From Governor Rick Scott’s “You-Can’t-Say-That Land”—Employees of Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection Were “Unofficially Banned” from Using the Terms “Climate Change” and “Global Warming” in Their Official Communications

Governor Rick Scott of Florida

Governor Rick Scott of Florida

By Elaine Magliaro

Yesterday, the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting (FCIR) reported that officials of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) had “been ordered not to use the terms “climate change” or “global warming” in any official communications, emails, or reports…” That’s what FCIR had learned from “former DEP employees, consultants, volunteers and records that it had obtained.”FloridaSeal

Tristam Korten of FCIR said that the state policy “goes beyond semantics and has affected reports, educational efforts and public policy in a department that has about 3,200 employees and $1.4 billion budget.” Christopher Byrd, an attorney with the DEP’s Office of General Counsel in Tallahassee from 2008 to 2013, said, “We were told not to use the terms ‘climate change,’ ‘global warming’ or ‘sustainability.’ That message was communicated to me and my colleagues by our superiors in the Office of General Counsel.” Another former DEP employee, Kristina Trotta, said that a supervisor had told her not to use the terms “climate change” and “global warming” during a 2014 staff meeting. Trotta added, “We were told that we were not allowed to discuss anything that was not a true fact.”

Terence McCoy (Washington Post), who reported on the story, wrote: “It is one of the profound ironies of climate change that a state besieged by its effects — where coastal islands face existential threats and daily floods render major thoroughfares difficult to navigate — is also populated by powerful politicians who express deep suspicion of the relevant science.” McCoy said that Governor Rick “Scott’s aversion to discussions of man-made climate change has been brought to bear on a department charged with protecting a state that already exhibits many of the changes scientists predict will overtake other coastal regions.”

In his report, Korten wrote: “This unwritten policy went into effect after Gov. Rick Scott took office in 2011 and appointed Herschel Vinyard Jr. as the DEP’s director…Gov. Scott, who won a second term in November, has repeatedly said he is not convinced that climate change is caused by human activity, despite scientific evidence to the contrary. Vinyard has since resigned. Neither he nor his successor, Scott Steverson, would comment for this report.”

This “unwritten policy” was reportedly “‘distributed verbally statewide’ and has ‘affected’ how one of the largest departments in the state, armed with a $1.4 billion budget and 3,200 employees, does business.”

Korten told the The Washington Post that the “irony is clearly apparent. Florida is a peninsula with 1,200 miles of coastline, and when it comes to climate change, we’re the canary in the coalmine. And we’re relying on the state government to protect us and to plan for these changes.”

Korten said that “Florida is the region most susceptible to the effects of global warming in this country, according to scientists. Sea-level rise alone threatens 30 percent of the state’s beaches over the next 85 years.”

A spokesperson with the governor’s office wrote in an email that “There’s no policy on this.” Korten said, however, that “four former DEP employees from offices around the state[s] say the order was well known and distributed verbally statewide.”

Korten:

One former DEP employee who worked in Tallahassee during Scott’s first term in office, and asked not to be identified because of an ongoing business relationship with the department, said staffers were warned that using the terms in reports would bring unwanted attention to their projects.

“We were dealing with the effects and economic impact of climate change, and yet we can’t reference it,” the former employee said.

Former DEP attorney Byrd said it was clear to him this was more than just semantics.

“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 presents,” Byrd said.

Katie Valentine (ThinkProgress) said that Ben Kirtman, “professor of atmospheric science at the University of Miami who’s been in contact with members of the DEP and other state agencies in the past, wasn’t surprised by the report.” Kirtman told ThinkProgress “that he’d spoken with employees of other Florida agencies…who had said that they, too, had been told not to talk about climate change in their professional capacity. So before he read the FCIR report, he knew that this censorship was likely occurring, at least at some agencies.” He added, “The first thing they said to me was, ‘Oh we’re not allowed to talk about that.’”

