Sen. Bill Nelson Says Solar Panels Can Fix Sea-Level Rise. It's More Nuanced Than That.

May 30, 2018

Solar panels are not going to fix sea-level rise.

They're an energy source that does not release carbon into the atmosphere. So, switching to solar panels will limit the carbon in the Earth's atmosphere in the future. That could help prevent sea-level rise from getting worse.

But solar panels do not take out the carbon that’s already there — the carbon that's already begun to cause global warming and rising seas.

At a roundtable in Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood on Wednesday, U.S. Senator Bill Nelson got that fact wrong.

The event was held to talk about the disproportionate impact of hurricanes and climate change on vulnerable communities. Nelson spoke extensively about using solar panels to address climate change issues — particularly rising seas in South Florida.

WLRN reporter Kate Stein asked him how that would work. "I don’t understand how solar panels are going to stop the seas from rising. They’re not going to take carbon out of the atmosphere," she said.

"Oh, it by all means would," Nelson replied.

When pressed on solar panels' inability to remove existing carbon from the atmosphere, Nelson then acknowledged that a certain amount of sea-level rise is inevitable. 

Asked what he would do about the carbon that's already in the atmosphere, Nelson replied, "Well, the earth is a dynamic, constantly changing thing. The earth will renew itself if you don’t keep putting poison in it."

Other than encouraging the use of solar panels, Nelson put forth no specific plans to deal with rising seas.

Another notable contender in the 2018 Senate race, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, has not been in South Florida to talk about a plan for sea-level rise or climate change.