The upcoming third Republican presidential election debate, scheduled for November 8 in Miami, presents a critical opportunity for moderators to emphasize the pressing issue of global warming, particularly its impact on Florida residents.
The state’s vulnerability to climate upheaval makes it a bellwether of the escalating climate crisis. And that puts a spotlight on moderators, who have a responsibility to probe the Republican candidates' policy stances to ensure they align with the empirical realities and public sentiment of the region.
Climate change is a priority for Florida residents
A poll conducted by Florida Atlantic University found that “90% of respondents believe climate change is underway.” According to Axios, “The survey also found that Floridians want to see government action to address the impacts of our changing climate, with 69% of respondents supporting state action and 70% in favor of federal action.”
Residents are right to be concerned: The evidence of Florida’s susceptibility to climate change is not anecdotal but scientific.
In September 2022, Hurricane Ian devastated Florida, causing over $112 billion in damage and killing at least 150 people. And in August of this year, Hurricane Idalia caused between $9 billion and $20 billion in damage. Both storms had clear climate signals such as rapid intensification, which is when tropical cyclones (tropical storms, hurricanes, and typhoons) gain intensity at a faster rate due to warmer ocean temperatures.
Long term, Florida is at risk for dramatic sea-level rise. An August Palm Beach Post article noted:
General projections put sea level rise at about a foot by 2045-2050. Using NOAA's Sea Level Rise Viewer, which extrapolates from the current best-available data, the effects can be seen. A 1-foot rise in the sea level sends water over streets in the Keys, Miami Beach, barrier islands from Melbourne to Palm Coast, and at least part of every coastal city in Florida. And flooding will be worse.
In a study by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and the online real estate appraisal site Zillow, researchers concluded that by 2045 (roughly the span of a current 30-year mortgage) about 64,000 residential properties in Florida, representing a market value of about $26 billion, could see "chronic inundation" (regular tidal flooding not related to any storm).
The grim forecasts for Florida's climate future, particularly the prospect of chronic inundation for tens of thousands of properties, foreshadow a burgeoning crisis for the state's insurance market. The market is already affected by global warming, and future prices could soar and make properties uninsurable. As The Washington Post wrote in September:
Insurers are now waking up to — and attempting to price in — these risks: “Climate risk is driving insurer decisions like never before,” writes Benjamin Keys, a professor of finance and real estate at the Wharton School.
For now, regulation is holding prices in check in some places. But once climate disaster risks are fully priced in, entire states will probably see premiums soar, and disaster-prone areas may become uninsurable, with policies not even offered. Many people will risk everything by going without coverage. An estimated two-thirds of households in flood zones have flood insurance.
If you thought this was a coastal problem, think again. Anyone living in the path of wildfires, floods, hailstorms and other natural disasters will find an unstable climate far more expensive. Insurance troubles are already spreading beyond Florida to Louisiana and California, where floods and wildfires have put multiple insurance companies out of business or forced their exit.
Why the Republican candidates’ climate positions deserve scrutiny
Particularly considering Florida's frontline battle with global warming, the upcoming debate offers an opportunity to scrutinize Republican candidates' historical use of denial, downplay, and delay tactics in addressing climate change. This scrutiny is particularly necessary given that the party has reportedly received approximately 80% of fossil fuel industry campaign contributions in nearly every election over the past 20 years.
Moderators must hold the Republican candidates accountable to the audience for past inaction and lack of current climate action plans, especially in light of the evasion, obfuscation, and outright climate denial they demonstrated during the first debate.
How the moderators can rise to the moment
The role of debate moderators extends beyond facilitation; they bear the responsibility for guiding discussions toward substantive engagement.
During the 2020 general election debates, climate change was propelled to national prominence during a presidential campaign for the first time. Upcoming debate moderators Lester Holt and Kristen Welker of NBC and conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt — who has a history of climate change skepticism — are tasked with building and improving on 2020’s breakthrough. They should not only ask informed and insightful questions about climate change, but also press for concrete answers and ensure that candidates are held accountable for their statements and policy positions.
In addition, the moderators must avoid common pitfalls such as framing climate change as a narrow political issue, downplaying the seriousness of climate change as a topic, or asking questions framed around conservative arguments about the costs of proposed actions, instead of the costs of inaction. To her credit, Welker ably moderated the final presidential debate of 2020, asking the candidates about climate policy and even environmental justice and mostly avoided amplifying debunked right-wing talking points.
Considering the history of Republican intransigence on this issue, the high stakes for Florida, and the national implications for the rest of the country, it’s imperative that moderators ensure the candidates address these concerns substantively, securing the comprehensive responses that the electorate deserves.