Bob Bunting leads a discussion about climate change.

Climate change summit draws crowd at USF Sarasota-Manatee

By: Rich Shopes

Posted: January 25, 2019

SARASOTA, Fla. (Jan. 25, 2019) – Scientists, engineers, CEOs and local government officials gathered at USF Sarasota-Manatee on Friday, seeking to push past old political debates and talk about the impacts of climate change and strategies for moving forward.

“At the end of the day, what we have to admit to ourselves is that the climate is changing and because it’s changing our lives are changing. It’s not a question of who is responsible,” said Bob Bunting, an atmospheric scientist and one of the event’s organizers. “The question we should be asking is, what are we going to do about it?”

Entitled “Adapting to a Changing Climate: Challenges & Opportunities,” the day-long conference focused on ways to adapt to climate change and how possibly to mitigate some of its harshest effects.

The talk, open to the public, featured experts drawn from science, engineering and local government, as well as insurance, finance and other industries, giving presentations and engaging in lively public Q&A sessions. A capacity crowd of more than 150 people attended the event, held at USFSM’s Selby Auditorium.

“Somebody said a picture is worth a thousand words, so putting the picture together is the first step in addressing climate change,” Bunting said, introducing the conference’s first speaker, Dr. Robert Corell, a professor at the University of Tromsø in Norway, principal of the Global Environment Technology Foundation and head of the U.S. office for the Global Energy Assessment.

Presenting an overview of climate change’s causes and impacts, Dr. Corell cited the rise of CO2 emissions in the 19th and 20th centuries and how it has resulted in higher ocean temperatures and triggered arctic ice melt.

According to NASA, melting in Greenland and Antarctica is the largest contributor of sea-level rise worldwide, and that during the last four decades Antarctic ice melt has accelerated by 280 percent.

The result – rising ocean levels – is leading to a host of challenges worldwide, including inland storm surge and so-called “king tides” that further flood coastal areas.

As this melting accelerates, these and other problems will only intensify, Dr. Corell said. Of the top 10 cities globally to be impacted the most by rising sea levels, two are in Florida: No. 2 Miami and No. 7 Tampa.

Bunting said changes in ocean temperature are contributing to more intense hurricanes, which draw their energy from warm ocean water, as well as other phenomena such as red tide.

Lenny Landau, a retired engineer, gave an overview about red tide – its causes as well as possible strategies to mitigate the problem.

No doubt a natural occurrence, red tide can be exacerbated by man-made pollution and fertilizer runoff, Landau said. He suggested reducing these problems in order to curb the worst effects of red tide.

Other speakers such Longboat Key Town Manager Tom Harmon talked about proactive ways cities and towns can tackle sea-level rise.

While keeping an eye on long-term infrastructure improvements, such as a possible sea wall in at-risk areas, the city also is focused on immediate changes, including new storm-water valves for sewers that prevent tidal water from backing out onto streets in the north end of town.

The remaining speakers included: Stevie Freeman-Montes, Sarasota’s sustainability manager; Patricia Healy, senior vice president and portfolio manager at Cumberland Advisors; David McMahon, an executive at Atlas Insurance; restaurateur Ed Chiles and Jennifer and David Shafter, owners of Shafer Consulting, a local environmental consulting firm.

Dr. Karen Holbrook, regional chancellor of USF Sarasota-Manatee, and David Kotok, chief investment officer and founder of Cumberland Advisors, gave opening and closing remarks.

In addition to USF Sarasota-Manatee, the conference was sponsored by the Global Interdependence Center, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting dialogue on global issues and creating partnerships between governments.

“If we leave here today and don’t do anything, I’ll be upset,” Bunting said. “My greatest hope is that we will bring together academia, government and the private sector right here in Sarasota and develop a climate adaptation center to address the issues we discussed today, holistically.”

For video highlights of the conference, click here, https://youtu.be/Z4MF3iSpuwc.

View a video stream of the conference in its entirety here.

Access the PowerPoint presentation from the conference’s speakers here.

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