Should the City of Sarasota publicly promote climate change?

SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) – The city of Sarasota is warning beach goers about climate change. Officials have installed a sign on North Lido Beach, informing them that if we don’t cut back on our greenhouse emissions, then the beach will eventually be underwater.

But, some don’t think it’s the city’s job to spread that message.

The tall sign greets visitors as they walk onto the beautiful North Lido Beach off of St. Armands Circle. The message is pretty clear- the city of Sarasota is warning about the harmful effects of climate change.

It gives dire warnings about the rising sea level, showing what will be underwater if water levels continue to rise. Folks can’t help but stop and read.

“I live three quarters of a mile from the beach, so I would be underwater, I’m sure,” said one local resident.

“It’s a big concern, it should be to everybody,” said one beachgoer.

The sign also displays tips to help you reduce your carbon footprint, like travel by car more often and eat less red meat.

It’s all part of an educational campaign by the city of Sarasota.

“I feel it’s incredibly important for us to relay this information, because its science-based information. Our region has seen just under a seven inch rise in sea levels locally since 1947, based on our local tidal gauge. It’s happening and it’s our responsibility to relay these science-based projections,” said City of Sarasota Sustainability Manager, Stevie Freeman-Montes.

But, climate change is a very politically charged issue that especially came to light during last year’s presidential campaign.

Michael Barfield with the ACLU does not think the city should use taxpayer money to promote this cause.

“If I were giving them my opinion, it would be take down the sign,” said Barfield.

Since it was installed recently, Barfield has fielded complaints that the sign goes too far. He’s spoken with a city official over the matter.

“Eat less red meat. What does that have to do with climate change? It hasn’t dawned on me,” said Barfield.

“Why do we want to commercialize the beach? It just doesn’t make good sense to me, it’s not a good public policy position if you ask me,” Barfield added.

Barfield argues if the city is going to publicly promote this cause, then it needs to allow others to express their views, too.

“That is where we get into a First Amendment issue, that if someone has an opposing point of view, then the city has to allow it and tolerate it…You cannot discriminate against competing messages,” said Barfield.

Sarasota officials said they’re not forcing anyone to do anything.

“We’re not mandating that people do these things, these are ideas, these are suggestions, these are options that people can do in their daily lives,” said Freeman-Montes.

The sign is just a small part of the city’s climate adaptation plan. Officials have a series of long range goals to prepare the city for sea level rise in the future.

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