At the beginning of our second year, we take a moment to look back on what we’ve accomplished and where we go next. For the past year, Growing Climate Solutions: Path to Positive SWFL worked to forge a network of highly-respected community leaders from business, faith, health, civic, education, and media sectors to engage in climate communications and lead on climate action.  What’s Next?

The Rearview:  During the early months, we reached out to engage companies, institutions, and civic organizations in our Leadership Circle.  On March 10th, over 50 groups came together to provide ideas on how best to frame climate challenges and solutions for the region’s stakeholders.  The kick-off plans were derailed the following week by the COVID19 crisis that indefinitely postponed in-person gatherings, including scheduled educational events and activities.  In early April, a “pivot” strategy was developed to transition communications to virtual formats and focus on executable partner-specific projects that could serve as models of climate action.  A tree-planting initiative in Immokalee, a climate curriculum for the Girls Scouts of Gulf Coast Florida, and a soft-campaign to promote telecommuting are underway.   Additionally, we continue to reach out to the community to engage new partners and communicate with our stakeholders through social media and a well-received bi-monthly newsletter. To date, we have 30 Leadership Circle Partners, 4 Allied Environmental Organizations, about 400 Facebook followers and 350 recipients of our newsletter.

Full Speed Ahead: Our Year Two plans start with a focus to garner broad community support for the formal establishment of a Southwest Florida Resiliency Compact and to develop more channels to deliver impactful climate education programing.  Our growing network of Leadership Circle Partners is an important component of each objective.

The Southwest Florida Regional Resiliency Compact is envisioned as a collaborative endeavor among Collier, Lee and Charlotte Counties and their encompassed municipalities aimed at better understanding and coordinating solutions to regional climate challenges.  Growing Climate Solutions would like to see every government entity in our region join as a formal partner, so we are committed to informing our partners about the Compact with the hope that each chooses to voice support for this initiative.

Modeled after the 11-year old, highly successful Southeast Florida Regional Climate Compact, the SWFL Compact would serve as a means for adjoining local governments to align their respective climate resilience efforts, share information and best practices, develop common technical tools, apply for external resources, and possibly co-produce assessments and public policy interventions.  The Compact planned for our region would create a unified voice and keep Southwest Florida competitive with other regions in the state, including East Central Florida, the Tampa Bay area, and Northeast Florida, which have formed ,or are in the process of organizing similar collaboratives.

In the coming months, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to establish the Compact will go before elected bodies in each jurisdiction.  Growing Climate Solutions will provide information on the Southwest Regional Resiliency Compact to our partners ( link here) so you can clearly communicate its objectives and benefits to others, including elected officials which must ratify the MOU.  Without government involvement and leadership, it will be difficult to protect our communities from the impacts of climate change or find opportunities for prosperity in the changes we are seeing.

Upon the successful initiation of the SWFL Compact, Growing Climate Solutions would continue to support the nascent collaboration by offering educational programming for the staff of member cities and the public.  Our expertise in climate communications could be used to amplify stakeholder engagement and connect the Compact’s activities to those of other compacts in the state.  We are also building relationships with state-wide climate organizations, including Resilience Florida, Florida Audubon, and the Volo Foundation to insert Southwest Florida into the constellation of policy discussions and activities occurring throughout the state.

Another major objective in year two will be to host a high-profile speaker event(s) that will appeal to key centers of influence in our community.   We are identifying national thought-leaders from the military and financial sectors, voices we believe would resonate with community members still sitting on the fence regarding the science and impacts of climate change in our community.  These events, planned for the winter/spring of 2021, will be in a virtual format due to COVID19. Should public health conditions improve in the second quarter, future programs might be offered in a hybrid format.

Until then, Growing Climate Solutions continues providing climate talks to groups that request a presentation.  Dr. Puszkin-Chevlin talked about Addressing Hurricane Risk and Climate with members of Greater Naples Leadership on September 21.  In collaboration with our partner, ecoAmerica, a presentation will be offered to interested stakeholders on October 20th. And, Ana has been invited to present to the Southwest Florida Chapter of the American Institute of Architects and the Grey Oaks Club, in November and December, respectively.  If your organization or company would like to arrange a climate education event for your members or staff, please reach out to us.

Finally, a third key objective for 2021 is to continue recruiting leadership circle partners, individual climate champions and allied environmental organizations to join the network and extend our reach and influence. After assessing the mix of current partners, we are particularly hoping to attract businesses and organizations that extend our geographic reach north and south, broaden the mix of religious denominations and most importantly, represent diverse communities of color. A plurality of voices is critical.  If you are involved in a local civic group, attend church, or can introduce us to community leaders that could be powerful climate advocates, please get involved in building out our network. We know that COVID19 has suppressed many community-building activities and delayed climate action plans, but as we emerge from pandemic conditions in 2021, we want to move forward with a strong and representative coalition of network partners.

This week one year ago, I embarked on the mission to elevate the public dialogue on climate in Southwest Florida. Survey research had shown that 78%  of the region’s residents agreed that rising seas threaten the community, but only slightly more than half were inspired to stop pollutions that cause climate change.  There was overwhelming support, (93%) for government to do more to protect natural assets like mangroves and wetlands, but residents interviewed for a NOAA study by the League of Women Voters in Collier had difficulty articulating the links between climate impacts and changing environmental impacts.  Education was needed to connect cause to effects and impact to action.  Growing Climate Solutions is delivering climate education and is now hopeful that the awareness of impacts inspires stakeholders to take action.