Guest Column
Florida needs to permanently prioritize climate resilience | Column
Resiliency can be afterthought but must be at the core of statewide infrastructure, land-use and growth decision-making.
Neglect of climate change portends risk to coastal states like Florida and future generations.
Neglect of climate change portends risk to coastal states like Florida and future generations.
Published Feb. 11, 2021

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ proposed $1 billion Resilient Florida program is grounded in common sense and gets the ball rolling on big investments in infrastructure — but we need more.

Florida also needs empowered leadership dedicated to preparing our homes and communities for the inevitable impacts of climate change. DeSantis’ proposal is a good-faith effort and one that the Florida Legislature should build on to make resilience a priority for the state forever, regardless of who holds power in Tallahassee.

J.P. Brooker
J.P. Brooker [ Provided ]

This session, state lawmakers should permanently establish and fund a statewide Office of Resilience, led by a dedicated chief resilience officer responsible for creating a long-term strategy for protecting our state from rising seas and other climate impacts. Floridians know that our cultural identity and economic prosperity are intimately tied to what happens on the ocean and on our beaches, which are already being deeply affected by climate change. I can see it; you can see it. The evidence is incontrovertible virtually anywhere you look in Florida.

Right now, no single state entity is responsible for thinking about resilience 24/7. Responsibility spans multiple state agencies and local governments; it’s a hodgepodge of policies and projects with no coordination for addressing core resilience problems our communities are facing. It’s not enough to throw money at the problem — we must ensure expenditures are tailored to meet the scope and scale of the existential climate threat.

I watched the initial attempt to create a permanent Floridian resilience executive with interest. The appointment of Julia Nesheiwat as the first chief resilience officer in the early days of the DeSantis administration was appreciated. Since her departure, Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein, who’s currently serving as interim chief resilience officer, has done an admirable job.

But now it’s clear that we need a systematic, long-term approach for protecting Florida from inevitable climate change-related threats like sea level rise, increasingly frequent and severe tropical weather, saltwater intrusion as the ocean inundates the aquifer, and harm to critically important commercial and recreational fish stocks that are subject to more numerous and brutal harmful algal blooms and dramatic salinity fluctuations. These are issues that infrastructure investment most certainly can help with, but we also need holistic and efficient treatment with strong direction and purpose.

Sen. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, and Rep. Chip LaMarca, R-Lighthouse Point, have introduced legislation to establish a permanent Office of Resilience. House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, and Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, should prioritize passage of this legislation that would ensure resiliency isn’t just an afterthought, but at the core of statewide infrastructure, land-use, and growth decision making. If we accomplish this, Florida will be in better fighting shape to handle the large scale environmental and economic storms on the horizon.

J.P. Brooker is the director of the Florida Conservation for Ocean Conservancy. He is based in St. Petersburg.