In a Tuesday interview with, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm suggested that sea level rise may have played a role in the devastating collapse of a condominium building in Surfside last week that killed 16 and left dozens still missing.
“We don’t know fully, but we do know that the seas are rising,” she said in an interview with CNN’s Erica Hill. “We know that we’re losing inches and inches of beach. It’s not just in Florida, but all around.”
This is a wholly accurate representation of the issue. While investigations are indeed currently ongoing, the threat of sea level rise to coastal buildings—especially those built on porous limestone and fill found throughout Florida—is very real.
Yet instead of pondering these risks and possible solutions, reactionary conservatives took the outrage machine route. On Twitter, they predictably lost their minds over this, even though it was a tame and measured remark. “There’s nothing that can’t be blamed on climate change,” National Review editor Rich Lowry tweeted mockingly. A writer for RedState.com chimed in that the remarks were “absolutely ghoulish.” The Young America’s Foundation, presided over by 53-year-old former Gov. Scott Walker, called them “shameful.”
Some outlets, namely the New York Post and Fox News, got mad enough to write entire stories about Granholm’s comments. Both were particularly upset that Granholm took the opportunity to say the U.S. needs to boost climate resilience, in particular through the coming infrastructure bill. How vulgar to be proactive instead of merely offering thoughts and prayers!
Both the Post and Fox also pointed out that there’s no hard evidence that the climate crisis had anything to do with the collapse. But the outlets failed to acknowledge that Granholm herself said as much herself. Nor did they acknowledge what is clear: Sea level rise and subsidence are threats to buildings in South Florida. Without serious climate action, more people could suffer.
“The faux-outrage surrounding Hill’s question is less about being offended on behalf of the victims of this tragic accident and more about creating a chilling effect that makes asking climate questions verboten while providing fodder to keep audiences constantly outraged,” Evlondo Cooper, Media Matters’ climate and energy senior writer, wrote in an email. (Media Matters noted that Granholm advised their organization before taking her current role).
It’s no surprise that the right is taking such offense to the mention of climate change in the face of disaster. This is simply what it does. When Texas’ grid failed during a cold snap this year and some called for a Green New Deal, Fox said it was an attempt to “capitalize” on the crisis. Conservative lawmakers and media then went on to blame the Green New Deal for the blackouts despite Texas having nothing close to resembling it.
After 2019's unprecedented wildfires in Australia, conservative officials said mentioning climate change was “disgusting.” The cause, they falsely claimed, was arson. Subsequent research has identified climate change’s definitive role in causing the fire weather. After 2017's Hurricane Irma, then-Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt said “to have any kind of focus on the cause and effect of the storm, versus helping people, or actually facing the effect of the storm, is misplaced.” Research, again, shows that climate change made 2017's nightmarish hurricane season worse.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s true that we don’t yet know how the Surfside condo collapse, and experts have cautioned against jumping to conclusions. In the aftermath of a disaster, one can be forgiven for wanting to be sensitive.
But in the wake of a horrific disaster like this, it’s possible to offer support for mourning families and make a plan for how to avoid even more catastrophes in the future. In fact, the Biden administration should be doing far more of the latter, not less.