MIAMI — Unless greenhouse gases are sharply reduced in coming decades, Florida could face environmental catastrophe, with rising seas, increasingly violent weather and severe droughts, Gov. Charlie Crist said Thursday.
That was the governor's opening statement at the two-day Serve to Preserve Florida Summit on Global Climate Change, which seeks to bring together political, business and environmental leaders to find alternative energy sources and urge conservation to combat the effects of global warming.
"Ultimately, this is as much about conservation as it is about climate change," said Crist, who is trying to be the state's most environmental governor.
Crist noted Florida is one of the most vulnerable states to global warming because of its long coastline, covering almost 1,300 miles, as well as its environmentally sensitive Everglades and coral reefs. Some of those areas face being inundated because scientists estimate sea levels will rise 5 inches in the next 25 years and 20 inches by 2100, he said.
Larry Schweiger, chief executive officer of the Natural Wildlife Federation, said Florida could see two-thirds of its beaches vanish by the end of this century, as melting ice in Greenland is depositing 90 cubic miles of water into the oceans each year.
"Nature takes over and laughs last," he said.
Crist told about 600 participants of the conference that Florida already is feeling harmful effects from global warming.
"Due to declining rainfall, parts of Florida ... are currently experiencing long-term drought conditions," he said.
As one solution, Crist said: "Florida will pursue global solar energy sources. After all, we are the Sunshine State."
Among other energy sources the state needs to utilize more: wind, ethanol and hydrogen, Crist said.
He wants state government to lead by example, by using solar panels on state buildings -- including the governor's mansion in Tallahassee -- and fueling more state vehicles with clean-burning ethanol.
Though some, including many of Crist's fellow Republicans, dispute whether humans are to blame for global warming, the governor said, "There is a strong body of scientific evidence indicating the global climate change is real. We cannot ignore this situation any longer. We have a responsible to face this reality head on and take action to address it now."
A keynote speaker at the summit was Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an ardent environmentalist. He lashed out at the Bush administration, saying it has allowed coal-burning industries to flourish and air quality to suffer in return for political contributions.
"This is the worst environmental administration we've had in our history," said Kennedy, a New York attorney.
The White House has denied the allegations, calling them politically motivated.
Kennedy said that though he is a Democrat and Crist is a Republican, the battle to clean up the environment should be nonpartisan. He praised Crist for taking environmentally friendly initiatives.