Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is running for president on a pledge to “Make America Florida.” To some, that might sound like a threat: Damages from hurricanes—which warmer temperatures can intensify—have cost Florida 4 percent of its annual gross domestic product since 2017. Hurricane Ian, which struck last year and dumped at least 10 percent more rain thanks to rising temperatures, was the costliest storm in the state’s history. At least 148 people were killed.
But is DeSantis letting Florida’s status as poster child for climate devastation affect his pitch? Certainly not. Instead, the GOP hopeful has gone all in on climate denial. Speaking with Tea Party politician turned pundit Trey Gowdy on Fox News, DeSantis denounced the “politicization of weather,” questioning whether climate change had anything to do with the devastating storms that have battered his state. It’s the kind of microwaved talking point you might hear from any Republican now or back in 2010, when Gowdy used the Koch brothers’ backing to primary Republican incumbent Bob Inglis over his daring to suggest somebody should do something about climate change.
These days, however, climate change is less an issue to have a position on than a fact of life—particularly in the Sunshine State. So what might it really look like for a President DeSantis to Make America Florida as temperatures rise?
Florida’s outsize vulnerability to climate change is already costing its residents dearly. They pay nearly triple the national average for property insurance; in Miami, policies can top $5,000 per year. Those costs are expected to rise 40 percent this year in Florida after surging 27 percent in 2021 and 33 percent in 2022. As the costs for insurers to take out their own insurance (reinsurance) has skyrocketed, a number of smaller firms there have gone bankrupt. Florida has created a $3 billion public fund to keep more of them from going under. As a result of rising costs and so many firms folding, Florida’s state-backed insurer of last resort is taking on more and more policies.
While DeSantis has engaged in some piecemeal conservation efforts—like funding sea walls and efforts to protect the Florida Everglades—he’s engaged with climate change largely as one part of his multipronged war on all things “woke.” In addition to criminalizing trans people and abortions, banning books and drag shows, and gutting a liberal arts college, DeSantis has been a leader in right-wing foundations’ war on environmental, social, and governance investment principles, or ESG. He mentioned the acronym several times in his bungled campaign launch on Twitter spaces, accusing investors of wanting make make an “end-run around the constitutional system” while failing to explain what the letters E,S, and G stand for. In May, he signed a bill prohibiting public officials from considering ESG metrics—like the impact that climate change might have on property markets—in their investment decisions. DeSantis previously backed legislation to prevent Florida towns and cities from adopting 100 percent clean energy goals, mandating that they continue to use fossil fuels.
Attacking allegedly woke corporations is about the extent of DeSantis’s economic program. That won’t be much solace to residents who face skyrocketing rents and insurance rates on account of a problem DeSantis says is not really happening.
If his tenure in Florida has been any preview, a DeSantis administration could be expected to use public funds to subsidize a handpicked batch of ideologically aligned corporations, all the while banning everyone from ordinary people on up through public officials from choosing how they get their electricity and heat, where they put their money, what they can read, and the sorts of health care they can receive. Responses to climate-fueled catastrophes will be propelled by a team of advisers more motivated to win upvotes from fellow right-wing Redditors than to protect people from storms and floods.
The harsh reality is that however successful the DeSantis campaign is, much of America is going to look more like Florida in the coming decades—namely, hotter and wetter. If DeSantis makes it to the White House, life will get a lot more expensive and authoritarian too.