State has another Flori-DUH moment


It’s embarrassing to live in a state where the government agency responsible for safeguarding the environment is afraid to use the words “climate change” or “global warming.” And it’s depressing that fraidy-cat administrators who run the agency would countenance such nonsense.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is evidently so cowed by Gov. Rick Scott’s aversion to those terms that administrators told their scientists to stop using them. There’s nothing to that effect in writing, mind you, but the message is loud and clear: State scientists responsible for addressing and mitigating the effects of climate change and global warming are supposed to devise euphemisms for them. Or pretend they don’t exist.

These scientists, in short, are supposed to stop talking and writing like scientists. All because our governor, a political conservative driven by ideology rather than facts, is not convinced that climate change or global warming are real. Why not? “I’m not a scientist,” Scott says.

It’s a lame excuse that ignores a growing mountain of evidence from the vast majority of the scientific world that says global warming and climate change exist and pose a huge threat to humankind.

They certainly pose an existential threat to Florida because of our topography. We are the state with the longest shoreline, and South Florida, in particular, is prone to rising sea levels. Some neighborhoods in Miami Beach regularly flood when the tide is high and the moon is full; newly installed pumps are providing a short-term solution. Still, residents slosh around after heavy rains at high tide and a full moon. Does anyone need more proof?

Not Rick “I’m not a scientist” Scott. Well, I’m not a scientist either, but I know Newton’s Three Laws of Motion are immutable. I’m not a historian, but I know the Holocaust happened. I’m not a musician, but I know the symphonies of Beethoven are masterworks. I’m not a politician, but I know when one makes us all look like bozos. Thanks to the governor, we’re experiencing another Flori-DUH moment.

Unfortunately, the don’t-utter-those-words policy seems to have also infected other state departments such as Transportation and Health. The Washington Post reports that a supervisor at the DOH underlined the verboten phrase “climate change” in a paper prepared by a Ph.D. candidate. The author was ordered to change it. A former DEP attorney says the source of the wording ban was the governor’s Office of General Counsel.

Gov. Scott emphatically denies ever issuing an edict banning the use of “climate change” and “global warming.” “It’s not true,” Scott told the assembled media recently during a stop in Hialeah. And he went on to enumerate the several environmental programs he has supported that address and, to some degree, mitigate climate change and global warming.

Should it exist. The phrase “sea level rise,” for the record, seems to have passed muster.

What absurdity. Things need to be called their rightful names. To do less is to wink at reality. The top elected official in the state should lead the way in looking at the world as it exists with open eyes. And an open mind. But all Rick Scott will say is, “I’m not a scientist.”

About five years ago, when he first ran for governor, I was taken aback when I interviewed him and he said he didn’t believe in climate change or global warming. Why not, I asked. “I haven’t seen the evidence,” he replied. I asked what evidence he had seen, but all he would do was repeat: “I haven’t seen the evidence.”

That is what makes understanding the governor so hard. He is absolutely sure of his position, but maddeningly vague about how he reached it. He tells you his conclusions, but doesn’t tell you how he reached them.

He reminds me of what a music critic once said about a talented, but under-performing, opera singer whom he compared to a fast Italian sports car: “He shows you the car, but he doesn’t take you for a ride.”

So, too, with Gov. Scott and climate change. We know where he stands, but not how he got there. Despite his denials of responsibility, the state of Florida has an unofficial, unwritten policy of not using the terms “global warming” or “climate change.” The science behind those terms may not be entirely settled, but it’s settled enough that DEP and the alphabet soup of other state agencies shouldn’t be afraid to use them.

The distinguished Florida environmental professors who made a presentation to the governor on climate change and global warming several months ago should ask for a return visit. They said the governor spent the bulk of their meeting asking innocuous and irrelevant questions, but asked none about climate change and global warming.

If there is a second meeting, the governor should just sit there and listen. And if he’s not persuaded, he needs to explain why.