Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo has been called a “maverick Republican” for being like, “Yea, climate change is real, and my district is going to be underwater in a couple decades so let’s talk about it and not do this whole ‘climate change is a hoax’ business.” (Not in those exact words.)
But as the Trump administration gets to work, there’s a lot of fear that any progress we’ve made addressing climate change is going to be wiped out. Mayor Carlos Gimenez, a Republican, said of sea level rise just before heading up to Washington for inauguration, “It’s not a theory. It’s a fact. We live it every day.”
We chatted up Curbelo about what it’s like to be bucking the party’s national agenda and what’s in store for the next four years. We’ve lightly edited this interview for clarity and length.
The energy and environment cabinet picks don’t give climate change activists much hope. Do you still see opportunities for progress?
The goal in the last Congress was to establish a bipartisan dialogue on climate change and we certainly achieved that through the Climate Solutions Caucus. [Editor’s note: We’ve corrected the name of the caucus.] This Congress, we want to continue growing the caucus and encouraging Democrats and Republicans to sign up and continue this dialogue up until the point where we can actually make some bipartisan proposals that address the challenges posed by climate change.
Obviously we have some goals with regards to mitigation and promoting clean energy and of specific significance to regions like ours. We have some goals surrounding adaptation and ensuring our communities are resilient since we anticipate sea level rise will continue for the foreseeable future.
How do you deal with members of your party who deny climate change, or don’t think addressing it should be a priority?
The strategy I’ve employed is to have conversations with colleagues one on one, to see where they are first. There are a lot of Republicans that are interested in this topic who understand this is a serious challenge we need to address. Those conversations are a lot easier. There are some Republicans that are still highly skeptical about all of this. With those… I explain it to them from my perspective, as someone who lives in a part of the country [with the] sea level rise challenge and really just present it as a local issue, especially for those who represent coastal areas. We’ve had some successes. We’ve had members join the caucus, we’ve had other members express interest and a desire to continue learning more about the issue.
OK, I wish we could move a lot faster, but Congress as an institution is not designed to be very agile.
OK, so what do you foresee happening under President Trump?
With regards to the new administration, I think it’s too early to tell. We know we heard some rhetoric during the campaign and it seems like the president-elect has walked at least part of that back in terms of saying he would immediately pull out of [the Paris climate change agreement] and this whole thing about climate change being a hoax. The tone has certainly been different.
He’s been quoted as saying he has an open mind on the issue. I also know that for Ivanka Trump this is an issue of concern…. Right now I don’t have any expectations because the administration isn’t even in place yet and it’s too early. Editor’s note: This interview was done a couple days before inauguration.
How did climate change become a central concern of yours?
I was never a denier. I just learned more and more about it over time. My chief of staff is someone who has dedicated a lot of time to learning about it and educating me. I approached it with a great deal of sobriety, as a challenge the entire world faces but is particularly acute here in South Florida. That’s what I believe elected officials and public officials should be doing, is identifying challenges and threats and seeking solutions. It’s a very important issue for me. I reject both the alarmists and the deniers. I think there’s a lot of room where we can operate to find workable solutions that promote energy and contribute to innovating and economic growth.
Want to get to work locally on climate change?
Here are a couple organizations to get started with: