3 Lessons On Climate Leadership

In 2005 an important meeting took place between would-be presidential candidate, John McCain, and then Florida Governor Charlie Crist. After covering campaign strategy and politics, McCain left Crist with one final thought: the need to act on climate change. A decade ago, the issue was far less political, and seeing the potential consequences that Florida faced, Governor Crist sprung into action.

Through a collaboration of the governor’s office, the state legislature, local and regional municipalities, the state transformed into a climate leader. A climate change task force was created, new policies to address sea water rise and freshwater contamination were implemented, and a plan was set to roll back the state’s greenhouse emissions to 1990 levels. The state had taken bold action, with state leadership, and across partisan lines.

The successes, however, were short lived. In 2011, Florida had elected a new governor, and the commitment to climate action had left the statehouse with Gov. Crist. The actions by the new governor, Rick Scott, were immediate. They included an almost overnight reversal of old climate protections, shifting the burden of climate preparation to cities and municipalities, even discouraging state employees from using the term “climate change.”

These two governorships illustrates some important lessons for climate leaders throughout the country:

  • First: Action requires bipartisan support. The initial actions by Republican Gov. Crist were prompted by Republican Senator and Presidential Candidate, John McCain. The actions in the statehouse were accomplished with bipartisan support. And there was a shared sense of purpose and urgency.
  • Second: Political leadership matters. Both Crist and Scott were republican Governors, yet they pursued radically opposing policies. Voters must be cognizant of who they elect, and their positions regarding climate change. Likewise, mayors, community leaders, and elected officials must recognize their power in shaping climate policy.
  • Third: Communication is key. Community and elected leaders at all levels must effectively communicate the benefits of bold action on climate. They should emphasize how climate action boosts local economies, creates jobs, gives rise to healthier residents, and improves the quality of life for residents. These points, and effective methods for communicating on climate, can be accessed through ecoAmerica’s Let’s Talk Climate.

Mayors, community leaders, and elected officials must effectively communicate and educate residents on the importance of climate action. Florida illustrates the highs and lows of climate action, and the devastating effects of inaction. Find out how to empower your community and transform it into a climate success by joining with ambitious leaders at Path to Positive Communities.

Climate Change: A Tale of Two Governors

By Tristram Korten | Florida Center for Investigative Reporting | December 26, 2015

When Charlie Crist was Florida’s attorney general and preparing to run for governor in 2005, he sat down in a private room at the Biltmore Hotel in Miami with U.S. Sen. John McCain.

McCain was gearing up to run for president. The two Republicans talked political campaigns, strategies and endorsements.

As Crist was getting ready to leave, McCain stopped him.

“Charlie, I think there is one more thing you should focus on,” Crist recalled McCain saying.

“What’s that?” Crist asked.

“Climate change,” McCain answered. “It’s a big deal.”

At the time, Crist said in a recent interview, he didn’t know much about the subject. But the Arizona senator piqued his interest. (McCain’s office did not respond to a request for comment.)

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