigated producing energy through solar panels on its buildings and schools.
"It didn't make sense financially," she said.
That's in part because of the hostility of Florida's big utilities to solar power. The utilities have consistently helped block laws that would make solar cheaper, according to a report from the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting.
"There really doesn't seem to be an incentive in Tallahassee to untie our hands on solar power," Regalado fumed.
FCIR also reported Gov. Rick Scott had unofficially banned the use of the terms "climate change" and "global warming" by state officials.
Even so, developer Diego Ojeda of the Rilea Group said his company would be eager to install solar panels on its towers "if we can make the numbers work."
Rilea built downtown Miami's first new "LEED Gold" certified office tower at 1450 Brickell Ave. (LEED rankings are designed by the U.S. Green Building Council to measure how ecologically friendly buildings are.)
Ojeda said his father, Alan, who runs the company, was currently sailing across the Atlantic. "We care about the environment," the younger Ojeda said. "It is a part of our lives."
Other business leaders in attendance stressed private industry must take the lead in figuring out climate change solutions.
"The only way to create innovation is market-based action," said Pandwe Gibson, executive director of EcoTech Visions, a business incubator for green manufacturers in South Florida. "There have to be dollars going toward innovation."
As an example, Gibson pulled from her purse a spoon she said was made from potato and soy products, not plastic.
"At this point, we shouldn't be creating products that aren't sustainable," she said.
Miami Beach Mayor Levine also addressed the crowd, complaining that the city's $500 million plan to raise roads and install pumps hadn't received financial help from the state.
"We are the poster child for climate change," Levine said.
Apologizing for an early exit, he then thanked Simon, the federal official, for his presentation.
"Next time you come," the mayor said, "please bring a checkbook."