Florida's State Workers Silenced on Climate Change

Gov. Rick Scott’s administration has banned state workers from using the words “climate change” in their reports and presentations, even as sea level rise slowly swallows the Sunshine State’s picturesque coastlines.

Beach chairs floating away in high Florida tide
High tide on a Florida beach overtakes the beach chairs. (Daniel Novak / Shutterstock)

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Everybody from America’s Secretary of State to the Washington Post is having a good laugh at our expense down here in Florida.

The object of America’s laughter, as you probably know, is that our governor, Rick Scott, has apparently issued a secret edict to his administration that the words “climate change” should not be uttered by state workers or in Florida’s official documents.

Pay no attention to the fact that we have 1,800 miles of coastline located just a tad above sea level—and sea level is rising.

This is like the governor claiming that the 1969 moon landing was a hoax and then instructing state workers to never use the words “moon landing.”

Gov. Scott and his administration spokespeople deny that they have a ban on the words “climate change,” but a parade of former state workers is popping up in the media (like here, here and here), describing a series of instances where they were asked to eliminate the words from state reports and presentations with only vague explanations offered by those in charge.

It’s never easy getting leaders to focus on the problems posed by a warming planet – flooding, worsening air quality, more frequent wildfires, etc.  It seems so far in the future and so hard to wrap our heads around.

Back in 2007, Earthjustice was part of a group of forward thinkers who successfully sidelined what would have been the country’s largest new coal plant, right near Everglades National Park.  In 2008, I served on former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist’s Action Team on Energy and Climate Change.  We released a blueprint that, if put into action, would have made Florida one of America’s most aggressive states in tackling climate change.

We studied the gamut: alternative energy sources, vehicle emissions, landfill gases, forestry practices, building construction and electricity demand.  We came up with an ambitious set of reforms that we believed would have cut Florida’s greenhouse gasses 34 percent by 2025. The reforms would have also cut energy costs by $28 billion from 2009 to 2025.

But, politics being what it is, the reforms were smashed into oblivion by powerful corporate interests and perennial political turnover.

I’m sad to say that the prospects of getting our state to take steps to prepare for climate change at this point just keep looking worse. This summer, despite pledging to meet state goals for increased energy conservation and efficiency, the state’s big four utilities sought and won permission from the Florida Public Service Commission to gut their conservation goals by more than 90 percent. To add insult to injury, the Public Service Commission also ended a rebate program for homeowners who added rooftop solar—in the Sunshine State.

It’s easy to get discouraged, but we keep pushing on, hoping our state might join the world in using our brains and technology to stave off planetary harm. It can get frustrating.

So please stop laughing at us, will you?

David Guest worked at Earthjustice from 1990 to 2016, as the managing attorney of the Florida regional office. His countless legal battles were, in one way or another, all about water. His motivation to protect Florida’s water came from years of running boats in the state’s rivers and lakes, which convinced him that waterways are many people’s spiritual connection to nature.

The Florida regional office wields the power of the law to protect our waterways and biodiversity, promote a just and reliable transition to clean energy, and defend communities disproportionately burdened by pollution.