National climate-action group names FL co-chairs to lead campaign

Yale University polled states and counties on their level of concern about climate change. Coastal states such as Florida ranked high (marked in the darker shades). Credit: Yale Program on Climate Change Communication

Florida Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez and three other Floridians will head the Sunshine State’s coalition of state leaders and activists advocating for political change in 2020 to address climate change.

Climate Power 2020, a climate action project created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund, the League of Conservation Voters, and the Sierra Club, announced the co-chairs Tuesday.

The group says Florida will be pivotal in the U.S. climate debate because it is a political swing state and many Floridians want action to combat climate change already causing coastal flooding, severe weather, and excessive heat.

Also named as co-chairs are Philip Stoddard, a professor of biology at Florida International University and former mayor of South Miami; Frances Colon, former deputy science and technology adviser in the U.S. State Department; and Valencia Gunder, founder of the Smile Trust and campaign director of the New Florida Majority Campaign.

Democratic state Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez has been wearing rain boots for three years urging people to #ActOnClimateFL. Here, he poses with Democratic Congresswoman Kathy Castor of Tampa, who chairs the U.S. House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. Photo from Rodriguez’s Facebook page.

Javier Rodriguez, who conducts business sporting rain boots emblazoned with the hashtag #ActOnClimateFL, sponsored climate-action bills in the 2020 Florida Legislature that were largely rejected by the Republican majority.

One passed and was signed into law Tuesday, becoming Florida’s first law  addressing climate change.

The senator’s Public Financing of Construction Projects bill (CS/CS/SB 178) requires that publicly financed construction projects not commence until the state assesses its vulnerability to coastal flooding. “Sea Level Impact Projection” studies, or SLIP studies, are intended to prevent use of public funds on projects likely to be damaged by flooding caused by sea-level rise along Florida’s coasts due to climate change.

Javier Rodriguez said science deniers such as President Donald Trump must be voted out of office in order to address the climate crisis. Trump famously calls climate change a hoax, has rolled back environmental protection rules, and withdrew the United States from the 2015 Paris Accord on Climate, an international agreement on slashing greenhouse gas emissions before they cause irreversible damage that scientists forecast will be catastrophic.

“Climate is connected to almost every other issue we face as a country and we must begin to take it seriously for the health, safety, and economic well-being of our communities — most immediately apparent is the urgency South Florida faces ahead of what is expected to be a record hurricane season while our communities tackle a pandemic and economic crisis,” the senator said in the announcement.

Javier Rodriguez called upon voters to choose leaders who will support conversion to clean, renewable energy and creation of new jobs in a sustainable economy.

Stoddard said coronavirus illustrates the need to listen to scientists and mobilize rapidly for action.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is a very real example of what happens when we don’t heed the warnings of experts. If we continue to do the same with the threat of climate change, it will have all-out disastrous repercussions on our well-being and economic security [especially] in a coastal state like Florida,” the former Miami mayor said.

Colon and Gunder added that voters deserve scientific evidence, not disinformation, in order to take action to protect the planet’s climate and their own backyards.

Climate Power 2020 cites a Yale University poll in 2019 that found 60 percent of Floridians are worried about climate change and believe Trump and his allies ignore scientists’ warnings about it.

Climate Power 2020’s advisory board members include Carol Browner, former secretary of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, former secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Regulation, and board chair at the League of Conservation Voters.