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Nancy Smith

Florida's New Climate Change Czar: Better than a Scientist

July 31, 2019 - 8:15am
Julia Nesheiwat
Julia Nesheiwat

Florida is about to get a climate change czar -- a key staffer charged with "adapting the most vulnerable state in the nation to climate change." 

Apparently, say The Miami Herald and other newspapers that collaborated on the story, Gov. Ron DeSantis is set to announce the appointment of new Chief Resilience Officer Julia Nesheiwat. Maybe as early as today.

But, expect to see more than a few Florida chins drop over this announcement -- on two counts.

First, are we really talking about recognizing climate change with an actual senior staff position? Under a REPUBLICAN governor? Democrats said we GOPs were incapable of thinking past our collective double-digit IQ. After all, it wasn't so long ago that Gov. Rick Scott forbade the words "climate change" in the Governor's Office.

The second shocker: Julia Nesheiwat, DeSantis' czar of choice, has a ton of creds, but a scientist she is not. Not even close. The Herald, the Sun-Sentinel and a slew of news sources in the multi-newsroom initiative called the Florida Climate Reporting Network,  seem to question what possible good Nesheiwat can do for Florida's disappearing coastline. Nesheiwat "has an impressive resume," writes the Herald's Alex Harris. "But it’s missing one thing -- any obvious experience with climate change or resilience."

Actually, I think whatever Hesheiwat's resume is missing, it doesn't need. 

OK, this sounds strange coming from me. Usually, I'm the cynical one when a shoe isn't a perfect fit. But I have a hunch DeSantis and Florida got lucky and Nesheiwat is the seam in the gold mine. She's a proven negotiator, a talented convincer, a person who knows how to drive home a compelling argument. Google her background. She's been a winner in every task she's undertaken for more than 20 years.

Let's look:

She was an ROTC standout at Stetson University, graduating in 1997 with B.A. degrees in religious studies and sociology, and later an M.A. from Georgetown and a Ph.D. from Tokyo Institute of Technology. 

Ultimately, she served as a military intelligence officer during consecutive tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, and later as special presidential envoy for hostage affairs (acting), where she helped secure the safe return of Americans held hostage overseas. 

She was also a visiting professor at the U.S. Naval Post Graduate School’s National Security Affairs Department and at the University of California San Diego, "lecturing on the geopolitics of energy and renewable energy technology in the 21st century." 

Nesheiwat was appointed deputy assistant secretary of state for implementation in the Bureau of Energy Resources. Beginning in 2008-2011, she was the senior advisor and chief of staff to the special envoy for Eurasian Energy. Immediately prior, she served as the energy policy advisor in the Department’s Economic bureau, where she focused on energy security issues for Europe and Central Asia.  

In 2010 to 2011, including the period following the Fukushima nuclear disaster, she served as a Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) fellow in Japan, where she conducted energy and economic policy research evaluating U.S. and Asian energy policies.

In April last year, as a former deputy assistant secretary of state for energy, she was invited to lead the discussion on geothermal development at the Iceland Geothermal Conference.

Not too shabby, Florida.

Maybe we'll need a scientist in this job later. But right now, climate change is a moving target and a lot of Floridians still need convincing. By all accounts, Nesheiwat has been a diplomat and far more: She can do that. With 1,100 miles of coastline, Florida is going to need money and help from Washington. She has the connections. She's been an achiever in Democratic AND Republican administrations. 

Nesheiwat can go anywhere in the world and represent us if we need her to, I'm convinced of that. This is not a person who will freeze like a deer in the headlights.

I can't wait to give her a chance.

Reach Nancy Smith at or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith

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