© 2024 All Rights reserved WUSF
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Climate change is impacting so much around us: heat, flooding, health, wildlife, housing, and more. WUSF, in collaboration with the Florida Climate Reporting Network, is bringing you stories on how climate change is affecting you.

Climate change is on the minds of Tampa Bay mayors

Panel at podium
Steve Newborn
WUSF Public Media
Guests at the climate change panel included St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch, seated at the right; and Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, to his right

The mayors of St. Petersburg and Tampa met at the Palladium to discuss how their cities are dealing with climate change.

Some of the most difficult choices public officials have to make in the coming decades include dealing with a warming climate, rising seas and stronger storms. That's the takeaway from a climate change panel Tuesday night with the mayors of Tampa Bay's two largest cities.

Local cities are doing everything from helping raise homes in low-lying areas to planting trees and rebuilding sewer systems.

During the panel hosted by the Tampa Bay Times, St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch said it's up to local officials to make the right decisions for us and our children.

“The science told us this was coming. Now, we're starting to see the impacts of climate change and extreme weather,” Welch told the audience at the Palladium in St. Petersburg. “And what I think about is will we do the right things for those generations, 30, 40, 50 years from now.”

Welch noted that a large portion of Pinellas County's economy depends on healthy beaches. He wondered how sea level rise would affect that.

"Frankly, there are some places where we shouldn't be developing," Welch said. "And at some point, we've got to have that conversation in a city and county like St. Pete and Pinellas. We know how much revenue comes in from the beaches on the west coast. In 50 years, what will that look like?

"And so we have to make some, I think, intentional, strategic long-term decisions as well as adapting and doing things as simple as looking at our infrastructure."

Part of that is a stormwater master plan in the works that will take a lot of money, he said.

St. Petersburg established an Office of Sustainability and Resiliency in 2015.

Panel at podium
Steve Newborn
WUSF Public Media
Guests included from left, Gary Mitchum, Terry Root, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor and St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor struck a similar note, saying they are committing to putting solar power on government buildings and rebuilding storm sewers to handle stronger storms that are expected as the climate warms.

“We've put solar on a number of our buildings, our new city center, we're getting ready to put it on a number of other buildings as well, including our convention center,” she said, “our parks, some of our recreation centers and it will pay for itself in seven to 10 years and then you're providing your own electricity.”

Castor also said the city has a target of planting 30,000 trees by 2030 — at a pace of about 1,200 a year. Trees cool the city and reduce the need for air conditioning.

She hired the city's first resiliency director, and required all city departments establish resilient building practices when developing capital improvement projects.

"If we don't take the steps necessary, and I think that's a point that needs to be made this evening," she told the crowd, "is it's not too late and we need to take those steps. My concern is the future of my children."

Also appearing on the panel were Terry Root, who works on how wild animals and plants are affected by climate change; Gary Mitchum, an associate dean at the College of Marine Science at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, who has studied sea level rise since the 1980s; and Cara Woods Serra, director of resiliency for the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council.

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.
WUSF 89.7 depends on donors for the funding it takes to provide you the most trusted source of news and information here in town, across our state, and around the world. Support WUSF now by giving monthly, or make a one-time donation online.