Southwest Florida is moving forward on objectively assessing challenges posed by a changing climate, and how to socialize topics of climate preparedness and resilience among our residents and business.  May 6th was a landmark moment, the inaugural Southwest Florida Climate Summit organized by the Coastal and Heartland National Estuary Partnership.  The full-day event, which included addresses from Senator Rubio, Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection Noah Valenstein, and four panels of climate experts discussing a broad range of topics, including ecological impacts, legal and policy issues, scientific assessment tools public opinion on climate threats and climate communication strategies.

Of note, Whitney Gray of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection highlighted that the State of Florida has now committed to addressing climate resiliency through $20 million in funding for local Resilience Grants in the coming year.  Funding will be made available to jurisdictions that are involved in regional collaborative efforts, such as the SWFL Regional Resilience Compact, which is coming together here in Southwest Florida. The state has also passed Statute 161.551 which is in the phase of rule development.  Statute 161.551 requires analysis of SLR before starting any coastal development project that involves public funding. FDEP has created the SLIP tool that helps developers assess the vulnerability of projects and provides suggestions on how to make the project more resilient.

In an afternoon session, Professor Mike Savarese presented the status of the ACUNE tool and its upcoming enhanced versions ACUNE + that takes into account freshwater flooding. ACUNE, which was created for Collier County, allows users to model vulnerability associated with storm events at a large scale. The ability to evaluate scenarios under different conditions is a powerful tool for policy planning, as one can assess the relative risk of multiple locations under variable conditions of severity and frequency.

Growing Climate Solution’s, Dr. Puszkin-Chevlin presented in the first of two afternoon panels, along with CHNEP’s Jennifer Hecker and Melissa Baldwin from Florida Clinicians for Climate Action. The panel titled Growing Climate Awareness in Southwest Florida focused on the need to educate the public on climate impacts and which messages seem to resonate with our stakeholders.  Hecker presented data that compared perceptions of climate risk between climate experts and the general public, while Puszkin-Chevlin pointed out that climate education needs to connect the climate threats that the public doesn’t understand properly, inland flooding for instance, to those that they engage with easily, such as water quality.  Likewise, the public wants actionable solutions that they can easily contribute to, but the goal is to elevate individual action into advocacy that results in systemic change.

There was an abundance of solid content and thoughtful questions and discussion throughout the day.  For those wanting a primer in climate change issues in Southwest Florida, as well as for those seeking a deep understanding of specific topics, it is worth your while to check out the recordings of the Summit’s session on CHNEP’s website.  Click here for a link.