Speak No Evil

Florida Quietly Bans the Words ‘Climate Change’ in Environmental Protection Docs

For five years, Gov. Rick Scott’s administration has banned the use of the term “climate change.” But the problem hasn’t gone away.

03.09.15 4:42 PM ET

Having grown up in Florida, it is with some authority and guilt that I can verify the stereotype: It’s Crazytown down there. Things just go weird. The hanging chads, the pesticides, the lunatic politicians, the wackadoodle attempts to postpone same-sex marriage—there’s just something about the Sunshine State that makes people stay out in the sun too long.

You likely know about the “Florida Man” meme: Twitter feed, Reddit Board, and now naturally occurring real-life epithet. In just the last three days, a Florida man has: exposed himself in front of Babies ‘R’ Us, chased his son with a machete after an argument, stolen a Dolphins jersey and worn it to the court hearing about the theft, failed to kill himself with a power drill, bitten a Home Depot worker…

…and banned the use of the term “climate change.”

That’s right, one Florida man in particular—the Fifth Amendment-taking, probable-Medicare-fraud-committing, portable-fan-hating, recently reelected governor, Rick Scott—has presided over an Orwellian policy change in the state government. Not only does climate change not exist—it is not to be named. Yes, global warming is Florida’s Voldemort.

According to an investigation by the nonprofit Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, an “unwritten policy” not to use the terms “climate change” or “global warming” took effect in 2011, after Governor Scott took office. This according to several former officials at Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection, who were told not to use the terms even when preparing economic forecasts of the impact of climate change, as well as the conspicuous absence of the term even in contexts where it would be appropriate—like state plans to deal with rising sea levels, for example.

In a nice irony, Florida is likely to be among the states most impacted by global warming, with 30 percent of the state’s beaches at risk if warming continues at its current trends. Someone should give Rick Scott a Darwin Award. If he believes in evolution, that is.

One thing he definitely doesn’t believe in is climate change. In 2010, he was asked if he believed in climate change, and answered “No.” According to the Herald, Scott said at the time that he would need to read “something more convincing than what I’ve read.” Last year, though, he simply said he was “not a scientist.” 

Funny, though, you don’t need to be a scientist to appreciate that 99.83% of peer-reviewed scientific articles on the subject show that human-caused climate change is, in fact, a thing. Climate change isn’t something you believe in on faith, like the tooth fairy or Santa Claus or trickle-down economics. It is a description of evidence—mountains of evidence. 

If you’re “not a scientist,” does that mean you shouldn’t listen to your doctor when he tells you you’ve got cancer? Maybe chemotherapy is just a “theory” too. I’m not a scientist, so I don’t believe in it. Even if all the scientists do.

That being said, Florida’s Voldemort policy makes a degree of sense. The problem is that all scientific experts agree that anthrogenic climate change is a real phenomenon, and the only people who disagree are paid lackeys, non-experts, and outright frauds. No matter how many minutes of airtime they get on Fox News, they’re still just quacks. 

So, since there is no alternative theory for why the last several years have been the hottest on record, the only solution is to say nothing at all. Speak no evil, and maybe you won’t see any evil either.

The silent treatment also supports the hard right’s Climate Trutherism: that all of the world’s climate scientists are deliberately lying about the climate, in order to justify more regulation and less freedom. It’s “The Greatest Hoax,” as leading climate denier Sen. James Inhofe puts it. 

So like fighting the fluoridation of water (still not the policy for one-quarter of Floridians) and keeping “communism” out of textbooks, Florida’s climate gag rule is a way of preventing the Conspiracy from infecting the good people of Florida.

The FCIR report has other gems as well: reports of DEP firing scientists who didn’t adhere to the gag rule, and, of course, current DEP officials flatly denying that a written policy exists. Which, of course, one would expect in the case of an unwritten rule.

While it’s easy to laugh at this latest example of Floridian insanity, there is good reason to cry as well. Florida is ranked fifth among states in its annual carbon dioxide emissions. Its 227 million metric tons of annual CO2 is below only those of Texas, California, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.  (Top-ranked Texas, by the way, has almost twice the emissions of second-ranked California: 656 million metric tons per year.) And this in a state with far less industrial activity than the other leaders.

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So, it’s not just speak no evil, see no evil—it’s speak no evil, and keep making an evil mess for everyone else.

Hopefully, the exposure of Rick Scott’s five-year mission to deny climate change will have repercussions. If nothing else, perhaps the significant real estate interests in Florida might persuade him to kowtow to them, rather than to Climate Truther dogma.

But what many outsiders don’t understand about my home state is that Rick Scott is not an anomaly. He did just win re-election, after all, and there are millions of Floridians who like him just fine. 

Must be something in the non-fluoridated water.