Talk is cheap, and time is running out for Florida to get on with the difficult and expensive task of protecting its citizens from rising seas along its 1,197-mile coastline. So, it’s welcome news that lawmakers are getting behind Gov. Ron DeSantis’ pledge to prepare Florida for the environmental, physical and economic impacts of sea-level rise
DeSantis took the first step in August with the appointment of Julia Nesheiwat as Florida’s chief resilience officer. The Lake County native reports directly to the governor and appears well qualified to quarterback his environmental protection efforts. Her appointment was a huge and welcome paradigm shift after eight years of DeSantis’ predecessor, Rick Scott, whose efforts to deal with climate change consisted of pretending it doesn’t exist.
Now, the Legislature appears poised to give Nesheiwat a team that can deliver desperately needed resiliency results. SPB 7016 and HB 1073 put flesh on the bones and money in the bank for a Statewide Sea-Level Rise Task Force within a Governor’s Statewide Office of Resiliency.
As it considers these bills, the Legislature will be playing catch-up with public opinion. More than two-thirds of Floridians say that government must do more to address the impacts of climate change, and nearly half are willing to pony up $10 a month to make the state’s infrastructure more resilient.
Ongoing reporting for The Invading Sea has assembled an ocean of evidence that Floridians clearly understand that they cannot maintain their way of life — indeed, their very lives — without a sustained and focused effort by state government to get us on the road to resilience. Properly funded and staffed, the proposed Office of Resiliency offers hope for a coherent statewide strategy to make our homes, businesses, streets, highways and sewers able to resist the rising seas.
The Senate and House bills under consideration create a lot of seats at the task force table, the majority under DeSantis’ direct control. Both proposals mandate that the task force be chaired by his chief resilience officer, with the vice chair position occupied by the state’s chief science officer of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), one of the many agencies that labored in silence and impotence under Scott’s climate-change gag order.
Other task force members will come from the Department of Transportation; Emergency Management; Fish and Wildlife; and Economic Opportunity, all under DeSantis’ direct control. The Senate president, House speaker, and commissioner of agriculture each will appoint one person to the task force. It is essential that each of the appointees has the highest level of subject matter expertise and the time necessary to give this work the focus and attention appropriate to addressing an existential threat.
Under the proposed legislation, the task force is required to “develop official scientific information necessary to make recommendations on consensus baseline projections of the expected rise in sea level.” Thankfully, the Task Force will not be required to invent the wheel.
Climate scientists and scholars with expertise in architecture, agriculture, transportation, land use planning, supply chain management, evolutionary biology and other disciplines relevant to helping a stressed-out population find its way through times of unimaginable change, have been developing this kind of information for decades, often in public agencies and universities.
Skeptics can be forgiven for wondering how serious DeSantis is about taking meaningful action to meet the threat posed by rising seas. His DEP claims to have “no grounds to deny” oil drilling permits in the Apalachicola River basin, and he has made no effort to use the tools at a governor’s disposal to derail a drilling operation in the Everglades near Miramar. Aside from the serious threat that drilling poses to our clean water supply, Florida can and must be a leader in the fight against the industries that have created the resilience crisis we face.
Speaking this week at a conference in Tampa, Nesheiwat said Florida needs to grow jobs in the field of clean energy and “ask ourselves really difficult questions about whether our current model of growth is indeed sustainable.”
Plainly, it is not.
The good news is that we have solid science, and there are achievable paths to the resiliency Florida requires. What we have not had is a governor steadfastly invested in making the Legislature take the issue seriously.
SPB 7016 and companion bill HB 1073 suggest that we may at last be ready to get on with the work we must do in the 21st century if Florida families and businesses are to survive and thrive in the 22nd century. To this end, DeSantis must be loud, clear and consistent in his support. When it comes to Florida’s invading sea, this is no time for mixed messages.
“The Invading Sea” is 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.