Valentine:

But Kirtman said he thinks there’s been a “concerted effort” from Gov. Scott’s administration to prevent climate change from being a major part of the state government’s discussion. Gov. Scott has historically avoided questions regarding climate change, saying in 2010 that he had “not been convinced” that the phenomenon was happening, but answering only “I’m not a scientist” during last year’s gubernatorial race.

Kirtman said he thinks the unofficial policy on mentioning climate change at the DEP was a political move on the part of the governor’s office.

“I believe it was a political mistake, that the Scott administration made this political calculation that they would lose political support if they allowed their administration to talk about climate change,” he said, adding that he thought Gov. Scott was following the lead of some members of Congress in trying to ignore the issue of climate change.

Terence McCoy said that if the report findings are accurate, “Florida offers a cautionary tale of how politics can bog down an urgent scientific call to action. Reports, such as one last year by the National Climate Assessment, call South Florida ‘uniquely vulnerable to Sea Level Rise. … There is an imminent threat of increased inland flooding during heavy rain events in low-lying coastal areas such as southeast Florida, where just inches of sea level rise will impair the capacity of storm water drainage systems to empty into the ocean.’”

McCoy said that in southern parts of Florida, “such as Miami Beach, sea rise is no longer something to debate, but something to deal with daily.” He noted that the city, “expected to spend $400 million to combat rising tides in the next five years, already has invested in a new drainage system that officials hope will keep the streets dry for the next three decades.”

McCoy:

But the fact that the state’s highest elected office may have reservations about climate change has outraged some local academics. “You have to start real planning, and I’ve seen absolutely none of that from the current governor,” University of Miami geologist Harold Wanless told the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting. “It’s beyond ludicrous to deny using the term climate change. It’s criminal at this point.”

SOURCES

In Florida, Officials Ban Term ‘Climate Change’ (Florida Center for Investigative Reporting)

It’s ‘Orwellian’: Florida Scientists Respond To Report That State Agency Banned ‘Climate Change’ (ThinkProgress)

Threatened by climate change, Florida reportedly bans term ‘climate change’ (Washington Post)

Florida DEP Banned From Using The Words ‘Climate Change,’ ‘Global Warming’ (Crooks and Liars)

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41 Responses to From Governor Rick Scott’s “You-Can’t-Say-That Land”—Employees of Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection Were “Unofficially Banned” from Using the Terms “Climate Change” and “Global Warming” in Their Official Communications

  1. rafflaw says:

    Scott is paid to keep his head in the sand when it comes to climate change. Even sticking his head into the sand won’t save him, or much of Florida, when the sea rises.

  2. eniobob says:

    It’s at a point now where these like minded people are trying to “OUT STUPID” the other.Best way i could put it.

  3. bigfatmike says:

    Well…. yes, but Rick has all his teeth and he knows how to layer.

  4. Wonder what kind of press releases will come from the Florida government when the size of their state is roughly equal to Rhode Island or Delaware?

    • bigfatmike says:

      ‘This is a great commercial opportunity for those who have always wanted to own ocean front property.’

  5. pete says:

    Come to Florida for the fishing?

  6. blouise says:

    A rose by any other name

  7. pete says:

    (real estate brochure)

    21st Century Stilt Homes (in the low 300’s)

    Get your’s Today

  8. Mike Spindell says:

    Scott, whose health care company committed fraud is someone who is out for himself and thus knows where the campaign contributions come from. He would have lost the last election were it not for the assistance of the Koch Brothers cash and campaign ads. Sadly, as was mentioned above Florida will be a major disaster area when the sea level rises, as it will. Right now though there is a building boom in luxury houses and so the real estate powers that be don’t want to discourage the rubes from laying their money down.

    What Florida should be doing is sending engineers to Holland and other lowland countries to study how the build dikes. A governor with vision would do that, but then there’s Rick Scott with tunnel vision.

  9. gbk says:

    “What Florida should be doing is sending engineers to Holland and other lowland countries to study how the build dikes.” — Mike S.

