Florida Environmental Dept. Employees Told to not use Terms “Climate Change” and “Global Warming”

Tuesday, March 10, 2015
Professor Jeffrey Chanton tries to educate Gov. Rick Scott about climate change dangers facing Florida (photo: Brendan Farrington, AP)

Even as Florida faces substantial loss of its seacoast due to climate change, employees of the state’s environmental protection agency have been under strict orders from the administration of Governor Rick Scott to never use the terms “global warming” or “climate change” in the course of official business.

 

The Florida Center for Investigative Reporting (FCIR) obtained records indicating that such a ban on speech had been in place since Scott took office in 2011. The investigators also spoke with former employees, consultants and volunteers with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) who confirmed that use of the terms were forbidden in any official emails, documents, or other communications.

 

“We were told not to use the terms ‘climate change,’ ‘global warming’ or ‘sustainability,’” Christopher Byrd, an attorney with the DEP’s Office of General Counsel in Tallahassee from 2008 to 2013, told the FCIR. “That message was communicated to me and my colleagues by our superiors in the Office of General Counsel.”

 

Additional former employees from DEP offices around the state agreed, saying the order had been communicated statewide and was well known.

 

“The 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,” wrote FCIR reporter Tristram Korten.

 

“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,” added Byrd. The attorney said he was fired by DEP in 2013 because of his complaints that the agency was failing to enforce environmental laws.

 

The prohibition on use of the climate terms was also confirmed by another former DEP employee, Kristina Trotta, who worked in the department’s Miami office. “We were instructed by our regional administrator that we were no longer allowed to use the terms ‘global warming’ or ‘climate change’ or even ‘sea-level rise,’” she told FCIR. “Sea-level rise was to be referred to as ‘nuisance flooding.’” When her staff protested, they were told that “this is the message from the governor’s office.”

 

When contacted by Korten as part of FCIR’s investigation, officials in the Scott administration denied the existence of a policy forbidding the use of the now common terms.

 

Scott has been on record saying he doubts mankind is responsible for climate change, questioning the science that has been widely accepted by experts in the U.S. and around the world.

 

Scientists have determined that Florida is more susceptible to the effects of global warming than any other region in the United States, according to the FCIR. The state is vulnerable to losing 30% of its coastland during the next 85 years as a result of rising sea level alone.

 

Prohibitions similar to the ones imposed on DEP have been issued to state environmental departments in Pennsylvania and North Carolina, each of which also have governors who reject the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change and whose policies support that point of view.

 

“It’s beyond ludicrous to deny using the term climate change,” University of Miami professor Harold Wanless told FCIR. “It’s criminal at this point.”

- Danny Biederman, Noel Brinkerhoff

 

To Learn More:

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

Florida’s Not The Only State Where Officials Censored The Term ‘Climate Change’ (by Emily Atkin, ThinkProgress)

Feeling the Heat in Florida (Natural Resources Defense Council)

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