Laura Bliss is CityLab’s West Coast bureau chief. She also writes MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Sierra, GOOD, Los Angeles, and elsewhere, including in the book The Future of Transportation.
Rick Scott's censorship of environmental officials courts disaster for a state at tremendous risk.
News that Governor Rick Scott has banned the terms "climate change," "global warming," and "sea-level rise" among employees at Florida's Department of Environmental Protection probably has more than a few of us strategizing, Bugs Bunny-style, about how to deal with the dangling state:
According to a new report by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, as of 2011 DEP officials were instructed to refer to sea-level rise as "nuisance flooding"—a euphemism, to say the least, in a state that's among the top most susceptible to the effects of global warming in the country.
But the news is more than forehead-slapping fodder for Florida Man. Scott's censorship of the term "climate change" is just one facet of his long-standing climate change denial—a stance shared by 15 other sitting U.S. governors, and some 72 percent of the Republican senate.
In some ways, the politicians, think-tanks, and the thimbleful of scientists who deny the reality of human-caused climate change have helped advance the conversation around climate change—giving the topic greater urgency and forcing scientists to communicate facts better. But the rejection of mainstream science—amid lines such as "I'm not a scientist"—is legitimately dangerous.
Climate change denial confuses the public by manufacturing a false "scientific" debate (as John Oliver so successfully skewered, with the help of Bill Nye). Climate change denial validates policy inaction, slowing down prospects for real change. And, maybe worst of all, climate change denial protects and bolsters the ideology of unchecked human industry that's largely responsible for this carbon-choked mess. In a provocative 2012 article, University of Central Florida environmental political scientist Peter Jacques writes:
I submit that climate change science provides an imminent critique of industrial power, Western modernity, and the ideals of Western progress, just as the study of ecology was at first seen as a "subversive" force because, if it were taken seriously, it would challenge the central workings of "modern" society.
But by rejecting the true threats that climate change poses, a denier promotes a continuation of the economic status-quo: a system that's filled corporate coffers, trashed the planet, and screwed the poor. Refusing to act decisively on climate change protects that system.
In Florida, the stakes of denial could not be higher. This is the country's third most impoverished state, by some measures. As Bed Adler has pointed out at Grist, Floridians are, understandably, obsessed with immediate economic growth, to the distraction of everything else—including climate change, which barely registered as a problem in a recent statewide poll. Yet in both ecological and economic terms, Florida also stands to lose more than just about anywhere else in the country as a result of climate change-related flooding. Governor Scott's Orwellian censorship games cannot avert disaster; in fact, they are only courting it.