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'Climate change' ban boosts Florida's image as the Punchline State (w/video)

There's that sound again: people around the country laughing at Florida.

"So the Florida Department of Environmental Protection can't use the term 'climate change'?" comic Larry Wilmore asked on The Nightly Show on Wednesday. "That's like telling Rudy Giuliani he can't use the word '9/11.' "

Comics, cartoonists and columnists have all jumped on the story, broken by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, in which former DEP employees said no one at the state agency was allowed to use the terms "climate change," "global warming" or "sustainability." As the story has gone viral, it has turned into one more way the Sunshine State has become the Punchline State.

"First rule of climate change in Florida: Don't mention climate change," smirked the website Mashable. A follow-up story by the FCIR said the ban extended beyond DEP to other state agencies as well, beginning with Gov. Rick Scott's election as governor in 2010.

"Can't we just ban the term 'Rick Scott'?" Wilmore asked on his Comedy Central show.

Even Secretary of State John Kerry got into the act Thursday. Although he did not name Scott, Kerry said in a speech, "We literally do not have the time to waste debating whether we can say 'climate change.' We have to solve climate change."

Except for a flat denial that he banned the term, Scott has refused to discuss the issue. On Wednesday, at an event at Port Manatee, Scott said he had "talked to people on both sides of the issue. What I've focused on is how do we get things done."

But when he was asked, "Do you want them to avoid that term?" Scott simply said, "Thanks, guys," and ended the brief news conference.

Although Scott's $9.2 million beachfront home in Naples is vulnerable to rising sea levels, he has never embraced climate change as a cause the way his predecessor, Charlie Crist, did. Crist blocked a coal-fired power plant from being built next to the Everglades, convened star-studded summits on the issue in Miami, and met with the British prime minister and other officials about joining forces to combat climate change.

When he first took office, Scott expressed strong doubts about climate change. "I've not been convinced that there's any man-made climate change," he said in a 2011 interview.

Scott's environmental focus was more on slashing the budgets of the state's water districts, and cutting the time for issuing a permit for dumping pollution or filling a wetland to an average of two days.

When he ran for re-election last year, his response to questions about climate change was, "I'm not a scientist."

In May, when a Palm Beach television station asked him about it, Scott said the state's emergency management division would handle any flooding problems — period.

So in the fall, five Florida scientists met with Scott to try to convince him that climate change is both real and a threat to Florida, the flattest state in the nation and one that's surrounded on three sides by rising waters. Scott was cordial but remained noncommittal.

On Thursday one of those scientists, Eckerd College professor David Hastings, said of the ban on the term "climate change": "It's discouraging."

His fellow scientists from around the country have commented to him that "they're amazed we could be this backward" in Florida, he said.

University of Florida marketing professor Aner Sela said the viral spread of stories such as this one can hurt Florida's image with business executives who might be considering moving their companies here — a subject Scott never tires of talking about.

"It's just another reason to laugh at Florida's expense," Sela said.

If Sela were in charge of repairing the state's image, he said he would "try to address the reasons for the ban" or perhaps play up scientific advances that have been made in Florida in the past.

"Florida has often been the laughingstock of the country," Hastings said. "This continues to reveal that we do some pretty silly things here."

Information from the Associated Press and the Bradenton Herald was used in this story. Contact Craig Pittman at craig@tampabay.com. Follow @craigtimes.

'Climate change' ban boosts Florida's image as the Punchline State (w/video) 03/12/15 [Last modified: Friday, March 13, 2015 9:25am]
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