Manatee officials say they’re ready to take the politics out of response to climate change

Sean Sullivan, executive director for the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, was quick to take politics out of Tuesday’s discussion on climate change and sea level rise at a Manatee County Council of Governments meetings, calling for unity and action.

“We will purposely be staying away from the political discussion of climate change and focus on the science,” Sullivan said.

Intensive modeling trying to predict the impacts of sea level rise began a few years ago. The data show $400 billion in potential property risk alone by 2060, “If we do nothing,” Sullivan said.

“I’m very mindful of knowing that the Tampa Bay region is different. We are not southeast Florida, so we made this Tampa Bay’s model and ultimately, we would like come up with a resiliency action plan for the region.”

To do that, it will take the cooperation of every government in the region, many of which have already committed a full partnership.

“This is not a political platform we are dealing with,” said Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh. “This is something all of us need to take part of and work for.”

Out of the planning council, the Tampa Bay Resiliency Coalition was born last year to regionally address climate change, sea level rise and resiliency in the region to advance planning, leverage resources, build capacity, expand expertise and increase innovation.

The goal is to come together to address a common problem and the sooner the better.

According to a consulting group that ranked the top most vulnerable cities and counties to sea level rise impacts, Sarasota is second and Bradenton is seventh. Manatee County is listed as the most vulnerable county in the country.

Manatee school board member Charlie Kennedy said, he too, was glad politics were being left out of the conversation because, “We’ve reached a tipping point of environmental issues and the vulnerability of our home. This is not a partisan and a political issue. This is something we have to deal with.”

Much of the solutions suggested were to reduce and eventually eliminate the carbon buildup in the atmosphere. They included the need for more solar, more electric vehicles and reducing carbon emissions by 45 percent in the next 10 years and reaching net zero carbon emission by 2050.

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In August of 2016, Tropical Storm Hermine flooded road from downtown Bradenton to Sarasota in a matter of hours. Pictures like this one on U.S. 41 could become much more commonplace if climate change isn’t addressed soon, some experts say. File photo by Mark Young Bradenton Herald

Manatee County resident Mary Beth Bishop quoted a Chinese proverb that best relates to when and why communities should come together to take this pending crisis seriously and to do it now.

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago,” Bishop said. “The second best time is today. That’s the way I feel about climate change. I’ve never been more hopeful about what we are facing than after seeing these discussions today, but we have a lot of work to do.”

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Tim Rumage, an environmental studies professor at Ringling College of Art & Design, said greenhouse gasses and fossil fuel emissions must be slowed and eventually eliminated, saying there are currently 492 parts per million in the atmosphere and that 500 is the, “Tipping point of where we can’t make any valid predictions of what will happen other than it will be very, very bad ... It will impact almost every part of our life as we know it and experience it.

“When things start to collapse, they will collapse quite painfully and quickly,” he noted.

Jim Willard, chairman of the Manatee Clean Energy Alliance, was even more blunt.

“We have 12 years to avoid increased catastrophic events and irreversible climate change,” Willard said. “The challenge is having the political and corporate will to do so.”

Even Manatee County’s most conservative politicians said they are ready to rally.

“The science is in front of us,” said Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore “Some may not agree, but there is too much there. We can all choose to ignore it and put our heads in the sand, or we can do something about it.”

Breaking News/Real Time Reporter Mark Young began his career in 1996 and has been with the Bradenton Herald since 2014. He has won more than a dozen awards over the years, including the coveted Lucy Morgan Award for In-Depth Reporting from the Florida Press Club and for beat reporting from the Society for Professional Journalists to name a few. His reporting experience is as diverse as the communities he covers.
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