    But why do that when one can invite the Dutch in to engineer and sell “floating villages.” 😉

    http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2015/02/climate-change-economics/parker-text

  10. bigfatmike says:

    Well of course they say the water is rising. The water always rises this time of day when the tide comes in.

  11. mespo727272 says:

    “It’s a beautiful thing, the Destruction of words. Of course the great wastage is in the verbs and adjectives, but there are hundreds of nouns that can be got rid of as well. It isn’t only the synonyms; there are also the antonyms. After all, what justification is there for a word, which is simply the opposite of some other word? A word contains its opposite in itself. Take ‘good,’ for instance. If you have a word like ‘good,’ what need is there for a word like ‘bad’? ‘Ungood’ will do just as well – better, because it’s an exact opposite, which the other is not. Or again, if you want a stronger version of ‘good,’ what sense is there in having a whole string of vague useless words like ‘excellent’ and ‘splendid’ and all the rest of them? ‘Plusgood’ covers the meaning or ‘doubleplusgood’ if you want something stronger still. Of course we use those forms already, but in the final version of Newspeak there’ll be nothing else. In the end the whole notion of goodness and badness will be covered by only six words – in reality, only one word. Don’t you see the beauty of that, Winston? It was B.B.’s idea originally, of course,” he added as an afterthought. (1.5.23, Syme)
    ~ George Orwell, 1984.

  12. gbk says:

    Doublegood, Mespo!

  13. Mark,

    I had been thinking about a longer comment on this matter from the propaganda angle (possibly an entry to the series even), but I think Orwell made the point well enough. Well played.

  14. bron98 says:

    my question is why are there 3,200 employees? That is one employee for every 20 square miles of land. I know sales reps who have an area based on a radius of 50 miles which is 7,854 square miles. It seems to me 10 field officers and some office support would be more than enough to handle the entire state.

    The sales reps are effective and make money and serve their clients.

    • Mike Spindell says:

      “The sales reps are effective and make money and serve their clients.”

      Bron,

      Some people in business find themselves unable to discuss government with any understanding because their view of the world is expressed purely in business terms.

      Some people burdened with a particular political line find themselves unable to discuss government with any understanding because their view of the world is expressed purely in political terms.

      Some people burdened with a particular philosophical view of history that is illogical to its core find themselves unable to discuss government with any understanding because their view of the world is expressed purely in falsely historical terms.

      Congratulations! You’ve hit the Trifecta.

  15. Elaine M. says:

    Bron,

    Why don’t you check out what the responsibilities for Florida’s DEP are?

    *****

    Florida Department of Environmental Protection

    The Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the lead agency for environmental management and stewardship, is one of the more diverse agencies in state government – protecting our air, water and land. DEP is divided into three primary areas: Regulatory Programs, Land and Recreation, and Water Policy and Ecosystem Restoration. Florida’s environmental priorities include:

    Developing a consistent and effective regulatory process.
    Ensuring the quality and quantity of our state’s water resources.
    Increasing the access to our award-winning state parks.

    http://www.dep.state.fl.us

  16. bron98 says:

    So it is ok to have 3,200 employees who probably duplicate duties of other departments like fish and game? Where does it end and how much is enough?

    Government is necessary but at some point it cannot be sustained by the private sector. It needs funds from the people who work and produce. If there is a large number of government employees how is the private sector going to support them?

    Look in the mirror some time, seriously, the beam in your [collectively] eye is blinding you.

    Maybe 10 isn’t enough but maybe 500 is enough. Your kneejerk reaction is BS.

    There is a happy median, the golden mean. It sure as hell isn’t your way or the highway.

  17. Elaine M. says:

    Bron,

    I have no idea exactly how many employees are needed to fulfill all the duties for which the Florida DEP is responsible. That’s why I didn’t give a number. Yet, you said you had figured out that only 10 field officers and some office support was all that was probably needed. Now you say maybe 500 employees may be needed. How did you arrive at that number? That’s quite a difference in staffing…wouldn’t you say?

