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Orlando Climate Symposium Offers a Life Raft in a Sea of Climate Denialism

If we can talk about climate change, smart cities and saving the world’s oceans in Florida during Trump’s first month in office, there’s hope for the rest of the United States.

green-builder-symposium-florida.jpgMany of my New England friends don’t like Florida.

They see it as sprawl-ridden den of fast-food joints, pawn shops and used car dealers. But as former Floridian, I love the sunshine state, despite (or perhaps because of) its many fault lines. You can’t generalize Florida. It’s a place of contradictory ideas and demographics, a microcosm of the United States, where residents self identify and settle by age, race, religious and ethnic orientation.


It’s also a place where your gun-toting libertarian neighbor will spend all day helping you replace the engine in your Japanese pickup truck, where colleges interact with retirement communities and interracial couples and multi-racial police forces are common.

Florida may seem an odd venue in which to hold a summit to discuss the future of cities, and oceans and life on Earth. But it’s actually the perfect place. If we can’t convince Floridians to take these issues seriously, how will we ever convince Georgia, or Texas, or Minnesota? What will convince them? Self interest.

Yeah But What About ...

Last week, the State voted for Donald Trump as president. This shouldn’t surprise anyone. Like Trump, Florida has a long history of climate skepticism, occasional outbursts of racism (see Rosewood), and electing officials who put industry interests ahead of public interest.Governor Rick Scott is one of the nation’s most notorious climate deniers.

But nature is forcing the state to reconsider its stubborn resistance to the idea the humans have changed the planet.  Just last month, Rick Scott had to scramble to evacuate millions in the face of a storm, amplified by global warming, that could have inundated half the state. The Everglades is losing ground every year to sea level rise, which has quadrupled over the last five years.

It’s not accurate to say that Floridians don’t CARE about the environment. They love the predictability of the climate, the wildlife, the fishing and clean air and the fact that water comes from their tap (although it’s often not the best for drinking).What they want is a comfortable and predictable lifestyle, the same as most Americans. And they feel like the status quo government is failing them. Of course, there's little indication that the new administration will alleviate any of their concerns. In fact, cherished programs such as Medicare are likely to be attacked. But clearly, like millions of other Americans, they came down on the side of changing direction, whatever the unpredictable blowback from that change.

Steering the Revolution

Therein lies an opportunity. The gears of revolution have been greased. But the aim and shape of that revolution is very much in flux. The road map to the future is wide open. And the authors of that map are much more likely to be governors, mayors and city councillors than presidents and pundits. Dictates from the federal government don't sit well with citizens in places like Florida. It's local voices and local ordinances that dominate. Certainly, the tone set at the federal level will have broad implications, but America's mayors are bracing for the fact that when it comes to key security issues facing their constituents, like Climate Change, they may have to go it alone.

Which brings me full circle to Green Builder's Sustainability Symposium, happening on January 9th in Orlando. Set against the backdrop of the notoriously anti-regulatory national homebuilders' show, this one day conference offers networking and solutions that go beyond finger pointing and backward looking nostalgia for a world that no longer exists. The future is not a return to poorly insulated homes, cheap oil, dirty air and polluted water. The future is evolution and innovation, as you'll learn at the Symposium. Nature is setting the agenda for the future. Will you resist, or become part of the way forward?

See you in January in Orlando.