Environmentalists working to stop climate change have found a powerful new Republican advocate in Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who opened a two-day summit Thursday that launches him into a leadership role on an issue that Democrats have endorsed more vocally, The Associated Press reported.
Crist began his "Serve to Preserve" event by promising that Florida will lower carbon dioxide emissions and make use of alternative energy sources. Crist said the flat peninsular state has much to lose if ocean levels rise and a lot to gain if it takes a lead in developing renewable energy technologies, according to the AP.
"Droughts, endangered agriculture, violent storms and changing sea levels--their impact on Florida's economy are just a few of the reasons why we must take action now," Crist said. "We must search for and put in practice climate-friendly strategies for our families, our communities and of course our state."
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, another Republican who has pushed environmental causes, will join Crist on Friday. Crist also plans to sign executive orders requiring utilities to lower carbon dioxide emissions and forcing state agencies to conserve energy and use biofuels when possible, the AP reported.
"They're blazing a trail for the Republican Party," said Schwarzenegger spokesman Adam Mendelsohn. "For a long time people perceived this to be a Democratic issue, plus Gov. Schwarzenegger."
Crist also is leading by example: his day-to-day vehicle runs on 85% ethanol, he is installing solar panels at the governor's mansion next week and he recently bought a new boat and made sure to choose an engine that burns cleaner and is more fuel efficient, according to the AP.
"I turn the lights off when I leave the room," Crist said. "They seem like simple, menial things, but they're not. If everybody does it, that's better."
Crist also appeared with singer Sheryl Crow and Laurie David, the producer of former Vice President Al Gore's film "An Inconvenient Truth," at a climate change rally in Gainesville last spring—setting aside the fact that Crow and David support Democratic candidates, the AP reported.
"I sort of get categorized as a Hollywood liberal and for a Republican to stand up with [us] is a powerful statement," David said about the event. She was impressed that Crist not only sat with her and Crow at a press conference, but stayed for Crow's concert, took questions and promised before thousands of advocates to take action on the issue, according to the AP.
"He made some big pronouncements that day and it looks like he's following through on them. He put himself out there in a big way," David said. "It looks like he's going to be one of the biggest governors out there on this issue, Democrat or Republican."
Environmentalists have criticized both President Bush and Gov. Jeb Bush, Crist's predecessor, for not doing more to promote renewable energy.
Environmental advocate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. severely criticized President Bush's environmental policies in a luncheon speech, the AP reported, while praising Crist.
"We need politicians like Charlie Crist who are willing to look beyond the ideology and look beyond the politics and say 'I have a larger responsibility to this state and to my nation,' " said Kennedy, a Democrat and son of slain New York Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.
Crist is careful not to reprimand his fellow Republicans for not doing more, instead choosing to remove politics from the issue, according to the AP.
"We're all on the same planet and we all need to work together to continue to make sure that the environment is an issue that's at the forefront, that climate change is something that we address. It shouldn't be a political issue, it's a global issue," Crist said.
The summit includes alternative energy experts, scientists and officials from as far away as Germany, the United Kingdom and Brazil, according to the AP.
John Ashton, a speaker at the summit and a climate change representative from the United Kingdom's Foreign and Commonwealth Office predicted that efforts by states to address climate change issues will lead to the federal government eventually doing more, the AP reported.
"In the end, what the United States does collectively is going to be a very powerful shaping force in the global effort. We welcome the acceleration of that dynamic and this event is part of it," Ashton said. "Quite a lot of the big things that happen in America seem to be things that are driven by state action."
National Wildlife Federation President Larry Schweiger believes Florida will play a major role in spreading support for the issue, according to the AP.
"Florida is an important state," he told summit attendees. "What happens in Florida does not stay in Florida. It's going to spread to every state in this country."