Florida’s last decade is known as the “lost” decade because the fossil fuel lobby paid climate deniers, delayers and deflectors to sustain policies that ignored climate change. There are encouraging signs that state government is finally waking up to the serious climate challenges facing us.

The farther north you are in Florida, the sweeter the tea, the thicker the southern accent and the stronger the climate change denial. That’s changing. Places like Gainesville, Alachua County, St. Augustine and Jacksonville are recognizing climate change is happening and is getting worse.

In Gainesville and Alachua County, grassroots citizen groups representing youth, workers, seniors and religious organizations are leading the way for local climate action. The local NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Committee has brought these groups together with a call for community action and accountability.

The Gainesville City Commission recently declared a climate emergency. On Feb. 4, the Alachua County Commission will review new climate initiatives, including a citizens Climate Advisory Committee and Climate Action Plan.

Efforts to combat climate change will require strong mitigation and adaptation measures. If we act now, we can still influence how severe and how soon the impacts will be. Climate mitigation involves reducing carbon footprints for energy, food, water, waste, transportation, supply chains and non-renewable consumption. Mitigation needs to be linked to local climate adaptation.

Climate adaptation includes both nature-based and engineered solutions that strengthen environmental resiliency, energy and food security. Many Florida coastal communities have been caught off guard on the battlefront of sea level rise and extreme weather. Some are attempting costly, high-maintenance adaptation tactics including elevated roads, buildings, sea walls and elaborate pumping schemes.

Alachua County’s interior location, higher elevation and history of less intensive development affords us a less costly, more durable, nature-based adaptation approach. The foundations for this local climate adaptation strategy are: an established, voter-approved, countywide protection framework for drinking water, watersheds, wetlands, floodplains and stormwater; the Alachua County Forever land acquisition program; and the comprehensive land use plan….

A lowered municipal bond rating due to climate change can start a downward spiral: higher public infrastructure costs, homeowner insurance and mortgage rates lead to falling property values, prompting a declining tax base and population exodus.

When coastal communities start losing their battles with sea level rise, king tides and storm surges, one of the first signs of retreat will be the relocation of their water supplies even further inland to escape saltwater intrusion. North Central Florida needs to brace for greater conflicts with coastal communities competing for diminishing clean water supplies. There is a call for regional climate leadership and collaboration beyond Gainesville and Alachua County.

Let’s hope the year 2020 will be remembered by Floridians as the start of real climate action.

Chris Bird is director of the Alachua County Environmental Protection Department.