Thursday, January 22, 2009

Climate commission members face small-talk dilemma

By Bruce Ritchie

When do the Sunshine Law and weather small-talk not mix? When the law applies to members of the new Florida Energy and Climate Commission, which held its first meeting last week.

The commission received a briefing from Pat Gleason, director of Cabinet affairs for Gov. Charlie Crist and special counsel on open government. Gleason has been giving briefings to government officials and reporters for many years on the state's open meetings law, called the Sunshine Law.

Gleason explained to the Energy and Climate Commission that the Sunshine Law requires any meeting of members of an elected or appointed board to be properly advertised and open to the public. But she said the law doesn't prohibit board members from meeting in social gatherings as long as they don't discuss business that could come before their board.

"It doesn't violate the sunshine law if two board members talk about the weather," Gleason told the commission.

But Susan Glickman, U.S. southern region director for the Climate Group, quipped that weather does involve the climate issue. Scientists have debated the effects of rising temperatures on weather patterns and hurricanes.

After several moments of chuckling by audience and board members, Gleason corrected herself about weather chit-chat: "Except in climate change."

"I have used that example over and over," Gleason said with good-natured exasperation. "I have sometimes said in the affirmative (to members of various boards), 'Talk about the weather.' "

She then encouraged the Climate and Energy Commissioners instead to "talk about football."

But Gleason probably didn't realize that the climate issue even has touched the gridiron.

In 2007, the University of Florida and Florida State University held what they described as a "carbon-neutral" football game to help reduce climate change. Eighteen acres of North Florida land would be managed as a pine plantation for 10 years to absorb the equivalent carbon emissions as those created by the football game. UF's entire 2008 season was conducted as carbon-neutral

Gleason's comments point out how pervasive energy and climate issues are in our lives. They include food, housing, transportation, air quality, the economy, the environment and international relations -- just to name a few.

Perhaps members of the Climate and Energy Commission members should just wave if they see one another at a party.

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