An interview with Brian Auld, president of the Tampa Bay Rays and secretary and treasurer of Tampa Bay Partnership
As part of its series “The Business of Climate Change,” which highlights the climate views of business men and women throughout the state, The Invading Sea spoke with Brian Auld, president of the Tampa Bay Rays, vice chairman of the Tampa Bay Rowdies, and secretary and treasurer of Tampa Bay Partnership, a coalition of regional business leaders.
Here are some highlights from the interview.
As part of your work with the Tampa Bay Partnership, you chair the task force in charge of an initiative called “The Business Case for Resilience.” Can you talk a little bit about that?
I’ve long thought it was a good idea for business leaders in the region to start taking a hard look at what we can do locally around climate change and to look at it from a very business-oriented perspective.
And certainly the biggest, most challenging aspects of climate change are global in nature, but there’s a lot that we can do here to prepare ourselves for at least mitigating some of the damage that I think we all know is coming, and much of that we’ve already seen, in fact. So when Rick Homans (Tampa Bay Partnership president and CEO) was able to secure the very generous grant from JPMorgan Chase and asked me if I’d be willing to chair that group I was very happy to do so.
When will The Business Case for Resilience study be completed and where will you go from there?
I think we’ve got one more session and they’re more than anything just providing us with the data that we need to best understand the situation. My hope is that when business leaders get their hands on the data and they recognize that, in layman’s terms, the five-year storm seems to be happening every year and the 100-year storm seems to be happening every five years, that it will make good sense for us to start talking to our public leaders.
(And talking to) our own operations teams around what we can do to prepare our businesses and our communities for the inevitable damage that’s going to come from some of those storms.
I don’t know that we have specific next steps in mind yet. But I think business leaders in particular are motivated by data, they’re motivated by both profits and losses, and some of this data, I think, is going to be pretty compelling.
You’ve been with the Rays for many years and live in St. Petersburg. What kinds of climate-related changes have you noticed over time just from living and working in the area?
Those of us who live in St. Petersburg in particular, especially if you’re near the water, there are more days every year that you can’t take your car where you want it to go. There are more days every year that you just see the water creeping up to the seawall.
And those things are pretty obvious, they’re mostly inconveniences at this point, but they’re troubling and they’re certainly indicative of a larger trend that’s coming our way. I can think of at least two times in the last five years that I’ve packed my family in the minivan and headed north to get out of the way of incoming storms.
And, of course, I’m really proud of what the Rays have done with respect to Puerto Rico and the Panhandle who were obviously devastated by hurricanes. We’ve participated firsthand with feet on the ground in both those areas to try to help those communities.
I think anybody living in Tampa Bay is starting to notice those things and it’s becoming more and more clear that we’re better off getting in front of it than crossing our fingers and hoping it doesn’t get to us.
At what point in your career did it become apparent that climate change and sea-level rise would have major impacts on businesses in Tampa Bay?
Very recently. I’ve certainly tried to set a personal example in our organization, tried to set a personal example by focusing on recycling, really exploring the possibilities around solar energy, doing more, being more cognizant of what products you purchase and the impacts that they have, and I’d say that in the last five years or so it’s certainly been dialed up quite a bit.
And I’m certainly trying to be more conscious about the decisions that I make and the impacts that they have. Of all the problems our planet has ever faced—and I guess this is the biggest our planet has actually faced—it calls for collective action in a way that can be very frustrating for the individual.
I can do all the composting in the world but it’s probably not going to make that big of a difference, but if collectively we can really focus on reducing our carbon footprint and combating this sea-level issue, we can make an impact. I think this group is focused on what we can do to mitigate damage as opposed to what we can do to actually keep the sea level from rising. We’re going to combat those really big global changes on a much larger scale than what this group is trying to do.
What can the local, state, and federal government do to help the private sector become more resilient?
Provide incentives. Speak to the truth of the danger around climate change and put this issue at the forefront of everyone’s lives. The more little things that each of us do, the more it’s going to enter our lifestyles in a really material way.
If there was a couple silver linings to this last year under the pandemic, we saw physical images of smog relinquishing over Los Angeles and cities in China, and we saw the planet really starting to seem to, in a very material and visible way.
None of us want to live through that on a daily basis, but it shows what may be necessary and what kinds of steps we may have to get to if we aren’t able to sort of get in front of this sooner than later. My feeling is just the more everyone can say it’s important, the more everybody can support the really smart people who are focused on attacking this problem from a scientific standpoint and environmental standpoint, the better off we’re all going to be.
We need this to be a nonpartisan issue. This can’t be about politics; it’s about the survival of our planet, and if that’s not enough, the significant economic impacts that are going to come from the devastation that large-scale climate change can create.
Kevin Mims, a Florida-based freelance journalist, is the producer of “The Business of Climate Change.” He conducted this interview with Mr Auld.
“The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state.