Voices: The hidden crisis looming behind Hurricane Idalia

A man looks out at the flood waters from Hurricane Idalia surrounding his apartment complex in Tarpon Springs (Getty Images)
A man looks out at the flood waters from Hurricane Idalia surrounding his apartment complex in Tarpon Springs (Getty Images)

Working in the mortgage industry in the 2010s, I knew three things to be true about Florida real estate transactions: closings do not require an attorney, it has a decent homebuyer assistance program, and homeowners’ insurance was becoming increasingly difficult to obtain. This is bad news for a state that already has homeowners’ insurance rates four times higher than the national average, making it the most expensive state for homeowner’s insurance.

Add a disaster like Hurricane Idalia and Florida’s crisis becomes even more urgent. The storm is currently pummeling the state’s northwest coast, bringing with it severe wind, torrential rain, and the looming reality that many Floridians will not be able to afford to rebuild. Those who can may find themselves priced out of the state altogether as premiums rise like a storm surge.

As alarming as this is, the insurance crisis in Florida has been well reported over the past several years. “This insurance trouble has been going on since Hurricane Andrew” in 1992 one Florida homeowner told The Guardian earlier this summer. National newspapers have all reported extensively on the astronomical and unbearable cost to homeowners.

The reason? Scientists expect that by 2100, sea levels could rise more than six feet – putting at least 900,000 properties at risk of being underwater. The climate crisis is already affecting the state, with hurricanes becoming stronger and more frequent as atmospheric and sea surface temperatures rise. Insurance companies acknowledge what the state’s governor, Ron DeSantis, won’t: climate change is real, and Florida is particularly vulnerable.

DeSantis truly does not care, nor even seem to believe in, the scientific facts showing our climate is indeed being changed by the action of humanity. In May, he told Fox News that he “rejects the politicization of weather,” and in 2022 he bluntry said: “I can’t control the climate. I’m not going to mandate any of that.”

Instead, the governor has allowed climate denial videos which compare climate activists to Nazis and erroneously link wind and solar power to pollution (it’s the fossil fuels, y’all) to be used in Florida schools. These videos, produced by the far-right Prager University (which is not a real university), have been called “dangerous propaganda” by education experts. DeSantis does not care, though. As part of his “war on woke,” he is deliberately introducing misinformation into the state’s public schools.

At the same time, he is doing nothing to help the state’s struggling homeowners – the ones who pay local school levies as well as astronomically high insurance rates. Instead, he’s protecting the interest of big business at the expense of everyday Floridians. Last year, DeSantis signed into a law sweeping changes to the state’s insurance laws that – far from providing relief to beleaguered homeowners – protect the insurance companies from lawsuits.

For his part, DeSantis denies inaction. “We’ve been working on this for a number of years,” he said at a campaign appearance in July, without acknowledging that what he has been working on is strengthening the hand of insurance companies at the expense of homeowners. To those homeowners, though, DeSantis had this to say: “I think [insurance companies are] going to wait through this hurricane season and then I think they’re going to be willing to deploy more capital to Florida. So, knock on wood, we won’t have a big storm this summer.”

Believing in climate change – with all the scientific evidence to support it – is a bridge too far for DeSantis, who instead wants to cross his fingers to avoid devastation in the state he leads. Idalia looks to be a catastrophic hurricane, though, showing that no matter how man sabal palms he may knock on, DeSantis’ insurance policy of dumb luck is simply not enough. One can’t help but wonder if the wood that needs knocking is the governor’s head.

I am not alone in believing this. One of DeSantis’ most famous constituents, whom he is challenging in the Republican presidential primary, agrees. In March, former President Donald Trump attacked the governor over his insurance policies, saying that “DeSanctimonious is delivering the biggest insurance company bailout in global history. This is a gift to insurance companies and a disaster for the people of Florida.” This was after he blasted DeSantis for “crush[ing] Florida homeowners whose houses were destroyed” by Hurricane Ian in 2022. “They’re getting pennies on the dollar. His Insurance Commissioner does NOTHING, while Florida’s lives are ruined.”

Even a quadruply-indicted allegedly seditious clock is right twice a day. Ron DeSantis has overseen one of the first and worst economic and housing crises wrought by climate change the United States has yet experienced, and his answer is to deny its causes and do nothing to help the people suffering from his ignorance and allegiance to big corporations. He is promoting a dangerous and unscientific ideology in schools – one that underpins his own climate policy yet threatens to only exacerbate the problems Florida faces.

As this hurricane makes landfall, it is worth remembering that the recovery will be made all the more difficult because Ron DeSantis prioritizes his own ego and insurance company donations over the people of Florida. It is shameful.