Editorials

‘Climate change’ — there, we said it!

GETTING WARMER: In January, a zodiac carrying a team of international scientists headed to Chile’s station Bernardo O’Higgins, Antarctica. Parts of Antarctica are melting so rapidly it has become “ground zero of global climate change without a doubt, ” said Harvard geophysicist Jerry Mitrovica.
GETTING WARMER: In January, a zodiac carrying a team of international scientists headed to Chile’s station Bernardo O’Higgins, Antarctica. Parts of Antarctica are melting so rapidly it has become “ground zero of global climate change without a doubt, ” said Harvard geophysicist Jerry Mitrovica. AP

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has denied — and his office continues to deny — that there is an official policy banning state employees from using the terms “climate change” and “global warming” in state documents.

But days after the news broke, additional current and former staffers say it’s true that the terms were discouraged from use. And a search of the state’s website documents that the use of the terms have declined during Mr. Scott’s tenure.

This head-in-the-eroding-sand position is an embarrassment, at best. At worst, it’s regressive and dangerous.

The controversy began Sunday when a story by Tristram Korten, of the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, disclosed that employees of the Department of Environmental Protection have long had orders not to mention the terms “in any official information.”

Climate change’s reality is rejected by many conservative politicians, among them Gov. Scott, who during his first campaign for office in 2010 said he was not convinced that there was climate change. In 2014, when asked again about his stance, he replied, glibly, that he was not a scientist.

Fine, but he’s not the governor of South Dakota. He’s the leader of a peninsular state surrounded by water. In fairness, the term sea-level rise is allowed by state workers.

Good thing, because the terms are less important than dealing with the reality: Glaciers and massive sheets of ice around the world are melting. It’s happening in the Himalayas, it’s happening in Alaska and the Andes, it’s even occurring on Mount Kilimanjaro, in Tanzania — the tropics. During the past century, ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica have lost mass.

One of the most noticeable results? Sea-level rise, which is lapping up on South Florida’s own doorstep. Far from denying it, South Florida’s leaders have adopted a more active and responsible stance and are confronting it head-on.

When she chaired the Miami-Dade County Commission, Rebeca Sosa created the Sea Level Rise Task Force and put County Clerk Harvey Ruvin in charge. They worked hard to keep politics from derailing the work that has to be done if the region is to protect its residents, its infrastructure, indeed, its very future.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, too, takes seriously the work and admonitions of the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Compact, which joins Miami-Dade, Broward, Monroe and Palm Beach leaders in seeking solutions to rising sea levels, predicted to reach three feet by 2060. And there are concrete solutions, such as building higher levees and imposing new building codes. Miami Beach, considered Ground Zero for sea-level rise has committed up to $400 million to install scores of pumps to counter widespread flooding.

Meanwhile in Florida, ‘climate change’ has disappeared from official use, and with it, any chance of a cogent state strategy to deal with its ramifications. Jerry Phillips, a former attorney with the state Department of Environmental Protection said that he received several complaints from muzzled DEP staffers: “The complaints have been that if climate-change projects can be put on the back burner, that’s what the administration would want to have happen,” he said.

Mr. Scott can call it “Mother Earth’s little hot flash,” if he wants. But it’s irresponsible to force his ideological blinders onto how Florida responds to what is so obvious. Denial is strong, but those rising seas are stronger.

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