Miami-Dade County

Namesake of Miami’s new Frost science museum is a skeptic of man-made climate change

Patricia, left, and Phillip Frost, right, are interviewed inside the Planetarium at the Frost Museum of Science which bears their names.
Patricia, left, and Phillip Frost, right, are interviewed inside the Planetarium at the Frost Museum of Science which bears their names. cjuste@miamiherald.com

The namesake and single largest booster of Miami’s new $305 million science museum believes that man’s effect on climate change remains unproven and wants to cut through what he sees an “almost religious” fervor around the topic.

Phillip Frost, during a wide-ranging interview that aired Monday on WLRN’s “The Sunshine Economy,” said the Earth’s climate is clearly changing. But he said it’s not yet proven that carbon emissions are accelerating the rate at which seas and temperatures are rising.

Though a broad consensus of scientists believe man-made climate change is real and consequential, Frost said “a lot of people make a living saying that.”

“It’s gotten to the point that to question that is heresy. So I don’t question that the climate is changing. The real question is what role have humans played?” he said. “The climate has been changing at a time when there were no humans and ever since. I think a real scientific approach has to take that into real account.”

The Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum had its grand opening Monday morning, May 8, 2017. After several events leading up to the opening, the doors officially opened to the public after five years of construction and $305 million in costs.

Frost and his wife, Patricia, among the wealthiest couples in Miami, have pledged $45 million to the museum, including an extra $10 million they threw in after the heavily subsidized project ran short on money and behind schedule during construction. The couple took control of the board during the museum’s financial crisis by leveraging a short-term loan needed to keep contractors on the job and jettisoning former trustees.

The museum opened last month.

I don’t question that the climate is changing. The real question is what role have humans played

Phillip Frost

Asked if he’d like to see the museum increase its attention to climate-based science displays, Frost, a pharmaceutical magnate who sits on the executive board, said he wants to see a less politicized view of climate change.

“Certainly, Miami is a hotbed of activity for climate change and a lot of the original work on the subject was done right here in Miami. What I would like to see is for those people who are interested, a serious discussion about what it really is all about. It’s become such a big topic in the popular media that it’s become almost a religious issue rather than a scientific issue,” he said. “I’d like to bring it back more to the scientific level for serious discussion rather than a political debate.”

The topic of man-made climate change is among the most heated political debates in the country. President Donald Trump, who recently pulled out of the international Paris climate accord, has referred to it as a “hoax” in the past. Florida state employees have said they were told by Gov. Rick Scott’s administration to avoid using the term “climate change,” a charge Scott has denied.

Though the Frosts wield considerable political clout, museum chairman Cesar Alvarez said the board hasn’t had any conversations about content and exhibits so far, with all its attention paid to getting the museum open. Alvarez — noting that the museum drew 100,000 visitors in its inaugural month — said “I’m one board member. Phil is one board member.”

“We haven’t had the discussion, number one. But I think there would be unanimity in the fact that we should present all reasonable views on any topic and not be political,” Alvarez said.

In response to a request for comment, a museum spokeswoman issued a statement saying that the museum brings “attention to climate system science through our programs, exhibitions, lecture series and our building. Our approach permits us considerable flexibility in facilitating discussion and understanding of climate change here in Miami.”

The museum’s planetarium is currently showing “Dynamic Earth,” a production that focuses on the changing global climate. It is also a member of the Rockefeller Foundation’s Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities non-partisan climate change initiative, and owner of the Science Barge, a floating eco-lab that focuses on resiliency and sustainability.

Frost, during his interview with WLRN, a Miami Herald news partner, said that for him, science is all about the quest for truth.

“It’s a search,”he said. “We’re searching for information, for facts, as I would like to do with the question of factors that influence climate.”

"This should be a tribute to curiosity." The new Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science opens to the public in downtown Miami on Monday.

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