Florida follies: If you don’t call it ‘climate change,’ maybe it’ll go away

    A wise editor once told me that it’s bad practice to use the same word too often. Alas, three days ago I described the GOP’s letter to Iran as “pathetic,” and yesterday I described John McCain’s excuse for signing the letter as “pathetic.” And now I’m going for the trifecta:

    There’s something happening in Florida – again, Florida – that really and truly is pathetic. If you haven’t heard about this, gird yourself for a particularly dire symptom of Republican denial psychosis.

    Gov. Rick Scott is so fixated on denying the scientific consensus about climate change that he has ordered his underlings not to use the words climate change. I kid you not. The idea, apparently, is that if you expunge the words from official dialogue, the problem will go away or not exist.

    I recommend that you read the story posted earlier this week by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting. It also ran in the Miami Herald, and there have been subsequent stories in the Washington Post. Get a load of this:

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    DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) officials have been ordered not to use the term “climate change” or “global warming” in any official communications, emails, or reports, according to former DEP employees, consultants, volunteers and records obtained by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting. The policy goes beyond semantics and has affected reports, educational efforts and public policy in a department that has about 3,200 employees and $1.4 billion budget.

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

    The general counsel’s office got its marching orders straight from the top; Scott has long refused to acknowledge the reality of climate change, invoking the “I’m not a scientist” mantra. And to fully appreciate how his denial psychosis plays out in the real world, consider the travails of a health expert named Elizabeth Radke. According to the Washington Post, she recently co-authored a state report that explains how Florida climate change has affected ciguatera (a marine food-borne illness) – and that’s when the trouble started.

    A state health official reviewed the report and noticed that the phrase climate change was used four times. That was not acceptable:

    “We had to submit the paper to the state Department of Health for clearance, and one of the comments we got back was that we couldn’t use that phrase,” Radke said Monday evening in an interview. She said she wasn’t sure if they could even get away with using the word “climate.” She was aware of times the state had rejected it…When Radke realized she had to delete the words “climate change” from her article, she said she couldn’t believe it….

    Still, Radke made the changes. For example, the paper originally said, “This provides a potentially useful marker on the impact of global climate change on ciguatera.” But now, she’s amended it to say, “This provides a useful marker on the impact of global climate variability on ciguatera.”

    By the way, Gov. Scott has been in denial about his denial. When asked this week whether it’s true that he has banned the words climate change, he replied, “It’s not true.” (Translation: It’s true.)

    His war on wording seems a tad at odds with urgent reality. Because if any state is already suffering the consequences of climate change, it’s Florida.

    Miami is grappling with the rising sea; ocean water routinely surfaces at street level via the storm drains. Last year, a new National Climate Assessment (authored by 300 top scientists, who basically speak for the scientific consensus that man-made climate change is rapidly getting worse), called southeast Florida “exceptionally vulnerable to sea level rise, extreme heat events, hurricanes, and decreased water availability.” And Harold Wanless, the geological sciences chairman at the University of Miami, recently told a reporter, “Miami, as we know it today is doomed. It’s not a question of if. It’s a question of when.”

    Yet the state is led by a flat-earther who thinks he can wish reality away by flushing certain words down the memory hole. But what’s truly pathetic is that his manifestation of Right Think is only a notch more extreme than his party’s standard denial mantra. Orwell must be spinning in his grave.

    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.


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