This is a Moms Clean Air Force exclusive interview with Mayor Cindy Lerner from Pinecrest, Florida:
What is unique about protecting Florida’s resources?
I think the geography, the hydrology, the fact that we are a peninsular and so fully coastal makes us a very fragile environment, also an environment attractive for tourism. For decades, our two main economic drivers in the state have been tourism and development. Originally, I think the attraction was coastal – we didn’t have Disney World or any of the interior tourist attractions, those came later, but, the attraction for people to vacation and live permanently in Florida was the access to water, the temperate climate and the lifestyle that developed because of the climate and the low-key lifestyle that goes along coastal living.
Because our resources are both the economic driver while still a fragile environment, one would think we would invest more in protecting it. Because we don’t focus on protecting and have been consumptive in approach to the environment as opposed to protective, it is that much more critical that we change the paradigm and look at the future as one that won’t be around forever, especially because of what we know now is happening through sea level rise, storm surge, and the other extreme weather events.
That is what is unique – we have this divergent, attraction that is taken advantage of without caring enough, investing enough, or planning for how to keep it an attraction going into the future.
As a parent and grandmother are you worried about the effects of climate change on your children and the children of Florida?
Now that I have two adorable little grandsons, I think much more in terms of the longer horizon instead of the short horizon and the kind of environment that they’ll be growing up in and the dismal likelihood that it won’t be what we grew up with. I also think much more about it not being as likely to see a longer horizon future because we are so adversely impact by the lack of political will and ideological influences – particularly in our state government – that are hampering what should be happening now to plan for the future.
When you see what is being done in other states and countries to protect their coastal areas, and see that there are things we could and should be doing and aren’t, it is frightening. It’s frightening because you know what the forces of nature are doing, as we speak, and there is very little investment being made in protecting our Florida coasts.
What is the one thing that you want to tell your children in regards to the environment, climate change, or sea level rise?
I guess I would want to instill in them a responsibility for being outspoken advocates and activists and understanding that much of what of what gets accomplished is accomplished through grassroots advocacy efforts. So it’s very important that they understand the fragility of our environment and how important it is that we plan for being able to both protect what we can and be more conservation minded in everything that we do – energy, water, and advancing renewables and all the other things that advance mitigation.
I would also like to instill in them to be better stewards of the environment and that’s it going to be everybody’s responsibility. Hopefully as the younger generations grow up, they will have a more pervasive mindset to do that than we who are definitely in the minority – those of us that care enough and want to advance those policies. So hopefully as we see the loss of the resources, there will be more and more interest in a widespread effort to be better stewards.
Is there anything you’d like to share that is important for Moms Clean Air Force members to know?
I would have to say that a lot of the down in the weeds kind of policy decisions that are being made in other states, not Florida, to have a energy efficiency profile, advancing renewables, all of those things that make for a cleaner air quality are now being advanced at the city level and if they aren’t, they should be.
The Village of Pinecrest conducted a greenhouse gas emissions evaluation in 2013 – first time we did one and I would venture to say probably one of a handful or one of the first municipalities to do so in Miami-Dade County to set goals. We are doing another one this year and are paying a consultant to come in and do one. The challenge for a small city like us is that I (Village of Pinecrest) am 8 square miles; I am this tiny little island in the midst of the big Miami-Dade County. I think the County is as big as 18 small states they say. So, its a speck of salt in terms of what I can accomplish, but all of us together could certainly have shared goals and accomplish much more. So much so, that to the extent that I am encouraging cities to join the PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy), an effort that grows every year, we’ve expanded. So, there’s an opportunity to encourage your residential community to understand that they have a personal obligation to play and that they can put solar panels on, they can go out and buy an electric car, they can go out and use metrorail and transit systems, but there has to be that ongoing messaging that encourage this.
So, what can moms do?
Those moms who care a great deal about these things happening on a global level need to lower their vision to their own city or county if they live in an unincorporated area. They need to go to their own local elected official and say “I expect us to be measuring our own greenhouse gas emissions, I expect us to be advancing renewables, and energy efficiency options and transit and all of the things that we know reduce greenhouse gases and pollution.” There are just a million different things that you can do at your neighborhood and local level to advance a better quality and a better set of leaders for the future.
But, I honestly think that if the activists or a woman who is a part of this organization understanding that if they don’t see anything going on in her own city, they just need to get a few moms to come together and go to meet with their Mayor and show examples of what’s going on around the country or other cities in their state that have moved forward and say, “I want to see you invest in the things that are going to impact the quality of life and the air we breathe.”
Mayor Cindy Lerner has been a practicing attorney for thirty years, but suspended the active practice of law in 1998 to focus on advocating for better, more proactive legislative policies and priorities. From 2000 – 2002 she was elected to the Florida House of Representatives to represent District 119, which included Pinecrest and all South Miami-Dade. She was elected as Pinecrest’s third mayor on November 4, 2008 and re-elected, without opposition, in November 2012. She is currently the Chair of the National League of Cities’ Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Policy Steering Committee, Vice Chair of the 21st Century Schools Bond Advisory Committee of Miami-Dade’s Public Schools, the Immediate Past President of the Miami-Dade County League of Cities, the National Board Chair of Democratic Municipal Officials, and serves on the Miami-Dade County Community Based Care Alliance and on the Board of the Pace Center for Girls. In 2015, she was recognized with the Florida League of Cities’ Home Rule Hero award. Mayor Lerner is married to Dr. Irv Lerner, a veterinarian, and they have three adult children and two grandchildren.