Pensacola Debates Climate Policy
Pensacola City Councilwoman Sherri Myers has been a consistent advocate for environmental change. When she initially pushed for the formation of a climate change task force five years ago, she met some pushback.
“[Climate change] was not a very popular word politically for public officials to talk about, but now that atmosphere is completely changed,” Myers said.
Since the city has become friendlier to climate policy in the last few years, Myers has been working on implementing environmental policies recommended by the climate task force. She’s focused on stormwater management and tree reforestation.
“We are continuing to allow the clearcutting of the tree canopy in the city of Pensacola, and especially in District 2 where you already have a lot of commercial development,” Myers said.
But the lack of trees in Pensacola is part of a bigger challenge the city is facing. In 2018, the climate task force made more than 80 recommendations regarding climate change adaptation and prevention. Five of these policy suggestions made it to the mayor’s desk during the transition: Plant more trees, make commercial areas greener, complete a greenhouse gas emissions inventory, set a renewable energy goal, and form another crew to clean stormwater inlets.
Mayor Grover Robinson said he’s committed to doing everything in the transition report over the span of his term. But he does think some things will take more time.
“There are a couple things that may take a little bit longer for us to implement. But we’re still going through that process and our whole belief is environmentally if we make incremental strides, we’ll go a long way. The idea is to not do anything that will provide a significant shock to the system.”
But few of the five priorities in the transition report have been addressed. Christian Wagley is the coastal organizer for Healthy Gulf and authored the environmental transition report. He says Robinson has already made efforts to make the city more walkable, which will reduce carbon emissions over time.
“There are increasingly monies and attention being given to making our city one that’s more designed around people and less around cars,” Wagley said. “Mayor Robinson has started to embrace that. Transportation is our largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, and so we’ve got to change the way we design our streets and buildings and lay out our neighborhoods.”
Wagley says the most urgent of the five recommendations are reducing greenhouse gas emissions and moving the city toward renewable energy goals.
“The most pressing issue by far is we absolutely have to switch to renewable energy,” Wagley said. “The transition is the most important thing the city can do to prepare for climate change and we haven’t seen that yet.”
Dr. Wade Jeffery, climate task force advisor and UWF biology Professor, agrees. He says one city cutting all emissions won’t stop the global climate crisis, but it will matter when cities across Florida, and the country, join together.
“Pensacola as a city should be one of the municipalities involved and engaged. If you sit around and wait for the other guy to do it, nothing will ever happen,” Jeffery said.
The transition report recommends Pensacola reach 30% renewable energy by 2030, mainly through solar panel installation on city buildings. The report also asks the city to curb greenhouse gas emissions. According to the mayor’s office, the city started a greenhouse gas inventory over the summer but has not moved forward with plans for renewable energy.