Within the week, a candy-colored miniature lifeguard stand in front of the Frost Museum of Science will melt, revealing a message that hints at Florida’s future if climate change isn’t curbed: “More heat, less beaches.”
Similar wax statues — including a Florida Panther and her cub and a grandfather and his granddaughter — are set to appear in Tampa and Orlando soon. When they melt, they’ll warn viewers that more heat means less wildlife and less health.
The art installations are the latest push from Florida climate advocates to educate residents of the Sunshine State on the broader impacts of climate change — rising temperatures are happening already, well in advance of the rising seas to come.
“You don’t need to be a scientist to know it’s hot out here,” said Yoca Arditi-Rocha, executive director of The CLEO Institute, a non-profit dedicated to climate education. “If global warming goes unchecked, Floridians will have to rethink how we grow our food, build our cities and when and where we play.”
If greenhouse gas emissions are never halted, Florida could go from an average of 25 days a year where it feels like 100 degrees or higher to 105 days by mid-century, according to a study by the Union of Concerned Scientists. By the end of the century, that could climb to 141 days.
Miami-Dade has the worst prognosis of any county in the state. By mid-century, the county could see 134 days a year where it feels like 100 degrees or more. That’s more than triple the current 41 days.
That heat makes it harder to grow food and puts the ocean in prime condition to fuel deadlier hurricanes. The impacts on human health are equally dire: more heat means a longer mosquito season and better conditions for ailments like brain-eating amoeba and flesh-eating bacteria. Heat complicates health conditions ranging from asthma to heart problems to mental health.
Infamously, a dozen elderly people sweltered to death after their Hollywood Hills nursing home lost power during Hurricane Irma in 2017.
“We’ve already killed a generation of seniors with COVID-19,” U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala (D-Miami) said Wednesday at an event announcing the wax statues. “The heat of Florida will kill many more.”
Caroline Lewis, CLEO’s founder, compared climate change to the coronavirus pandemic response. Both crises affect the most vulnerable more, require a science-based response and decisive political leadership.
State Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez (D-Miami) blamed Florida’s failure to act on climate on political partisanship and the “unbelievably low bar” for climate action.
He pointed to the Office of Resilience Gov. Ron DeSantis created when he first assumed office. Florida had a chief resilience officer in place for six months before she took a job in the Trump administration, and the position has not been refilled.
“The world will be a more dangerous place by orders of magnitude the longer we wait to act,” he said. “People think of climate change as water washing over a rich person’s sea wall in Miami Beach. That’s not the emergency we’re concerned about. The emergency we’re concerned about is people not being able to get to the emergency room because of street flooding.”
The groups behind the wax statues, including CLEO and the VoLo Foundation, hope they will help draw attention to the laundry list of negative impacts higher temperatures have on Floridians. Each statue comes with a QR code viewers can scan that takes them to CLEO’s website, which lays out the impacts of extreme heat and allows users to explore temperature projections in their own city.
The statue effort comes about a month after another notable drive to get people to pay attention to extreme heat.
In August, more than a dozen groups got together in Miami to announce the creation of the “Extreme Heat Resilience Alliance” and declare its unusual public awareness mission: to name heat waves the same way we name tropical storms and hurricanes.
The alliance said naming and categorizing heat waves allows communities to better prepare for their impacts and encourages leaders to take action to protect people from them.
“It’s called the “silent killer” because it’s little known that heat kills more people in the US than floods and hurricanes combined,” said Kathy Baughman McLeod, director of the Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center. “It’s hard to effectively address it — and save lives — if people are not aware of how dangerous it is.”
Naming heatwaves would also allow Florida to add on to its well-established culture of hurricane preparedness, she said.
“It’s ironic that we’ve been talking about global warming (though not by Florida leaders) for decades and we’re just now coming to grips with the dangers of heat,” she said. “People are conditioned for preparation and it’s a part of living in Florida. We need to add heat to that list of known hazards.”