Every day someone asks Jose Javier Rodriguez about his footwear.


The state senator from Miami wears suits to work like most male lawmakers, but he pairs them with black rain boots with #ActOnClimate written on them in big white letters.


The idea is to spark discussions about climate change.


"We are at a very critical moment right now where we need to show leadership," Rodriguez said last week, shortly after introducing a bill aimed at steering Florida toward 100 percent renewable energy.


Trudging through the state Capitol each day in his rain boots — something Rodriguez did last year for the entire 60-day legislative session and plans to do again this year during the session that kicked off Tuesday — the senator embodies just how important the climate issue is for many people.


For Rodriguez, it is imperative to try to rescue his coastal community, Florida and the planet from being subsumed by rising seas and inhospitably hot temperatures. And after years of little action on the issue in Florida, Rodriquez and others are optimistic about putting climate back on the agenda in the capital.


Led by former GOP Gov. Charlie Crist — who now serves in Congress as a Democrat — Florida Republicans once took strong steps toward addressing what many view as an impending climate crisis. That changed under former Republican Gov. Rick Scott, whose administration was accused of prohibiting state employees from even using the term climate change.


Now, Florida has a new GOP governor who is touting himself as an environmental champion, much like Crist did.


Gov. Ron DeSantis has thrilled environmentalists by making water quality issues a top priority, although he has been much less vocal, and even dismissive at times, about the state’s role in addressing the climate issue.


Regardless, with a new administration that is more attuned to environmental concerns and a new crop of lawmakers itching to take action, some see renewed momentum in Florida for addressing a problem that climate scientists say has only grown in urgency since Crist declared in his first State of the State address in 2007 that "global climate change is one of the most important issues that we will face this century."


New urgency


Since Crist left the governor’s mansion there have been a series of alarming governmental reports on climate, the latest coming last year, when the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a study predicting that the most severe impacts of rising global temperatures will start occurring as soon as 2040 unless carbon emissions that contribute to global warming are sharply curtailed.


The report, put together by 91 scientists from 40 countries, was described by many climate experts as cause for major concern, and immediate action.


Democrats in Congress seized on the issue after regaining the majority. One proposal that has received a lot of attention — including plenty of pushback on the right because of the potential cost — is the Green New Deal put forward by liberal U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.


The Green New Deal legislation, a nonbinding resolution that would not actually change federal law, calls for "meeting 100 percent of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources."


Democrats in the Florida Legislature proposed something similar last week.


Rodriguez and state Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, are sponsoring a bill that would give state officials until January of 2021 to come up with a "unified statewide plan to generate 100 percent of the state’s energy from renewable sources by 2050." The plan would include an interim goal of achieving 40 percent clean energy by 2030.


While spending two years generating a plan instead of taking concrete action immediately might strike some as too timid an approach, given the cataclysmic predictions about climate change, Eskamani said she’s trying to be "realistic" about what can be achieved in the GOP-controlled Legislature.


"I want to sponsor bills that have a chance to move in this legislative body and get some Republican support and the way we have the bill structured now I think it’s something Republicans can support, especially Republicans along the coast," Eskamani said of HB 1291.


Like Ocasio-Cortez at the national level, Eskamani, 28, is part of a new wave of Democratic lawmakers in Florida who are eager to make a mark and not dissuaded by the lack of attention issues such as climate change have received in the past.


"It’s a crisis and we have to do something about," said the freshman lawmaker. "We’ve waited too long."


Eskamani has begun lobbying GOP lawmakers to sign on as HB 1291 co-sponsors.


Rodriguez also is hopeful about picking up GOP support for a bill (SB 78) aimed at making Florida communities more resilient to the impacts of climate change, such as sea level rise. The legislation would require any coastal construction project that receives state funds to get a "sea level impact projection" study before commencing. The idea is to ensure infrastructure projects are built to withstand the impacts of sea level rise.


As a low-lying peninsula, Florida is especially susceptible to sea level rise.


"In a state like Florida we really need to be in front of this," Rodriguez said.


Seeking resiliency


Rodriguez noted that much of the resistance to acting on climate change stems from the costs associated with addressing the problem, but he said Florida’s economy could take a big hit if the state does not begin adapting to sea level rise.


Making Florida’s infrastructure more resilient to rising seas has significant GOP support, and Rodriguez said he expects to get a hearing on his bill.


As one of his first acts in office, DeSantis issued a broad executive order on environmental issues. It included establishing the Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection within the state Department of Environmental Protection. The DeSantis administration said the new office will "help prepare Florida’s coastal communities and habitats for impacts from sea level rise."


Yet while planning for the impacts of climate change seems to have broad support, taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit future warming is viewed with skepticism, or even hostility, by many Republicans.


Asked last week whether GOP leaders in the Senate support taking action to address climate change, Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, touched on concerns about sea level rise and the Legislature's broader push to spend more on environmental remediation efforts this year. Regulating carbon emissions was not mentioned. Many Republicans are leery of the idea.


President Donald Trump slammed the Green New Deal during an appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference earlier this month, saying it would lead to "no planes, no energy."


"When the wind stops blowing, that’s the end of your electric," Trump said.


While campaigning last year, DeSantis said in an interview with the Herald-Tribune that climate change is not a problem state government can help mitigate.


"I certainly don’t think in Tallahassee, you know, we’re going to be able at the state level to do things that are really global in nature so that’s something that I think is more of a national and international issue," DeSantis said as he stood on Englewood Beach near brown Gulf of Mexico waters fouled by a devastating red tide bloom.


Leaning on science


Environmental advocates are undeterred.


Susan Glickman, the Florida director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said she is encouraged that DeSantis has shown an awareness of climate issues through his executive order and appointments to state agencies.


The governor’s DEP Secretary, Noah Valenstein, is well regarded by environmental groups. Valenstein said after his confirmation hearing last month that "climate change is certainly a large issue that Florida faces."


DeSantis also created the position of chief science officer within DEP to prioritize "scientific data, research, monitoring and analysis needs to ensure alignment with current and emerging environmental concerns most pressing to Floridians."


Glickman hopes DeSantis will come around to addressing greenhouse gas emissions after listening to input from scientific experts in his administration.


"Gov. DeSantis, everything we’ve seen so far indicates he wants to follow the science," Glickman said, adding the science is clear on climate change.


Glickman also noted that warmer climates contribute to algae blooms such as red tide, an issue DeSantis has prioritized.


Glickman has been pressing Florida lawmakers for action on climate change for more than a decade. She wistfully recalls the Crist years, when GOP leaders came tantalizing close to enacting big reforms that would have significantly reduced carbon emissions.


The ideas Crist called for — such as greater fuel efficiency for cars and forcing electric utilities to gradually shift toward renewable energy — either failed to pass or were subsequently repealed before they could take effect.


In contrast to what Crist proposed, the latest efforts to address the climate problem in Florida are modest. But Rodriguez believes they will help build momentum toward bigger policy proposals.


Meanwhile, the senator continues to navigate the capital in his rain boots and seize every opportunity to impress upon his colleagues the gravity of the issue. Flooding already is becoming more severe in his community.


"We are past a debate on the science," Rodriguez said. "It is a daily reality in many parts of our state that is going to have a very important impact on us, even in the next few years, much less the next few decades."