Shortly after Governor Rick “I’m not a scientist” Scott took office in Florida, officials working in the state’s Department of Environmental Protection were barred from using the terms “climate change” and “global warming” to describe either of those things.
That bombshell was dropped by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting on Sunday following a review of government records and a series of interviews with DEP employees, consultants and volunteers.
“We were told not to use the terms ‘climate change,’ ‘global warming’ or ‘sustainability,’” said Christopher Byrd, a former attorney for the DEP’s Office of General Counsel in Tallahassee (2008-2013). “That message was communicated to me and my colleagues by our superiors in the Office of General Counsel.”
Kristina Trotta, a former DEP employee who worked in Miami, was told the same thing by her supervisor in a 2014 staff meeting. “We were told that we were not allowed to discuss anything that was not a true fact,” she told FCIR.
This policy was communicated verbally to the DEP not long after Gov. Scott took office in 2011 and appointed Herschel Vinyard Jr. as the department’s director. Both the DEP’s press secretary and a spokesperson for Scott told FCIR that the DEP does not have an official policy on this, but four former DEP employees from offices around the state “say the order was well known and distributed verbally statewide.”
For the record, Florida stands to suffer the most damage from climate change, global warming and sea level rise in the coming years, compared to almost every other state in the union. According to the Risky Business report, an in-depth analysis of economic, meteorological, coastal and insurance impacts from climate change, Florida will lose billions of dollars’ worth of coastal property, see electricity costs soar and experience lower labor productivity due to rising temperatures and coastal flooding over the next several decades.
This is a prime reason why South Miami has actively campaigned to secede from Florida. The city is facing extreme and permanent flooding and its commission has become fed up with the state government’s intransigence on infrastructure improvement and climate change adaptation.
Despite repeated attempts by the scientific community to educate Gov. Scott on the very real and present dangers of ignoring climate change, the governor has done just that while campaigning against even the most basic environmental reforms. In late November, state regulators voted to roll back 90 percent of Florida’s energy efficiency goals and allowed its solar rebate program to expire. This is despite the fact that the Sunshine State could power itself 25 times over with solar power. Instead, it remains fifth in the country in national consumption of coal.
Nearly 100 percent of scientists agree that burning fossil fuels is impacting the planet’s climate, and a panel of U.N. climate experts has recommended phasing them out by the end of the century at the risk of catastrophic weather events. To blatantly ignore all of these warning signs is not only irresponsible, it’s practically sinister.
Jim Harper, a nature writer in Miami, worked as a consultant for the state’s Coral Reef Conservation Program in 2013. He was told that the term “climate change” – despite being a major issue affecting coral reefs – could not be used in his writing.
During a staff meeting last year, Kristina Trotta was likewise informed that the term was verboten in government literature. “We were instructed by our regional administrator that we were no longer allowed to use the terms ‘global warming’ or ‘climate change’ or even ‘sea-level rise,’ ” she told FCIR. “Sea-level rise was to be referred to as ‘nuisance flooding.’”
And it only gets worse from there. As FCIR writes,
“Under [DEP director Herschel] Vinyard, the DEP was repeatedly embroiled in controversies, from the suspension of its top wetlands expert after she refused to approve a permit to a failed effort to sell off surplus park land. Longtime employees, including Everglades scientists, were laid off or fired, while top jobs went to people who had been consultants for developers and polluters. Meanwhile the emphasis in regulation shifted from prosecuting violations to helping industry avoid fines.”
A 2014 report from the Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that, by mid-century, Miami will experience 240 tidal floods per year. As Robin McKie wrote in The Guardian last summer, “By the time oceans have risen four feet, most of Miami Beach, Key Biscayne, Virginia Key and all the area’s other pieces of prime real estate, will be bathtubs.”
To use the official DEP parlance, that will be quite a “nuisance” indeed.