Gov. DeSantis names woman in charge of helping Florida adapt to climate change

Julia Nesheiwat, the Deputy Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs at the department of state, has been named Florida’s first Chief Resilience Officer.
Julia Nesheiwat, the Deputy Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs at the department of state, has been named Florida’s first Chief Resilience Officer.

in her last job, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ new hire for helping Florida adapt to climate change worked to help free American hostages overseas.

On it’s face, and with her resume, Julia Nesheiwat seems like an unconventional pick, but DeSantis defended his selection at a press conference Friday morning, dismissing any criticism of his nominee’s credentials as comments from “the peanut gallery.”

“She has a very, very long and impressive resume. I don’t think there’s any real valid criticism,” he said. “She’s done all kinds of things in the State Department. For a resiliency officer, you need somebody who’s going to be able to work with all our agencies, be able to work with the local communities, and I think she has that.”

Before the announcement Thursday evening, some environmentalists questioned how Nesheiwat’s extensive — and impressive — background in the military and intelligence community would apply to her role as Chief Resilience Officer, where she will be “preparing Florida for the environmental, physical and economic impacts of sea level rise,” according to the release.

But most, hoping to strike a strong relationship with Florida’s first resilience officer, also applauded the creation of the role at all after so many years without state action on climate change.

“To truly tackle the challenges of flooding and sea level rise, we need more elected leaders to take bold and proactive actions to protect their communities. Elevating a chief resilience officer within the governor’s office sends a clear message that Florida is ready to face the challenges of rising seas now and into the future,” said Melissa Roberts, Executive Director of the American Flood Coalition., in a statement. “Dr. Nesheiwat is eminently qualified and a great choice as Florida’s first Chief Resilience Officer.”

The announcement from the governor’s office highlighted Nesheiwat’s 20 years of experience in government and academia, including her two tours in the military, and focused largely on her time in the State Department’s Bureau of Energy Resources.

“As a Floridian from Lake County, I know how important this issue is for the people of Florida. With 1,350 miles of largely low-lying coastline, the impacts from climate change and sea level rise present a significant challenge; but with Governor DeSantis’ leadership and vision, Florida will be a leader for the entire country on how best to confront these issues,” Nesheiwat said in the statement.

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She has an undergraduate degree from Stetson University in sociology, a master’s from Georgetown University in national energy security and a Ph.D. from the Tokyo Institute of Technology.

Her resume shows that in her time at the Bureau of Energy Resources she focused largely on energy policy, including renewables, across the world, but it doesn’t have any obvious work experience directly handling climate change adaptation.

“I do question the fact that she lacks resilience/climate change experience,” said Yoca Arditi-Rocha, head of the climate education group CLEO. “She seems to have quite a bit of experience in clean energy so I am cautiously optimistic.”

Climate action advocates said they hope Nesheiwat will help spur action (and funding) from the state level on resilience issues and support local efforts around the state.

“She can also help to advance the vital work underway at the regional resiliency compacts around the state.,” said Susan Glickman, Florida director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “We look forward to working together with Dr. Nesheiwat to find ways to adapt to climate impacts underway and to dramatically reduce the dangerous emissions driving the problem.”

Alex Harris covers climate change for the Miami Herald, including how South Florida communities are adapting to the warming world. She attended the University of Florida.