Leonard Pitts Jr.: Florida governor’s unwritten policy on climate change – don’t talk about it

Leonard Pitts Jr.

Leonard Pitts Jr.

 

Dear Florida Gov. Rick Scott:

So it turns out the experts were mistaken. It turns out the impact of climate change on Florida — and much of the coastal United States — is not going to be anywhere near as bad as had been predicted. Apparently, it’s going to be much worse.

That’s the sobering finding of a study published this week in the journal Nature Climate Change. Previous scenarios, grim as they were, failed to take into account projected population growth. Factor that in, say the researchers, and the number of people likely to be affected by rising sea levels caused by melting polar ice caps explodes to triple the previous most dire estimates.

The brunt of the catastrophe is expected to be felt in the southeast, cities like Biloxi, Mississippi, Charleston, South Carolina, and an obscure little seaside hamlet called Miami, Florida. Already, tourists in Miami Beach have to slosh through ankle-deep waters when the tide is especially high. By 2100, that might be regarded as the good old days.

The new study projects a future in which as many as 13.1 million Americans, nearly half of them in Florida, find themselves forced to flee or adapt as seawater rises toward their doorsteps. A child born today might be part of the nation’s largest mass exodus since the Great Migration a century ago.

Interestingly enough, governor, those frightful projections come a year almost to the day after a Miami Herald report that revealed your unwritten policy for dealing with climate change: Don’t talk about it. Forbid state officials from using the very words.

Yes, you claimed no such policy exists, but you were contradicted by multiple ex-employees of the state Department of Environmental Protection, and their testimony was compelling. “We were told not to use the terms ‘climate change,’ ‘global warming’ or ‘sustainability,'” said Christopher Byrd, a former state Department of Environmental Protection attorney.

This strategy — essentially a governmental gag order — is one your Republican Party has frequently used in recent years. The apparent idea is that if you forbid discussion of it, a problem resolves itself. We’ve repeatedly seen the great success of this policy. George W. Bush’s ban on U.S. funding to international groups that provide information on pregnancy termination brought abortion to a screeching halt. A congressional ban on research into gun violence helped make mass shootings a thing of the past.

Sorry, governor. Pulling your leg.

Actually, the most recent figures available from the World Health Organization tell us the international abortion rate stands at 28 per 1,000 women of childbearing age, about where it’s been since the turn of the century. And there were at least 10 mass shootings in this country just last week — 40 people wounded, 14 killed.

The truth is, sir, “Ignore it and it will go away” is a policy more suited to children than to adults. And past a certain age, even kids learn the untenability of such thinking. The disastrous report card you stuff down in your backpack is always dug out. The broken vase you sweep under the couch is always discovered.

Similarly, the environmental disaster whose discussion you forbid will flood your streets and put property valued in the tens of billions of dollars at risk, whether it is talked about or not.

Governor, your party is forever taking action to fight “dangers” — mass voter fraud, sharia law — that do not exist. It is beyond unconscionable that it and you stick your fingers in your ears when confronted with a threat that is not only real but, conceivably, existential.

The science is clear, sir. The trend lines are, too. Americans are rushing to the shore. Housing and infrastructure are rising to meet them.

The potential price of silence was already high a year ago. It just rose higher still.

Email: lpitts@miamiherald.com

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