I’m not a scientist” has become the most popular answer this fall for Florida politicians asked about climate change. It’s the exact answer given by Gov. Rick Scott, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and former Gov. Jeb Bush when each was asked — separately — for his view of the science behind climate change.
Not surprisingly, Scott, Rubio and Bush have all received thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from fossil-fuel interests, including support from big oil-backed groups that hide the identity of their donors.
Numerous studies have established that Miami is among the world’s most vulnerable cities as the warming Earth’s melting ice caps push sea levels higher. Southeast Florida’s roads, bridges and businesses already are facing flooding because of higher sea levels, and the water is only expected to rise further during the next 50 years.
Rising sea levels threaten all of Florida’s popular coastal areas and could alter the freshwater supply that feeds our cities and agriculture. Too many elected officials not only refuse to address climate change, they won’t even acknowledge it as legitimate. Meanwhile, they happily take campaign checks from business interests that benefit the most from their inaction.
In the 2012 election, oil and gas corporations were among the biggest funders for Florida politicians, contributing more than $5 million, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Some of Gov. Scott’s most generous funders include Chevron and Gulf Power and he’s backed as well by Americans for Prosperity, the flagship political organization of billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch. Sen. Rubio also has received significant funding from Koch Industries and almost $300,000 in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry.
Against that backdrop, perhaps it’s no surprise that Scott and Rubio are avoiding making a comment on climate change. Rob Sisson, president of ConservAmerica, formerly Republicans for Environmental Protection, has said that many fossil-fuel-backed politicians duck the issue because they are “afraid” of “political repercussions.”
A new report by Common Cause, Silencing Science, found that Scott and Rubio are far from alone among politicians in ignoring the issue of climate change. The study reports that polluter companies have spent more than $34 million on campaign contributions so far in the 2014 election cycle. That total does not include checks that fossil fuel companies and the Koch brothers have given secretly to “dark money” groups to finance attack ads on politicians who dare to speak out on climate change.
If we really want to save our state and our planet we must first reform the system we use to elect our representatives in Washington and Tallahassee. Floridians need a constitutional amendment to get big money out of politics. Once that happens, Florida politicians will have no excuse to deny the science of climate change.
Peter Butzin is chairman of Common Cause Florida.