Jacksonville is on its way to joining the ranks of other Florida’s major cities by hiring a chief resiliency officer to coordinate the city’s strategy to counter the accelerating impacts of climate change.
According to The Florida Times-Union, the City Council will take up a bill Tuesday to create the position in the next year’s budget, along with a $300,000 appropriation to pay for the director’s salary and staff. Mayor Lenny Curry’s office has blessed the idea, according to the newspaper.
The impending move has the support of the St. Johns Riverkeeper, an environmental non-profit that has been advocating for a Jacksonville resiliency officer for years.
“However, the hard work and tough decisions lie ahead,’ wrote Riverkeeper Executive Director Jimmy Orth in an email to The Invading Sea.
“The new CRO must have the authority and the resources to work across departments and agencies to develop and implement an aggressive, comprehensive plan that not only fortifies the city from rising seas, but addresses greenhouse gas emissions and the multitude of impacts that climate change will have on our community,” Orth wrote.
It is not at all clear that Jacksonville’s resilience officer will have such a wide latitude, or to whom the officer will report. Jacksonville elected officials are coming onboard with plans to defend the city against rising ocean levels. Cutting carbon-based emissions from motor vehicles and power plants is another matter entirely, and not one being discussed.
Still, the move to hire a chief resiliency officer fills a major gap in Jacksonville’s efforts to react to the oncoming threat from climate change. Jacksonville will be the last of Florida’s major cities to bring on board a resiliency officer, a position that ideally will have the authority to work across city departments to implement coordinated actions to protect the city.
Jacksonville suffered the worst flooding in its history from Hurricane Irma in September 2017, and sections of the city are plagued by so-called “sunny day flooding” during seasonal king tides. The city is regarded by climate scientists as one of the most vulnerable in the country to rising water levels.
Jacksonville and Northeast Florida are a politically conservative region, and until recently public discussions of climate change were given short shrift by public officials.
Recent moves by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis to highlight environmental concerns and hire a state resiliency officer to coordinate Florida’s climate change policies are credited with providing political cover to other Republicans across the state to push for long suppressed plans to hold back the rising oceans. Former Gov. Rick Scott, now a U.S. senator, openly forbade state officials to discuss or plan for climate change.
John Burr has more than 30 years experience as an editor and reporter in Northeast Florida, and is a member of the Jacksonville chapter of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby.
“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.