Advertisement
  1. Opinion

Florida’s resilience boss says right stuff on climate change. Now let’s act. | Editorial

Julia Nesheiwat acknowledges climate change is real. She should work with local governments on a common approach to coping with the impacts.
Photo at left: (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee) Photo at right: Julia Nesheiwat, the state's chief resilience officer. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times]
Photo at left: (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee) Photo at right: Julia Nesheiwat, the state's chief resilience officer. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times]
Published Aug. 12, 2019

Florida’s first-ever chief resilience officer is saying the right things about preparing the state to cope with climate change. That alone is a welcome improvement from former Gov. Rick Scott’s administration. But Julia Nesheiwat will need to work closely with local officials and raise her profile in Tallahassee for this office to reach its potential. Florida is uniquely vulnerable to a warming climate, and its response must be equally distinct.

Nesheiwat earned an early vote of confidence with her first extended interview last week, freely acknowledging the challenges of climate change — “it’s here, it’s real” — and the implications for Florida, which could include new limits on development in flood-prone areas. That straight talk and grasp of reality is a stark reversal from the environment under Scott, a climate skeptic who did little during his tenure to prepare Florida for the flooding associated with rising seas, saltwater encroachment into the drinking water supply and other impacts of a warming climate.

Nesheiwat has not laid out a specific agenda, reasonably choosing to spend the near-term compiling an assessment of all current efforts by local governments and other agencies to deal with climate change. In the absence of state leadership under Scott, more and more local governments tried to plug the gap by initiating resiliency efforts on their own. In the Tampa Bay area, St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Largo and other area government agencies have hired the equivalent to Nesheiwat to coordinate climate strategy at the local level. Tampa Mayor Jane Castor has included such a new position in next year’s city budget. Across the state, resilience coalitions are being formed at the regional level, including one in Tampa Bay involving six counties and 21 municipalities. There is plenty of work going on, and Nesheiwat will need to coordinate and support these efforts so that the state and local governments are working with one vision and common goals.

Gov. Ron DeSantis deserves credit for establishing a point person at the state level to bring order and collaboration across these layers of government. While Nesheiwat has not endorsed a development ban along the coastline, she wants to work closely with the Florida Department of Transportation on the placement of new roads and bridges. She also envisions working with homeowners and businesses as they manage climate-related threats to their properties and livelihoods. Her office could be a gateway for state and federal grants as communities look to harden their infrastructure. She should also make resiliency a high priority for the Legislature. A strong advocate speaking for the governor could be a powerful tool for public health and safety when lawmakers meet next week to draft the next state budget.

Of course, the proof will be in the results, and the governor has a huge stake in this effort. While education is a component, the focus must be action-oriented, with this office leading the way for smarter planning, more durable infrastructure and strategies for combating the health, safety and economic impacts that warming poses. A 2014 national climate assessment found Florida is squarely in the cross-hairs of climate change, with Tampa Bay, Miami and Apalachicola judged as among the most vulnerable places in the nation. There is no more time to lose in getting this office — and this state — up to speed.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Leonard Pitts [undefined]
    Leonard Pitts explains that diversity doesn’t happen by itself.
  2. San Francisco has benefited from the growth of nearby Silicon Valley. That metro area added 30,000 jobs in the past year.
    Here’s some interesting commentary from the opposite poles of the political spectrum.
  3. Thousands rallied and marched from the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center to the Florida Historic Capitol to demand more money for public schools this month in Tallahassee. [TORI LYNN SCHNEIDER/TALLAHASSEE DEMOCRAT  |  AP]
    Here’s what readers have to say in Sunday’s letters to the editor.
  4. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis waves to members of the Florida Legislature during a joint session of lawmakers this week. [SCOTT KEELER  |  TAMPA BAY TIMES]
    Here’s what readers are saying in Saturday’s letters to the editor.
  5. Presiding Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts swears in members of the Senate for the impeachment trial against President Donald Trump at the U.S. Capitol in Washington. [AP]
    Here’s what readers are saying in Monday’s letters to the editor.
  6. Jomari DeLeon, is pictured at at Gadsden Correctional Facility in Quincy, Florida August 7, 2019. Jomari is three years into a 15-year sentence for drug trafficking. She sold 48 tablets of prescription tablets over two days to an undercover officer. [JOHN PENDYGRAFT   |  Times]
    Women, Hispanics and residents from smaller counties are disproportionately serving long drug sentences that are no longer in place.
  7. Thousands of trees line the Hillsborough River near Wilderness park in Hillsborough County in Tampa. [LUIS SANTANA  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    Many of Florida’s problems originate with that ‘motto,’ writes historian Gary Mormino.
  8. First meeting of U.S. Vice President Richard Nixon and Martin Luther King Jr. and their two wives — Patricia Nixon and Coretta Scott King — during Independence Day celebrations in Accra, Ghana, on March 6, 1957, on the tails of the end of the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott. It was the first trip to Africa of all of them. [Photo by Griff Davis on assignment as U.S. Foreign Service Officer by U.S. Information Service (USIS). Copyright and courtesy of Griffith J. Davis Photographs & Archives.]
    Griff Davis’ daughter recounts how the photographer and Foreign Service officer captured a famous photo of King and Richard Nixon.
  9. Tampa Mayor Jane Castor and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman speak at a summit held by the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council's Resiliency Coalition this month in St. Petersburg. [LANGSTON TAYLOR  |  Times staff]
    Tampa Mayor Jane Castor and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman should lead an effort for robust regional transit.
  10. Vehicle traffic is seen along Bayshore Boulevard at a crosswalk at South Dakota Avenue in Tampa. Several intersections have pedestrian-activated beacons.
    A bill would end the confusion and save lives by making crosswalk signals red.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement