The state of Florida has come up with one way to solve the problem of climate change: Don’t talk about it.
According to an explosive piece from Tristram Korten of the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, former government officials and other sources say people working in the state’s Department of Environmental Protection “have been ordered not to use the term ‘climate change’ or ‘global warming’ in any official communications.” So a state that is quite literally on the front lines of the planet’s most pressing environmental battle cannot discuss the root cause of many of the environmental crises of the present and near future.
The “unwritten policy” seems to originate with the current governor, Republican Rick Scott, who has been known for years as a climate change “skeptic.” Current Florida officials told Korten that there was no official policy on this, but the reporting suggests otherwise. Of particular interest are stories about the state’s Coral Reef Conservation Program, where employees struggled to explain to environmental advocates how a presentation about the threats to coral reefs posed by climate change could not mention climate change.
Judging by the reaction to the Florida story, people must consider this behavior shocking. And while they should feel that way, it’s worth noting that government officials intruding into climate science isn’t a new thing. NCAC contributed to a March 2007 report from the Government Accountability Project called “Redacting the Science of Climate Change” that drew attention to the ways government officials manipulated the flow of information:
Interference with media communications includes delaying, monitoring, screening, and denying interviews, as well as delay, denial, and inappropriate editing of press releases. Interference with the public and Congress includes inappropriate editing, delay, and suppression of reports and other printed and online material.
There were reports as early as 2003 that Bush administration officials had a hand in editing scientific documents regarding climate change:
The Environmental Protection Agency is preparing to publish a draft report next week on the state of the environment, but after editing by the White House, a long section describing risks from rising global temperatures has been whittled to a few noncommittal paragraphs.
Two years later, a climate scientist resigned from the administration and showed how Philip Cooney– a White House official who had been an oil industry lobbyist– was editing scientific documents to downplay the connection between greenhouse gas emissions and climate change and to cast doubt on the overwhelming scientific consensus on the issue.
And in 2006, the New York Times reported that prominent scientist James Hansen said this kind of pressure was still being applied:
The top climate scientist at NASA says the Bush administration has tried to stop him from speaking out since he gave a lecture last month calling for prompt reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases linked to global warming.