DeSantis picks Florida’s new climate change officer

Florida's new chief resiliency officer will coordinate the state's response to rising sea levels. Source: B137, Wikipedia Commons

Gov. Ron DeSantis has enlisted a bevy of climate change experts to vouch for Julia Nesheiwat – a veteran specialist in military affairs and diplomacy who the governor just picked to be Florida’s chief resiliency officer.

The position, which DeSantis created, is intended to “prepare Florida for the environmental, physical and economic impacts of climate change, especially sea level rise,” as stipulated in the job posting on LinkedIn. The “CRO” will work with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and other state and local agencies to coordinate planning.

“Dr. Nesheiwat has accumulated a breadth of experience through her education, her military service and her public service as the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for energy resources implementing policies in energy, climate change, water, and critical infrastructure protection,” said Paul Sullivan, a professor of economics who leads the Energy Industry Study at the National Defense University. “I am confident she will serve the people of Florida exceptionally well.”

Nesheiwat will be in charge of developing statewide resiliency goals; identifying resources already in place and working with state agencies to expand them; and investigating additional ways to cope with sea level rise in Florida, already suffering from flooding in low-lying areas including Miami Beach because of global warming. Climate scientists also warn of the potential for stronger and more destructive storms.

DeSantis’ emphasis on resiliency and the state’s goal of using “the best available science” marks a reversal from his predecessor – Rick Scott, now Florida’s junior U.S. senator, who reportedly banned state agencies from uttering the term “climate change.” It does conform with thinking inside the Pentagon, which in January issued a report declaring climate change “a national security issue.”

The job posting calls for a master’s degree in “an environmental science-related field, with a minimum of 5 years working experience in the resilience and sustainability related field preferred. Bachelor’s Degree in an Environmental Science Field with 10 years of related experience will be considered in lieu of a master’s degree.”

Nesheiwat does not have a degree in an environmental science field.

“Dr. Nesheiwat’s more than 20 years’ experience operating at the highest levels of government and academia focusing on renewable energy, environmental and critical infrastructure issues make her an excellent choice for this position,” DeSantis said in a written statement issued Thursday evening. “She has a proven track record of public, private and military service that will serve Florida well.”

The job posting  also calls for “broad knowledge of emerging trends in resilience planning and environmental science;” “highly developed analytical skills;” the ability to “critically assess, integrate and synthesize broad areas of scientific research from diverse sources to develop specific solutions and recommendations;” and “broad knowledge of emerging trends in resilience planning and environmental science.”

Nesheiwat has served since 2015 as deputy special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, the U.S. State Department’s lead diplomat on negotiating the release of Americans held overseas. Her agency bio notes her experience as deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Energy Resources, and as a visiting professor and political-military adviser at the U.S. Naval Post Graduate School’s National Security Affairs Department.

Additionally, Nesheiwat has worked as chief of staff to the under secretary for economic affairs and U.S. Special Envoy for Eurasian Energy Security. The fluent speaker of Arabic and Japanese also served as an Army intelligence officer in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Nesheiwat earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology and religious studies from Stetson University, a master’s in security studies from Georgetown University, and a doctorate from the Tokyo Institute of Technology. Her dissertation, according to her résumé, was on “post-disaster reconstruction in energy technology and resiliency.” She holds a top-secret security clearance.

That document also cites her “strong network” among senior U.S. officials, foreign ministers, multinational corporations, state governments, and the news media.

“I worked closely with Dr. Nesheiwat for several years when I was an energy envoy at the State Department and can tell you first-hand that she is passionately committed to climate issues,” said Richard Morningstar, former U.S. ambassador to the European Union and to Azerbaijan. “Her doctoral work relating to resilience following the Fukushima accident is exemplary, and she is nothing short of an administrative and organizational genius, which will be critical in any crisis.”

Eric Eikenberg, chief executive officer of the Everglades Foundation, called Nesheiwat “a wise choice. Dr. Nesheiwat is a proven resiliency leader in critical areas where the public, private and academic sectors intersect. Her years of environmental experience, with an emphasis on water and natural resources, will serve the people of Florida well.”

The Everglades Foundation was the only Florida environmental group to endorse DeSantis in the governor’s race last fall.

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