  18. bron98 says:

    Elaine:

    sorry that was for Mike. You were very cordial.

    I just took the area of a field rep and divided it into the area of Florida to get 10. I don’t know if it is enough or not. I don’t know if 500 is enough.

    I once bought a custom made conference table for my office 9 years ago from a secondhand furniture store. they got the table from some government agency in DC. Why am I using it and they aren’t? Seems to me the 3200 is similar.

  19. Bob Kauten says:

    bron,
    “I don’t know if it is enough or not. I don’t know if 500 is enough.”
    No, you have no idea how many is enough, because you’re too lazy to read about it.
    There’s something you don’t know about, that you’re pontificating on, anyway?
    Finally, self-realization!

    “I once bought a custom made conference table for my office 9 years ago from a secondhand furniture store. they got the table from some government agency in DC. Why am I using it and they aren’t? Seems to me the 3200 is similar.”

    Why are you asking us? Why don’t you ask “some government agency in DC”?
    Give the damned table back to them, if it irks you.
    No, your table, which you could be using as a sumptuous study table on which to explore the foolishness of Objectivism, is not similar to 3200 employees, none of whom you know. 3200 employees is a symbol of shit that scares you. Everything about reality frightens you, so you whine about it.
    The great thing about whining is, you don’t have to do anything constructive while you’re doing it.

  20. Mike Spindell says:

    “It needs funds from the people who work and produce.”

    Bron,
    The “beam in my eye?” In my 32 years working for the government I worked just as hard and produced just as much as you have in your work. The difference is I was paid less than you, for work at a much higher level.

  21. bron98 says:

    I am not saying government workers don’t work, I am saying that the private sector pays for them and that at some point there is not going to be enough tax money to pay the bills.

    Mike:

    “I worked just as hard and produced just as much as you have in your work.”

    That is not what I meant and I apologize if you took it the wrong way. See above.

  22. blouise says:

    That is not what I meant and I apologize if you took it the wrong way. – Bron

    Why would one person apologize for another’s mistake? If Mike took it the wrong way then shouldn’t he be apologizing to Bron? If Bron’s wording gave offense then shouldn’t his apology to Mike be an acceptance of responsibility for the error in wording?

    “I apologize if you took it the wrong way” makes no sense.

  23. **cough*cough*cough*weasel words*cough*cough*cough**

    :mrgreen:

    Pardon me. It’s allergy season.

  24. bron98 says:

    Mike:

    blouise is right, I am sorry if I offended you. I should have worded it differently.

  25. Elaine M. says:

    bron98 says:
    March 10, 2015 at 11:42 am

    I am not saying government workers don’t work, I am saying that the private sector pays for them and that at some point there is not going to be enough tax money to pay the bills.

    *****

    bron,

    I was a public employee for well over thirty years. I paid taxes too–just like people who work for the private sector. Sometimes, people forget that.

  26. bron98 says:

    Elaine:

    No, I don’t forget that.

    Your salary was paid for by taxes of people working in the private sector. Your job produced no tangible surplus [certainly it produced other benefits], it was admin/overhead.

    All I am trying to say is that government needs to be no bigger than what is absolutely necessary and use what it has wisely. B-crats need to start thinking about how to reduce expenditures and do with fewer people. There is a good deal of duplication of effort in government [as I am sure there is in any large enterprise].

    You probably have stories about your administration being top heavy while teachers are forced to teach 30 plus students.

  27. Elaine M. says:

    bron,

    I think big cities that have large student populations probably have more administrators than communities like the one where I worked. We didn’t have an assistant superintendent…and our elementary schools had no assistant principals.

  28. I swear I am being driven to the Northern coasts. The madness seems to be spreading. Florida is in climate denial, Georgia just passed religious exemption, Texas is..well besides being Texas, it is now arresting trans women that do not the bathroom of their birth gender no matter their stage of transition (frightening, I have several trans women friends there including my best friend), Arizona has the immigration Gestapo and California seems to be flowering with religious crazies. I have to throw out pretty much the whole of the Midwest from Michigan straight on down to Arkansas on the marriage equality issue and Kansas is a lost cause (so much for King’s forecast in “The Stand”). Sadly enough Louisiana seems to be somehow the voice of reason down there, but i am probably just not up to date.

