Given Florida’s vulnerability, the state should be a champion of efforts to combat climate change, however, rather than lead, the state has forbidden the very mention of the term. The irony is that Florida is one of the states most at risk from climate change with almost one third of its beaches expected to be under water before the end of the century.
Despite the startling statistics, Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), ordered its 3,200 officials to avoid using the terms “climate change,” “global warming” or even “sustainability” in any official communications, emails, or reports. According to Christopher Byrd, a former lawyer with the DEP, and Kristina Trotta, another former DEP employee, they were instructed by their superiors to avoid these terms altogether.
When certain climate change related phenomena had to be addressed they were referenced using 1984 style doublespeak. So things like “sea-level rise” had to be referred to as “nuisance flooding.”
However, as of late, the overwhelming weight of the evidence has put sea level rise back into the lexicon of allowable words in Florida.
Although Florida’s DEP has formally denied the allegations, others who work in the department corroborate the prohibition against discussing climate change and related terminology.
Apparently this bizarre policy of state sponsored denial came into effect shortly after Governor Rick Scott assumed power in 2011. Scott has repeatedly stated the he does not buy the research pointing to climate change.
Somehow Florida’s governor does not share the consensus among scientists that human activity is the cause of climate change. Even though climate change is among the most widely studied phenomenon on earth Scott does not agree. Although he infamously said when asked about global warming, “I am not a scientist,” Scott nonetheless feels sufficiently qualified to dismiss the mountains of evidence.
DEP employees deal with climate change on a daily basis yet they are prevented from calling it by name. Scott’s denial is likely politically motivated. The rationale behind the irrational policy appears to be designed to avoid assuming responsibility for adaptation and mitigation efforts.
Although pre 2011 DEP research is chalked full of references to climate change, they conspicuously disappear after Walker was elected in 2011. The DEP director appointed by Scott is a lawyer by the name of Herschel Vinyard, he is many things but he is no champion of the environment. He got rid of a number of leading scientists and hired pro-industry consultants. His department stopped working to protect the environment and appeared to focus almost entirely on finding ways to help industry avoid fines. Anyone who got in the way of the new agenda was removed.
Not all citizens of Florida are on-side with Scott’s anti-climate policies. There have been a number of initiatives in the state that are formally pushing back against the Governor’s denial. This includes Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact and even a vow to succeed from the state in South Miami.
Academic and scientific institutions have been at the forefront of reality based advocacy on climate change. Scott has repeatedly rebuffed Florida scientists and academics who have made valiant attempts to explain the facts to him. A total of 13 regional universities and 1,000 friends of Florida organizations that have signed on to the Climate Change Task Force.
“It’s beyond ludicrous to deny using the term climate change,” one University of Miami professor said. He went on to say, “it’s criminal at this point.”
As one of the state’s hardest hit by climate change it is getting harder for Florida to keep riding the denial train. There is some evidence to suggest that Scott’s wanton anti-climate policy may be winding down. In the face of growing scrutiny, Vinyard resigned at the end of 2014.