Unlike in past primaries, many Democratic contenders are treating the climate crisis as a major campaign issue.
Many leading Democrats have said they support the Green New Deal, an ambitious and sweeping set of policy proposals to address climate change, or have proposed similar plans.
But for Floridians who will be tuned into the debates, the effects of this climate emergency aren’t confined to scientists’ end-of-the-century projections.
They are being felt across the state right now.
Sea levels are rising — and so are the costs
Just across the intracoastal waterway from the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, where the debates will be held, are the lively beaches and iconic Art Deco buildings of Miami Beach.
But these days, the city is just as well-known as ground zero for the impacts of sea level rise. Even the mayor, Dan Gelber, describes it as the “canary in the mine shaft.”
Then there is the problem of the very ground on which Miami Beach and much of South Florida sits.
Made from the remnants of ancient coral reefs, the porous limestone beneath the region is not unlike Swiss cheese, with natural underground “pipes” that allow water to bubble up to the surface, according to Jayantha Obeysekera, director of Florida International University’s Sea Level Rise Solutions Center.
This geology, combined with sea level rise, has left parts of Miami Beach, Miami and other parts of South Florida dealing with flooding — even on days when there is no rain in the forecast.
“We always had flooding when you had a big rainfall in the tropics, but never did we have what we call ‘sunny day flooding,’ ” said Morales, who was born and raised in Miami Beach. “The skies are blue, it’s a gorgeous day, and yet water is coming up out of the drains and percolating up through the ground, and you see inches of water in the streets.”
Cities are taking action to address these flooding issues, but the costs are steep.
“There’s a tipping point at which those solutions might not work,” Obeysekera said. “But it is very difficult to predict when that tipping point is, so I think it’s prudent to look at how long we can buy with these solutions.”
Red tide, failing septic tanks and hurricanes
Sea level rise is hardly the only danger the climate crisis poses across the state.
Then there are the storms.
If the climate crisis wasn’t a top issue for Democratic voters in past elections, new CNN polling shows that it’s a priority now.
For whichever candidate eventually secures the Democratic presidential nomination, their plans to address voters’ climate concerns could be critical to winning Florida, and many other states.
CNN’s Jen Christensen contributed to this report.