Environmental advocates at work on campaign to urge Sarasota County Commission to commit to 100% renewable energy

‘Ambassador’ for Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 program praises City of Sarasota’s 2017 decision to set goals

Charles Reith addresses the SKA audience on March 5. Rachel Hackney photo

With the City of Sarasota having been the second Florida municipality to commit to 100% renewable energy, environmental advocates are hoping to win the Sarasota County Commission over to the national program as well.

That was a key point in a program Charles Reith, an internationally known expert on energy efficiency, presented to about 35 Siesta Key Association (SKA) members on March 5. Among his credentials, according to the biography he provided the SKA, Reith is a past vice president of environmental safety and health for DynMcDermott Petroleum Operations Co., which manages the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve; and he served on the faculty of four universities, including Tulane in New Orleans and George Mason in Virginia.

Altogether, 165 U.S. cities and a number of counties have joined the Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 program, Reith told the SKA audience. “There has been so much subscription to this objective [that] a fourth of all Americans live in either a state or county that has made this pledge legislatively … We are going to pursue [Sarasota] County’s engagement in this program. … We have some petitions we hope to present to [the commissioners].”

During the meeting, petitions were distributed for those in the audience wishing to sign them.

President Catherine Luckner pointed out that the nonprofit probably would survey its members to ascertain whether the majority would like to see the SKA support the push for the county to join the national program.

Ready for 100 advocates plan to tell the county commissioners, “‘Hey, the city has done this. We live in the county … and we hope that the county will consider the same thing,’” Reith said.

On its website, the Sierra Club explains, “Ready for 100 is a national movement of people working to inspire our leaders to embrace a vision of healthier communities powered with 100% clean, renewable energy.”

This map shows communities that have joined the Ready for 100 program. Image courtesy Sierra Club

Reith — who called himself an ambassador for the initiative — touted Ready for 100 as “the best grassroots program of activism and advocacy at the legislative level that I have ever seen.”

In 2017, the City of Sarasota committed to 100% renewable energy for all of its municipal operations by 2030, Reith told the SKA members. By 2045, it is committed to hitting that mark for all parts of the city — including private businesses and homeowners, he added.

“Why is this so important?” he continued: “The dominant problem for us in Florida, especially in coastal communities, is climate change and its effect on our weather and sea level rise.”
He did acknowledge that the latter issue “is complicated; it’s controversial.”

Siesta Public Beach Park, including the parking lot, could be covered by the Gulf of Mexico in 2040 if sea level rise occurs as predicted. File photo

However, to underscore its importance to Sarasota County residents, Reith showed the audience members a video of a 2016 event held on Siesta Public Beach. The goal was to demonstrate how high the Gulf of Mexico is expected to rise by 2030 and by 2040, unless significant measures are taken to reduce the Earth’s surface temperature, he explained.

The video showed the participants moving back on the beach to the line the Gulf would be expected to reach by 2030 with an 8-inch sea level rise. With a 2-foot rise by 2040, the water would flow next to Beach Road.

“Sea level rise could potentially inundate Siesta Beach all the way to the parking lot” at the park, Reith stressed.

He also showed the audience members a video of “sunny day” flooding on Longboat Key during a period of high tide, with motor vehicles trying to navigate water in the streets. The tide flows up through manholes, he noted.

“That is happening a lot now in Miami,” he added.

New infrastructure will be necessary to protect communities, Reith continued. In Sarasota, the estimate for seawalls, new septic system lift stations and the elevation of some roads — among other initiatives — has been put at approximately $3 billion. For the entire state, he said, the expense is estimated at $28 billion.

(The Center for Climate Integrity, “an environmental advocacy group that champions forcing polluters to pay for climate crisis costs,” issued a study last year, The Sarasota News Leader learned, that said building seawalls for storm surge protection for U.S. coastal cities with more than 25,000 residents would require at least $42 billion.” That study adds that Florida, “with an estimated $76 billion in costs, is the state with the largest exposure,” according to an August 2019 article by Jim Morrison, published by the Yale University School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.

(The city of Sarasota came in at 475 on the list of cities in that study, with an estimated expense of $71,460,000. Sarasota County was in 123rd place on the counties list, with an estimate of $1,155,486,000.

(The Center for Climate Integrity explains that it partnered with Resilient Analytics, “an engineering firm specializing in climate adaptation, and mapping and [Geographic Information Systems] specialists” at the University of Colorado to conduct the study.)

This is information about the study conducted by the Center for Climate Integrity. Image courtesy of the nonprofit

Other factors to consider

During his SKA presentation, Reith also talked about the fact that property owners can expect to see the cost of their insurance policies go up, given not only the portent of sea level rise but also the increase in intensity of hurricanes in recent years.

Yet another concern, he emphasized, is the expected “enormous increase in the number of hot days that we are going to start having [in Florida].” People living in the state may face up to four months a year with a daily heat index above 105, he added. “That’s like off the scale … and that’s going to affect our tourism.”

The overall goal, he pointed out, is to keep the Earth from warming 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, as cited in the 2018 Special Climate Report, which was approved by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

A new situation with which local governments will have to contend, Reith continued, will be changes in bond ratings based on steps cities and counties are taking to deal with the climate change. Local governments “are going to be hurt by not being proactive,” he said.

Yet another issue, he pointed out, is the fact that “we do not have a friendly state for solar energy.”

According to 2918 report by the Center for Biological Diversity titled Throwing Shade, Reith said, “We are the third best state for rooftop solar. We should see it everywhere here! … But we have a politically unfavorable environment for renewable energy.”

Florida gets less than 2% of its energy from solar equipment, he added.

No independent solar companies are allowed, Reith continued. “No one is allowed to sell energy except the regulated utilities. They lobby every day in the Legislature to preserve that right.”

This table in the Throwing Shade report shows grades for states, including Florida, in regard to implementation of solar energy policies. Image courtesy Center for Biological Diversity

Reith encouraged homeowners to invest in solar energy.

He also touted the use of electric cars, taking steps to make homes energy-efficient, and reducing individuals’ food carbon footprints by becoming vegetarians or vegans. A slide he showed the SKA audience noted that adopting a vegan lifestyle could drop a person’s carbon food footprint by 60%.