Rick Scott does not believe in climate change — or at least, in mankind’s role in it. That remains true, despite Scott’s refusal, in Miami this week, to reiterate as much on the record. His dodgy nonresponse to a simple question, rather unfortunately, is reminiscent of his inability, as a candidate for governor in 2010, to explain whether as CEO he had any idea that his healthcare company was bilking the Medicaid and military TRICARE system.
Scott is walking, or perhaps shambling, along a Marco Rubio-esque tightrope. Like Rubio, he hollers “I’m not a scientist,” when asked whether he believes that man’s activities, from fracking to drilling the hell out of the Earth in search of fossil fuels, might be negatively affecting the planet and both the climate and the weather. Like Rubio, Scott lives under the constant shadow and whip of the tea party, which gaveth its support in 2010, based on Scott’s equally firm denialism when it came to whether of emergency-room visitors could use some health coverage; but which it could taketh away, based on Scott’s temporary apostasy on accepting the Medicaid expansion, or his belated pandering to Florida teachers.
He has the unenviable task of running for reelection as a very unpopular incumbent, against a popular former Republican governor, who by the way believes in the science of climate change. So vive la difference.
But Scott’s dodginess on climate change — his refusal to proudly claim his denialism, and concurrent refusal to accept that 97 percent of scientists might be onto something — could have something to do with Florida’s unique position of risk, as the climate really does continue to change.
The recent National Climate Assessment, which issued a doomsday scenario forecast for the United States if recalcitrant governors and members of congress don’t wake up and smell the hurricanes, placed Miami, along with Tampa, at particular peril, and not in the far off future.
The coming high-intensity hurricanes, along with the extreme heat and rising sea levels are a direct and imminent threat to Florida.
To quote Ron Brownstein in a recent National Journal article, “Miami will likely be underwater before the [U.S. Senate] can muster enough votes to meaningfully confront climate change. And probably Tampa and Charleston,” South Carolina, too.
Rising sea levels already threaten Miami and Miami Beach with flooding, not in the future, but today. If you’ve ever driven on Alton Road after a rainstorm you know what I mean.
And the Florida Department of Transportation has already taken the national estimates seriously enough to project that over the next 35 years, flooding on the order of what drivers in Miami Beach experience after a typical heavy rain could be a drop in the proverbial bucket.
Miami isn’t exactly ready. Poor drainage and a shallow, limestone foundation aren’t just the reasons you can’t have a basement man cave in South Florida, it’s the harbinger of a dire future if the state’s political leaders don’t act. And with a governor who can’t even bring himself to admit the problem, and a Legislature that would prefer to spend its time thinking up new places you can tote a firearm, the doom foretold by scientific estimates can easily turn to gloom.
Meanwhile the governor has a record, which includes gutting the state’s environmental programs, and the Florida Department of Environmental Regulation, in his budgets.
Florida has a choice. The state can continue to embrace the fracking of the Everglades, runaway development and climate-change denialism, hoping that whoever occupies the governor’s office hires a decent disaster administrator. Or it can embrace a different future.
Whatever a tea partier tells you, climate change is real. And it’s happening now. And it threatens Miami, almost more than any major American city.
That is not a small thing. It’s not benign.
I’m not a scientist either. But I tend to listen when 97 percent of them agree.