Should we stay or should we go?
That's the question on the minds of Florida leaders reacting to President Trump's decision last week to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord. The accord is intended to limit carbon emissions that drive up global temperatures, worsening storms and intensifying sea level rise.
The president claims it costs U.S. energy and manufacturing jobs.
But the accord doesn't impose regulations or specify how countries should cut carbon emissions. That means the U.S. could opt to lower its emissions by restricting carbon-heavy industries, potentially at the cost of jobs like coal mining. Or it could reduce its carbon output by developing and implementing more solar and wind energy — creating new renewable energy jobs.
As would be expected in a state that's confronting hurricanes and sea level rise, Florida leaders are debating how the withdrawal decision will impact the planet. But they're also weighing in on whether Trump's environmental isolationism will help or hurt the U.S. economy.
At a press conference in Miami on Friday, Governor Rick Scott said he thinks the president is following through on a campaign promise.
"What he’s focused on is jobs in this country," Scott said. "I think that the Paris accord clearly was not focused on American jobs."
The governor said Trump's approach to environment and sustainability issues parallels the one taken by his administration: Strengthen the economy first, then handle environmental problems.
"It's no different than [what] we've done here," Scott said. "If you look at the hundreds of millions of dollars we've invested in the Everglades, the flood mitigation programs, the beach renourishment programs, all these things only because we have a good economy."
But Florida’s senior U.S. senator, Bill Nelson, says withdrawing from the climate accord will actually harm American workers.
"We were building a sustainable energy industry here in the United States where we would start building, for example, the solar panels and the wind turbines instead of having to import those from China," he said. "That is billions and billions of dollars to the economy and thousands and thousands of jobs."
Experts agree. John Englander is author of a book on sea level rise, High Tide On Main Street, and head of the International Sea Level Institute. He says the U.S. could gain a lot of jobs by increasing renewable energy and adaptation to sea level rise.
"Both on the mitigation and the adaptation fronts, climate change presents a tremendous opportunity," Englander said.
He added that failing to limit carbon emissions and climate change poses a big economic risk.
"As the climate warms without resistance, Greenland and Antarctica will continue to melt, raising sea level faster and faster," Englander said. "What will that mean for Florida's economy as Florida disappears?"
It will take until after the 2020 presidential election for the withdrawal process to be complete.