Climate Change in Tallahassee

Climate Change in Tallahassee

Climate Change in Tallahassee

At the end of last week, I expressed considerable frustration with the seeming inability of members of Governor Scott’s administration (including Governor Scott) to use the accepted language of environmental science and refer to “climate change.” But the allegations, which come from many sources, have been flatly rebutted by Governor Scott (without using the phrase, “climate change,” as I understand it). I decided to do a little (primitive) investigating of my own, to see if there was evidence of a policy change with regard to “climate change” since Governor Scott took office.

First, I searched Governor Scott’s press releases. Not one use of the phrase “climate change.” Not in five years. Even though this state is, according to climate scholars, among the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Telling?

But okay, this governor’s concern is much more about the climate for business than the climate from an environmental standpoint. So how about the Florida Department of Environmental Protection?


The list of “Environmental Educational Publications” includes “A lesson on climate change” (reference number 3-004). There it is, in the TITLE! “Climate Change.”

But . . . while no publication date was immediately evident, the list of publications in the bibliography all refer to articles published in the 1990s. There’s been just a bit of climate science since then, and it would seem unlikely that an author in 2011 or after (during the Scott administration, in other words) would limit himself/herself to older material. So, yes, the publication is there, and uses the phrase . . . but maybe it just slipped under the radar. Besides, it already was published and was, quite likely, in use. Changing the title and content might be . . . uncomfortably obvious.

What else is there?

How about Climate Change and Coral Reefs, a whole web page devoted to the subject? Well, yes . . . but it was published in 2010, under the previous administration. Or Climate Change/Water Management Connections? Same deal: 2010.

There’s more, but the impression (and it’s only that) is that the only time “climate change” shows up is when someone else (either someone before 2011, or some other actor like the federal government) used it or requires its use. For example, the Florida Coastal Management Program has a Coastal Partnership Initiative that promotes, in part, helping “coastal communities prepare for and respond to the effects of climate change.” But this program, likewise, has been around since before the Scott administration came into office.

A policy prohibiting the use of the phrase probably wouldn’t reach back to programs already in existence and publications that would have to be revised. Too much work, and not much point.

So . . . can I find the phrase in anything of more recent vintage?

It’s a tedious and imperfect process, using a search engine this way. But I thought I’d finally found something: a 2011 whitepaper by Florida Gubernatorial Fellow Erin Elizabeth Simmons called State Lands: Providing Economic Security While Insuring Against Climate Change. And it counts . . . sort of. It was published after Governor Scott took office. But Ms. Simmons began her fellowship in 2010, and her fellowship and research were well underway before Governor Scott was sworn in.

So . . . if there was a very aggressive policy against the use of the phrase “climate change” from the beginning of the Scott administration, this might have been changed. It wasn’t.

But the fact that the top 30 “hits” in a search of the Florida DEP website for the phrase “climate change” either predate the Scott administration or were driven by other forces than his administration is instructive, I think. This would seem especially true in light of contemporary evidence (not forecasts) of sea level rise in South Florida, with observable contemporary effects. Seems like Florida’s environmental professionals ought to be discussing climate change, if only to debate its presence or absence, its influence or irrelevance.

Leadership involves many things. Integrity is one of the essentials. Good leaders encourage those who work for them to do their jobs with integrity, report their findings with candor, and make recommendations without fear. Anything a leader does that suggests one or another of these traits is not valued undermines the performance of the team and threatens the well-being of the organization and the people it serves.

What seems to be the case is that, globally, there are significant changes in climate. Whether these are signs of long-term trends or short-term fluctuations, whether human activity has much, little, or no influence on them, there’s “stuff” happening.

Can we just acknowledge that talking about “climate change” is a conversation worth having? And put our state’s professional environmental employees to work on understanding it, describing it, and considering its implications for our present and our future?

Even if that requires something of a climate change in Tallahassee?