As world preps for Paris talks, Fla. struggles with 'climate change'
If there is anything the rib-tickling trope on climate change has taught the world recently, it is that Miami as the future Venice is not such a terrible idea. If you can still throw snowballs in the senate floor like Sen. James Inhofe did in February, then climate change can't be that bad — at least according to skeptics.
Ahead of Paris "climate change" talks, in Florida politicians continue to struggle with the alleged ban on these words, something which the scientific research community at UCF may not be too keen about.
Earlier this month the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting (FCIR) said that officials from the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) had been "ordered not to use the term "climate change" or "global warming" in any official communications, emails or reports," said former DEP employees, consultants, volunteers and according to records obtained by the FCIR.
"Of course it's not true, people can talk what they want to talk about in state government," said Gov. Rick Scott during an event March 20 at Full Sail University, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
That same day, FSU students and climate activists with masking tape over their mouths with the words "climate change" delivered a records request to Gov. Scott's office asking, according to a press release, for it to disclose all correspondence (emails, letters, or otherwise) between the governor and the DEP. The request was accompanied by a petition signed by more than 38,000 members of advocacy groups.
"Censoring climate change from the state's vocabulary is no solution," Forecast the Facts Campaign Director Brant Olson said. "The National Environmental Assessment that came out earlier this year puts Florida at the top of the list in terms of states [that] will be the first to see the impact of climate change. So, to have the state most threatened by climate change not even talking about this issue is a real problem."
He added that he was told the DEP was looking into it, but so far he had not heard back from them.
The Department of Environmental Protection press office said that there is no policy banning the term "climate change."
"A five-year project is underway to evaluate sea level rise planning guidance and conduct sea level rise risk and vulnerability assessments for two pilot communities," it added, stating such projects would also examine current water level monitoring protocols and engage local, state, and federal partners to determine the most effective way to monitor sea-level changes, in addition to addressing beach erosion and assist local comprehensive and post-disaster redevelopment plans statewide.
However, Olson believes the governor has an obligation to come clean on the issue.
"He says that the unwritten policy doesn't exist, but you have six current and former employees indicating that it does and he needs to be more detailed in his response if he is to be believed on this," said Olson.
Addressing a crowd at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall in Sarasota, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson expressed some concern about Florida's politics on climate change: "I don't blame the politicians for a damn thing because we vote for the politician. I blame the electorate," he said, according to the Bradenton Herald.
In a recent UCF study published in the Chelonian Conservation and Biology, scientists said the global sea level has risen 146 mm over the past 112 years and that rate is accelerating. They warned about the negative impact this would have on wildlife such as loggerhead sea turtles, whose prime nesting habitat is situated in Florida.
Peter Jacques, associate professor of political science, member of UCF's Florida Climate Institute and director of the Political Ecology Lab at UCF, believes that people should be introspective about where their knowledge regarding climate change comes from. He says that if you wanted to understand climate change, you'd have to rely on research and news from scientific bodies such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS); whereas, if you wanted to read about climate change skepticism, all you would have to do is go to political publications.
"And that should tell you something," he emphasized.
"Limiting the word choice from the government's administration indicates an opposition to even bring climate change into the public debate, which is a shame because the role of office by definition should be that of public service. So what service is that?" he said.
Internationally, however, the storm may be finally picking up. Recently Mexico became the first of the developing nations to formally send its climate change plan to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), joining the European Union, Norway and Switzerland, followed by the U.S. on Tuesday, March 31. The goal is for all UNFCCC countries to prevent average global temperatures from rising above 2 degrees Celsius.
Floridians may continue to debate whether Gov. Rick Scott did ban 'That Which Cannot Be Named' until there is proof for resolve and senators may continue throwing snowballs at the senate floor. But last weekend more than 7,000 cities across 172 countries turned off their lights for Earth Hour, days before California announced their mandatory water restrictions due to the state's four-year drought.
"I think the dialogue is evolving. The 2016 presidential race is right around the corner and I think that politicians who deny that climate change exists are increasingly being pushed to the sidelines. The national picture is evolving and ignoring the problem is quickly becoming a losing strategy politically," says Olson.
In his view, voters should be taking responsibility for putting stronger leaders in place who can tackle climate change as an immediate danger instead of turning a blind eye to the issue. In the meantime, while Inhofe may continue to proclaim self-imposed immunity on climate change for Congress, expect 'That Which Cannot Be Named' to continue to make headlines.
Juan David Romero is a senior staff writer for the Central Florida Future.