The devastating effects of rising sea levels are well-documented in Florida, but officials in the state's Department of Environmental Protection are ordered against using the terms "climate change," "global warming," or "sustainability" in any official communications or documents.
This impressively detailed report by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting cites records as well as past DEP employees, consultants, and volunteers.
"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."
Kristina Trotta, another former DEP employee who worked in Miami, said her supervisor told her not to use the terms "climate change" and "global warming" in a 2014 staff meeting.
"We were told that we were not allowed to discuss anything that was not a true fact," she said.
The unofficial (it's nowhere in writing) policy came about in 2011, right around the time Florida Governor Rick Scott, who doesn't believe human activity is the cause of climate change, took office. Though neither of the DEP heads that have served under Scott agreed to comment, and both the governor's spokesperson and the DEP's press secretary insisted "there's no policy on this," the FCIR report is overflowing with damning testimonies.
One former DEP employee who worked in Tallahassee during Scott's first term in office, and asked not to be identified because of an ongoing business relationship with the department, said staffers were warned that using the terms in reports would bring unwanted attention to their projects.
"We were dealing with the effects and economic impact of climate change, and yet we can't reference it," the former employee said.
Why deny climate change? As the article points out, things like carbon taxes and alternate energy sources "could be costly to established industry."
Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like Governor Scott, who was re-elected in November, is going to change his outlook on the matter:
[Last year], he said he "was not a scientist" when asked about his views on climate change. In response, a group of Florida scientists requested to meet with Scott and explain the science behind the phenomenon. Scott agreed. The scientists were given 30 minutes.
"He actually, as we were warned, spent ten minutes doing silly things like prolonged introductions," geologist and University of Miami professor Harold Wanless recalled. "But we had our 20 to 21 minutes, and he said thank you and went on to his more urgent matters, such as answering his telephone calls and so on. There were no questions of substance."
Phrases like "climate drivers" and "climate-driven changes" (or "nuisance flooding" instead of "sea-level rise," though that term is slowly infiltrating official ranks) are used instead of more controversial (i.e., more scientifically accurate) language.
In Florida it will be hard to plan for climate change, [professor Wanless] said, if officials can't talk about climate change.
"It's beyond ludicrous to deny using the term climate change," he said. "It's criminal at this point."
Photo of Tropical Storm Fay aftermath in Florida's Brevard County by ajmexico.