California correspondent Sandy Nader is reporting from her hometown of Miami, FL.
As he gears up to make a bid for the Senate, Republican governor of Florida Charlie Crist has finally taken a proactive stance on one of the most pressing issues of our time—climate change.
A Republican governor acknowledging climate change as a threat to our collective well-being? If it sounds familiar, it should. In a January 2008 interview
with freelance journalist Amanda Little
, Crist gave credit to another Republican governor of a huge state—Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California—for inspiring him to take the lead on an issue that has been largely overlooked by other GOP politicians. He then went on to praise President Teddy Roosevelt for planting the seeds of environmental concern in the Republican Party back at the turn of the last century.
Yet perhaps because he has this tradition as a safety net, Crist has not taken many risks in terms of being a green GOP trailblazer. To date, his most famous environmental initiative has been the Florida government's deal with U.S. Sugar Corp
, which originally meant to purchase 180,000 acres of the Everglades from the big sugar corporation in exchange for a cool $1.34 billion. Due to the recent economic crisis, however, Crist has now scaled back the purchase to $500 million for 75,000 acres—with both the acreage and the price still up for negotiation.
But here's the rub: No matter how much land ends up out of the hands of big sugar, the fact remains that the corporation will come out with a huge payoff, while the government will be left scrambling for restoration money.
So much for Florida being "recession proof" because of its exponential growth rate, as Crist declared in that aforementioned 2008 interview. That comment, along with others that hinted at Florida's exemption from energy problems because of its almost year-round sunshine, suggests that Crist might have bought a little too much into the bromides of Floridian exceptionality from national (and global) problems.
Despite current setbacks, however, it seems that Crist's goals for the future are a little more ambitious. During the climate summit
he held in July 2007—among the guests were Governor Schwarzenegger and Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope—he announced his target of reducing Florida's greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent come 2012, with a gradual target of 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. He also hinted at plans to start regulating vehicle emissions, a daunting task that has never been able to take hold statewide in Florida before.
Noble ambitions—but like all political promises, it is impossible to predict if any of them will ever come to fruition. So far, Crist's environmental policies seem to be a little bit like his personal choice of driving an ethanol-powered vehicle. In both cases, it is prudent to stop and ask: What are the hidden costs?