    Friends in the Seattle/Tacoma area are still pulling for me and that area sounds gracious and like Asgard.

    As always Elaine, thank you.

    To invert Simon and Art, “Michigan seems likes a nightmare to me now.”

  29. Elaine M. says:

    Floridian Language
    Can refusing to talk about climate change make it go away?
    http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/03/Florida-Governor-Rick-Scott-Bars-State-Environmental-Agency-From-Referring-to-Climate-Change/387280/

    Excerpt:
    Language, George Orwell noted, is a powerful tool—one with the ability to obfuscate and confuse, to disguise plain actions with fogs of syllables and participles and suffixes. In the hands of an unscrupulous politician, it can do much in the service of nefarious goals. “The worst thing one can do with words,” Orwell cautioned in “Politics and the English Language,” “is surrender to them.”

    The government of Florida appears to be engaged in a remarkable field test of that principle. Can a staunch enough refusal to acknowledge certain words erase facts? If so, the Sunshine State will find a way. According to a report from the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, officials at the state Department of Environmental Protection “have been ordered not to use the term ‘climate change’ or ‘global warming’ in any official communications, emails, or reports, according to former DEP employees, consultants, volunteers and records obtained by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting.”

    The state denied any such policy, but a large number of former staffers assured FCIR it was real and circulated verbally. Documents since the policy was allegedly introduced, in 2011, use phrases like “climate drivers” and “climate-driven changes.” Since the policy is in dispute, there’s no direct explanation for it, but the cause would seem to be Governor Rick Scott’s insistence that climate change is not real.

    The concept that simply refusing to talk about climate change as such can stop it is a fascinating demonstration of magical belief—made all the more poignant by the fact that Florida is on the front lines of rising global temperatures and shifting weather patterns. The federal government’s National Climate Assessment, released last year, forecast a 5-degree temperature increase in Florida by 2100; predicted a $40 billion loss in tourism revenue by the 2050s; and predicted increased flooding, among other effects.

    And outside of the DEP, many Florida politicians have given up on denying that. “Sea level rise is our reality in Miami Beach,” Mayor Philip Levine told The New York Times last year. “We are past the point of debating the existence of climate change and are now focusing on adapting to current and future threats.” Other elected Republicans are making moves to deal with issues caused by higher tides.

    One of the great ironies is that the term “climate change” itself came into wide usage through the efforts of Republican politicians. Its genesis comes much closer to the sort of pernicious twisting of language Orwell decried. In 2002, with the GOP concerned that it was on the defensive on global warming—to use the term then in common circulation—the party turned to Frank Luntz, the famed message consultant. Luntz produced a memo with several suggestions. For one thing, he suggested playing up the few scientists (now an even smaller group) who dissented the widespread consensus that the climate was being transformed, a tactic “climate skeptics” have employed to great success since. Luntz also recommended that President George W. Bush and others quit using “global warming” and begin referring to “climate change,” which seems less frightening (and, it might be added, sounds much more like a natural process). It has taken years, but “climate change” seems to have finally caught up to “global warming,” at least in the United States:

    • bigfatmike says:

      In the interest of developing bi-partisan euphemisms useful in the discussion of this important topic I am contributing for consideration:

      climate delta
      climate instability
      climate variation
      climate modification
      climate alteration.

      Hope this helps.

  30. “Fla. scientist told to remove words ‘climate change’ from study on climate change”

    Encouraged to use the word “frabjous” instead.

    True story.

  31. Elaine M. says:

    Gene,

    I bet Gov. Scott eats his soup and ice cream with a “runcible” spoon.

