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The Crazy Logic Behind Florida's Climate Change Ban

Jan Lee headshotWords by Jan Lee
Leadership & Transparency
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By now, many have heard about Florida's alleged climate change ban, which directs state workers to strike references to global warming, climate change and similar phenomena from their official communications.

According to several former employees who obviously objected to the constraint, this is a standard policy of the Gov. Rick Scott administration, who you may recall won his 2014 reelection by a narrow and tenuous margin. Needless to say, his winning platform, which included a candy-store assortment of last-minute "water and land" funding proposals, didn't mention fixing climate change.

Not surprisingly, the media had a field day with this news. Climate change is one of the greatest environmental threats Florida has faced in recent years (and it's had some doozies). Miles of sea-level terrain, combined with a predilection for sinkholes and an increasingly  temperamental weather system, continue to wreak havoc on Florida's burgeoning communities.

But acknowledging that there might be a man-made component to Florida's weather system would also be precarious for the Scott administration. At the present time, the state stands to gain from a list of industrial investments, including hydraulic fracturing contracts (for which there has been some pushback in the state Senate). It also stands to benefit from the continued real estate boom in the very cities that have been pushing for new climate change policies.

What is the most interesting question, though, is how the state will fill out its next application for environmental disaster funding. In the last 15 years, Florida state, county and municipal agencies accessed the Federal Emergency Management Agency system more than 20 times, largely for hurricane and storm damage. This is relevant because FEMA now requires climate change to be addressed in mitigation assessments as a means of demonstrating that recipients are looking ahead at possible risks from tidal changes and other issues that signify the need for climate mitigation policies. The question is if, or when, the federal government would actually turn down a funding request if lives (and partisan politics) were at risk.

Yet there's some inverted logic to pretending that an environmental threat will just go away if you don't let workers acknowledge its presence. Industries that rely on Florida's water system will keep expanding. Real estate, Florida's historic industry, will continue to be built, and economic resiliency will continue -- at least for now. Bigger governments have proven that history and the future can be rewritten by the use of selective language.

But not all Florida agencies are buying into the ban. In fact, climate change as an environmental issue seems to have gained some notoriety in South Florida in the last few months. In addition to the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact, which we reported on last year when South Miami vowed to secede from the state, there's now the Climate Change Task Force, supported by no less than 13 different regional universities, and the 1,000 Friends of Florida organization representing private citizens within and beyond Florida.

And as these organizations have demonstrated, language doesn't rest with government policies. It rests with the foresight of those who are affected by the outcome. And it rests with Mother Nature. Policies of language only last as long as the vernacular remains relevant. And that, if the latest environmental studies for South Florida's coastline are anything to go by, could fall out of fashion very quickly.

Image of Rick Scott: State of Florida, Sara K. Brockmann

Jan Lee headshotJan Lee

Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.

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