As Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein leaves office after leading the department across two administrations, Gov. Ron DeSantis should immediately appoint a new, standalone, statewide chief resilience officer.
Floridians need powerful environmental and climate leadership, especially with respect to our ocean and coasts. We have watched as record-shattering harmful algal blooms have decimated our beaches and inland waterways, and as sea-level rise has taken hold in our most precious coastal ecosystems and in our urban neighborhoods.
We’ve seen massive storms, like hurricanes Michael and Irma, pound the state, and have been horrified at the sight of our iconic Florida coral reef tract wasting away under disease.
Climate changes makes these occurrences even worse.
Here in Florida, climate change is an undeniable reality, and you don’t have to look hard to see it. Tropical weather is becoming more frequent and severe. Waters are warming and affecting fish migration patterns, harming commercial and recreational fisheries.
Red Tide and blue green algal events are poised to bloom with greater intensity, as warming water is like pouring gas on an algae fire. And mean water levels are creeping ever higher up seawalls, into backyards and onto streets.
The swelling threat of climate change shines a spotlight on a tremendous need for leadership. Currently, resilience in Florida is managed by a patchwork of state and local laws and ordinances that lack a coordinated, statewide strategy.
While Valenstein did an admirable job in juggling the positions of Department of Environmental Protection secretary and acting chief resilience officer — among the huge range of other important environmental leadership hats he wore — Floridians deserve better than to have resilience be an afterthought.
The chief resilience officer needs to be an empowered and independent role to be truly effective for Florida.
With the passage of SB 1954, which made significant investments in resilience funding and required the first-ever statewide plan for dealing with sea-level rise and flooding, there couldn’t be a more perfect opportunity for DeSantis to show his commitment to a more resilient Florida by appointing a new, standalone chief resilience officer. There is simply no time to waste.
Jon Paul “J.P.” Brooker is an attorney and the director of Florida Conservation for Ocean Conservancy. He was born and raised in Brevard County. He wrote this for “The Invading Sea,” the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state focusing on the threats posed by the warming climate.