  32. Elaine M. says:

    Gov. Rick Scott’s ban on climate change term extended to other state agencies
    http://www.miamiherald.com/news/state/florida/article13576691.html

    Excerpt:
    On Wednesday, DEP spokesperson Lauren Engel denied Bibler’s assertion: “It is not true that he was put on leave for bringing up climate change, just like it is not true that we have a policy banning the use of the term climate change.”

    Jerry Phillips, a former DEP attorney who runs the Florida chapter of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, said he has received more than a dozen complaints from DEP employees on this topic over the past five years.

    “The complaints have been that if climate change projects can be put on the back burner, that’s what the administration would want to have happen,” he said. “The level of fear, in my opinion, is at an all-time high at the DEP. In general, they feel they are being muzzled and cannot do their jobs.”

    On Tuesday, Ralph Wilson, with the environmental group Forecast the Facts, filed a complaint with the DEP’s inspector general office.

    Now, employees from other state agencies have come forward to FCIR to confirm the unofficial policy not to use these terms.

    Bill Taylor was the assistant district right of way manager for the Florida Department of Transportation’s District 4 office in Fort Lauderdale. He retired last year after 19 years with the DOT.

    He said he was told not to use certain terms during a meeting of district managers.

    “It was at a routine meeting in probably 2012 or 2013,” Taylor said. “At one point, it was mentioned very casually that in our future dealings with the public, we were not to use the terms ‘climate change’ or ‘global warming.’ But it was OK to talk about sea-level rise, because for some projects that had to be taken into consideration.”

    Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/state/florida/article13576691.html#storylink=cpy

  33. Elaine M. says:

    New documentary exposes the corporate-backed ‘experts’ who lie about climate change
    EDWARD HELMORE, THE GUARDIAN
    14 MAR 2015
    http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2015/03/new-documentary-exposes-the-corporate-backed-experts-who-lie-about-climate-change/

    Excerpt:
    As a historian of science, Oreskes is better-positioned than research scientists to challenge the situation. She recently suggested that the threat of climate change is so extreme, and time to curb its accelerating effects so short, that the scientific community should abandon its conservative, 95% confidence standard – which, she argues, is an unfair burden of proof that has no actual basis in nature. The science community is unlikely to back Oreskes in that opinion but her point is clearly made: there is no debate, and by entering the semantics of a debate, you’ve already lost.

    Yet the cost to moderate Republicans of bucking approved party thinking are well-known. The filmmakers visit Bob Inglis , a South Carolina congressman who lost his seat four years ago after being targeted by the Tea Party following a radio interview in which he said he believed humans were contributing to climate change.

    Oreskes’s study in Merchants of Doubt centered on a group of distinguished scientists, veterans of the cold war arms race, who came out in support of the tobacco industry and later cropped up opposing climate-change science. Since the research science on both issues is so clear, how could they be confused on the subject?

    “We found that they really believed they were defending the freedom, free-market capitalism, liberty and lifestyle they believe go with a laissez-faire economy,” says Oreskes. “It’s essentially a slippery-slope argument. If you allow the government to regulate tobacco or restrict the use of carbon-based fuels, it’s a step toward tyranny.”

    And that, Oreskes points out, goes back to Milton Friedman, and Freidrich von Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom . “The original argument was authentic, if misguided. In recent years it has been cynically manipulated by the Tea Party and others supported by vested interests.” (Oreskes mentions Charles and David Koch, the industrialists who have already pledged to contribute $1bn toward influencing the 2016 elections.)

    In short, it’s a perversion of American notions of freedom, one that scientists are ill-equipped to counter. “The argument is, if you allow government to impose a carbon tax, then you’re going to surrender your liberty, personal freedom and individual choice,” says Oreskes. “That helps explain why this is such an American pathology. It plays into the cultural valences of individualism and choice.”

  34. Pingback: A Little Sunday Night Humor: Florida Lawmaker Mocks Rick Scott Official for Refusing to Use the Term “Climate Change’ While Testifying Before the State Legislature (VIDEO) | Flowers For Socrates

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