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Florida government officials ban the terms “climate change” and “global warming”

Florida Governor Rick Scott, Creative Commons: Gage Skidmore, 2011

Florida Governor Rick Scott, Creative Commons: Gage Skidmore, 2011

Under the leadership of Republican Governor Rick Scott, the state of Florida is burying its head even deeper in the sand on climate change.

Scott has refused time and time again to affirm the overwhelming scientific consensus that global warming is occurring and is caused by human-created greenhouse gases. Now, his administration has taken things one step further.

As reported in the Miami Herald, Florida government officials have been banned from using the terms “climate change” and “global warming.”

The Florida state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) a department of about 3,200 employees and a budget of 1.4 billion, was ordered not to use the terms in any official communications and emails. The protocol has affected reports, educational efforts, and public policy from the department.

Although officially the current administration of the DEP denies that there is a policy with these terms, an investigative report has found information to the contrary. Four former DEP employees say that the order on these terms was both well known and distributed verbally statewide.

One former Tallahassee staffer of the DEP, who asked to remain anonymous, said that staffers were warned that using the terms “climate change” or “global warming” in reports would bring unwanted attention to their projects.

The anonymous former staffer said:

We were dealing with the effects and economic impact of climate change, and yet we can’t reference it….

Another former employee of the DEP, attorney Christopher Byrd, says that his superiors in the Office of the General Counsel told him that the terms “climate change”, “global warming” and “sustainability” were all not to be used. It was clear to Bryd that the issue went beyond semantics.

Bryd said:

It’s an indication that the political leadership in the state of Florida is not willing to address these issues and face the music when it comes to the challenges that climate change present…

Bryd had to inform the various offices he worked with about the policy, including the Coral Reef Conservation Program at the Biscayne Bay Environmental Center in Miami. There Jim Harper, a nature writer in Miami, who was working as a consultant for the Coral Reef Conservation Program, was instructed to write a fact sheet about how to protect the coral reef system without using the words “climate change,” essentially not being able to address a major source of the problem.

DEP employee Kristina Trotta was instructed to scrub the term “climate change” on orders from Regional Administrator Joanna Walczak during a staff meeting in the summer of 2014.

When staff protested during the meeting, Trotta said:

The regional administrator told us that we are the governor’s agency and this is the message from the governor’s office. And that is the message we will portray.

Governor Scott and his administration have had a rocky history with environmental issues.

In 2011, Scott appointed Herschel Vinyard Jr. as the DEP’s director, despite Vinyard’s lack of experience with an environmental regulatory agency. Under Vinyard’s leadership the DEP was often embroiled in controversy: longtime DEP employees were let off and replaced by consultants for developers and polluters, a top wetlands expert was suspended after she refused to approve a permit to a failed effort to sell off surplus park land, and the agencies emphasis in regulation shifted from prosecuting violations to helping industry avoid fines.

Vinyard has since resigned and been replaced by Scott Steverson.

According to scientists, Florida is the most susceptible state to the effects of climate change. Sea level rise threatens 30 percent of the state’s beaches over the next 85 years and the state is likely to face great economic and social challenges from a changing climate.

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