By Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, former member of U.S. House of Representatives
Our climate is changing. This is no longer a debate point, but a scientific fact. Through increases in temperatures, sea-level rise, and glacial melting, we’re already feeling the effects, and they are not partisan. Climate isn’t a liberal issue; it’s a human one.
In Florida, young conservatives, like the College Republicans, have conducted beach clean-ups and other environmentally focused events to demonstrate that the future of the GOP is ready to face climate change.
Benji Backer, for instance, founded the American Conservation Coalition (ACC) to engage his right-wing peers on the environment. Since its founding in 2017, ACC has helped activists on more than 200 campuses, including several in Florida, find their voices on these issues.
David Saul Acosta is a conservative graduate student at Harvard University, but originally hails from Miami. David is part of the Climate Leaders Program for Professional Students at Harvard where he has advocated for climate-conscious practices and solutions within the Harvard community. He has sought to build collaborative partnerships among students and schools that don’t normally collaborate on climate issues.
Luckily, Republicans in and out of Congress have spoken out and acted on the issue of climate change in recent years. In my final years in office, I voted in favor of policies that strengthened anti-pollution measures, such as the establishment of methane pollution safeguards, and sought to work with leaders from both sides of the aisle to deliver tangible solutions for Americans.
As a proud resident of Miami-Dade County, I’m acutely aware of the threat sea-level rise poses to South Florida as well as other parts of the Sunshine State. Other Florida Republicans like U.S. Reps. Brian Mast and Matt Gaetz, along with Gov. Ron DeSantis, have proven that climate change can — and should — be an issue that conservatives are vocal about.
As a state dependent on tourism, it’s critical to have lands, beaches and waterways that are clean, healthy and inviting. That’s why DeSantis has spearheaded efforts to secure funds for Everglades restoration and has worked to bolster the state’s ability to purchase lands vulnerable to development near ecologically sensitive lands. DeSantis was also the first governor to appoint a climate resilience officer to oversee climate matters in the state.
Private industry also has worked hard to address climate change. In recent years, the Walt Disney Company has invested in clean-energy projects at its Florida resort. Disney has invested hundreds of millions of dollars to install more than 250,000 solar panels, which have bolstered Florida’s green economy and created many jobs in green industries.
Florida Power & Light has pledged to install 30 million solar panels by 2030. Its “30 by 30” pledge has positioned Florida to be a world leader in solar energy.
It’s not a secret that national policy-making has been plagued by hyper-partisanship and extreme rhetoric. But Republicans would be wise to capitalize on this opportunity to promote common-sense policy.
We must stay true to our free-market principles and pursue solutions that will reduce our carbon emissions such as clean energy, carbon-negative technologies and a whole slate of natural solutions.
Because Floridians feel the effects of climate change more acutely than residents of other states, Florida has the potential to be a turning point in this conversation. Florida companies and elected officials are in the perfect position to advocate for bipartisan solutions like energy innovation, infrastructure development, and coastal restoration projects.
The time is now. In fact, ACC recently launched The American Climate Contract, a market-based climate-change platform. This proposal provides a framework for collaborative, bipartisan action to protect our planet. Americans, regardless of party affiliation, want action on climate change, and Florida Republicans can be on the front lines.
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen served in the U.S House for 30 years as the representative from Florida’s 27th congressional district. She is a member of ACC’s Advisory Board.
“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.