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Florida Takes Aim At Mere Mention of Climate Change

Words by Gina-Marie Cheeseman
Leadership & Transparency
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The Florida government is taking aim at climate change, and not in a positive way for a state vulnerable to its effects. The Florida Center for Investigative Reporting (FCIR) found that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has an unwritten policy that the words “climate change” and “global warming” are not to be used in any official documents, including emails.

The policy of not using the terms 'climate change' or 'global warming' goes beyond just omitting words. The policy affects reports, educational efforts and public policy, according to the FCIR investigation, in a state agency with about 3,200 employees and a budget of $1.4 billion. The policy went into effect after current Gov. Rick Scott took office in 2011. Gov. Scott won a second term in November.

Like numerous other politicians, Republican Gov. Scott is a climate change skeptic, as his remarks on the subject indicate. While first running for governor in 2010, he told reporters that when it came to climate change, he had “not been convinced” and told them he would need “something more convincing than what I’ve read.” Last year, he said he “was not a scientist” when asked about climate change. That same year, a group of Florida scientists met with him to speak about climate change and were given 30 minutes to speak to Scott.

Geologist and University of Miami professor Harold Wanless remembered that Scott “spent 10 minutes doing silly things like prolonged introductions,” which reduced their time to speak to about 20 minutes. “He said thank you and went on to his more urgent matters, such as answering his telephone calls and so on,” said Wanless. “There were no questions of substance.”

DEP officials deny allegations despite reports by former employees


When contacted by the FCIR, several government employees denied the allegations. “DEP does not have a policy on this,” the department’s press secretary, Tiffany Cowie, stated in an email. Cowie did not respond to other emails asking for more information. Jeri Bustamante, a spokesperson with the governor’s office, stated in an email that “there’s no policy on this.”

Others tell a different story: Christopher Byrd, an attorney with the DEP’s Office of General Counsel in Tallahassee from 2008 to 2013, said that they “were told not to use the terms 'climate change,' 'global warming' or ‘sustainability.'” Byrd added, “That message was communicated to me and my colleagues by our superiors in the Office of General Counsel.”

Another former DEP employee said that her supervisor told her in a 2014 staff meeting not to use the terms climate change or global warming. “We were told that we were not allowed to discuss anything that was not a true fact,” said Kristina Trotta, who worked in Miami.

Florida: A region already facing the effects of climate change


The FCIR points out in its investigation that Florida is a region “most susceptible to the effects of global warming in this country.” Florida is indeed already suffering from the effects of climate change. A report by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) found that changes have been observed in Florida “that are consistent with the early effects of global warming.” The changes observed include eroding shorelines, dying coral reefs, increasing amounts of forest fires and warmer air and sea surface temperatures. These effects “may become more common, and increasingly severe” in years to come,” the report stated.

A ban on using words to describe what is already occurring shows a clear disregard for science and the welfare of the state’s residents. It does not bode well for a state that faces a rise in average temperatures between 4 and 10 degrees Fahrenheit over the next 100 years, as the NRDC report found. Sea levels could rise by 8 inches by the year 2100. Florida is a state that depends heavily on tourism, and the projected changes will alter the $45 to $50 billion annual revenue the state receives from tourism.

Image credit: Trey Ratcliff

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

Read more stories by Gina-Marie Cheeseman