Earlier this year, Trump made headlines when the EPA—presumably under his direction—began to purge its web pages dealing with the issue of climate change and the agency’s plans to address the crisis. While this was an important story, the sad fact is that Republican governors have been doing this long before Trump won office, to little fanfare and outrage.
In 2015, it was exposed that Governor Rick Scott imposed an unwritten ban on state employees at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection using the terms “climate change,” “global warming,” or “sustainability.” While this ban was not written into the official policies of the agency, numerous employees and ex-employees of the agency described verbal warnings against using these words, enforced through a fear of losing project funding or suffering professional consequences. Not only were state employees banned from discussing these issues, but they weren’t allowed to include them in state-sponsored reports, educational materials, or presentations.
If there is one state in the union that cannot afford to ignore climate change, it is Florida. Not only does Florida have an extremely low elevation, but it sits in a hurricane path, thus is very vulnerable to flooding. To make matters worse, much of Florida’s geology is composed of limestone, which is porous thus will allow water to travel under flood barriers. The vast majority living in the state lives under this extreme set of risk factors and large portions of the state will almost certainly become uninhabitable due to climate change.
The idea that the state government would not only deny this reality, but also impose a ban on discussing it in public, should be unfathomable. Unfortunately, this is the current reality and very well may be so until Rick Scott leaves office. The DEP director is appointed by the governor and, as a climate change denier, Rick Scott is unlikely to appoint a person who disagrees with him to head the agency.
Also in 2015, journalists in Wisconsin noticed that websites for both the state Department of Natural Resources and Public Service Commission had been altered to cast doubt on whether human activity is affecting climate change and remove information on past programs to address the issue. The current page on climate change reads as follows:
As it has done throughout the centuries, the earth is going through a change. The reasons for this change at this particular time in the earth’s long history are being debated and researched by academic entities outside the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
The effects of such a change are also being debated but whatever the causes and effects, the DNR’s responsibility is to manage our state’s natural resources through whatever event presents itself; flood, drought, tornadoes, ice/snow or severe heat. The DNR staff stands ready to adapt our management strategies in an effort to protect our lakes, waterways, plants, wildlife and people who depend on them.
While less overt than the climate change denialism being implemented in Florida, the information being spread here is still extremely inaccurate. There is no debate in the scientific community about the reality of climate change and human activity’s role in driving these changes. Every relevant scientific society and over 97% of scientists published in the field agree that anthropogenic climate change is real, establishing a strong consensus within the scientific community.
The idea that this is still a “debate” is akin to arguing that there is a “debate” over whether smoking kills or the historicity of the holocaust—the vast majority of experts agree, while a handful of extremists argue the other side.
A third form of official climate change denial was implemented by the North Carolina legislature in 2012. The majority Republican legislature passed a law banning the use of climate science in projections of future sea levels. In short, they imposed climate denialism on state regulators and forced them to use obviously false assumptions when making zoning, disaster preparation, and urban planning policy choices. This could have had disastrous effects, as failing to take into account sea level increases makes it impossible to rationally assess flooding risks and determine where it is safe to build.
Fortunately, this law expired last year and hasn’t been reauthorized. The North Carolina Coastal Resource Commission—which produced the projections that enraged Republicans and business groups enough to pass this law—issued another report using 30-year projections instead of 100-year projections, resulting in estimated sea level increases that reduced the impacts on business. Effectively, regulators are able to craft policy with 30-years in mind instead of 100, letting localities invest in areas that will be unsustainable as soon as 40 years in the future.
Banning discussion of climate change, spreading disinformation about its causes, and stopping regulators from using the best science may be comforting to partisans who want to deny reality, but it is damaging to the long-term health of our nation. We, as a people, need to address climate change on both the state and federal levels if we hope to minimize the damage it will cause to our nation.
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