Ruth: Banning the term won't stop climate change

Published March 11 2015

Contrary to popular misconception, especially in Tallahassee, Rick Scott isn't really the governor of Florida. He is, in fact, one of Monty Python's addled Knights Who Say "Ni!"

Really now, don't you suspect that if the first floor of the Governor's Mansion was 2 feet under water due to climate change, Scott still would be holding his hands over his ears while chanting "Wawawawawawawa," all the while insisting the flooding was the result of a heavy dew?

How else to explain recent revelations that upon Scott assuming the governorship, employees at the Department of Environmental Protection were ordered never to mention the science that dare not speak its name.

Or more simply, the very state agency charged with protecting and nurturing the environment was barred from using terms reflecting the greatest threat to Florida's environment: "climate change," "global warming," "sustainability" and "sea level rise." Scott might just as well have tossed in "reality," "willful ignorance" and "Luddite."

Banning DEP employees from using the vernacular of their jobs would be akin to Attorney General Pam Bondi excising the word "crime" in the workplace, or Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam decreeing that henceforth no one would be allowed to whisper "citrus greening."

Of course, as Tristram Korten of the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting discovered, you will not find any written official order barring the expression of climate change at the DEP, since that would have required printing the censored language. Pillars of salt to follow.

But Korten found no shortage of former DEP employees engaged in the science of protecting the environment who confirmed they had been verbally ordered by Scott's office to delete any references to climate change from their work product.

Things got so loopy that DEP agency employees were instructed to replace the phrase "sea level rise" with "nuisance flooding."

Now you might well expect this sort of dictatorial edict-making to occur in places like Turkmenistan, which was once ruled by Saparmurat Niyzov, who ordered the months of the year to be renamed after his family and outlawed lip-synching.

But this is Florida, the third-largest state with a university system that aspires to become a world-class leader in scientific research, being presided over by Scott, R-Bring Me A Shrubbery, a denier of an overwhelming number of peer-reviewed studies concluding (Shush!) is very, very real.

Days ago, Scott emerged from his Cone of Babel to deny he had attempted to muzzle DEP employees from speaking English. Ah — a conflict.

So whom do you believe? Former DEP professionals who claim the Scott administration undermined their scientific work, or a governor with a lengthy rap sheet of dissembling, fibbing and obfuscation who wouldn't give you a straight answer if you asked him where did Abraham Lincoln deliver the Gettysburg Address?

Scott delivered his Hummana-hummana-hummana response to the DEP flap while visiting Hialeah, which was the first time reporters had a chance to ask him questions since he ducked out a back door rather than respond to scribblers after his State of the State address last week before the start of the legislative session. Good grief, this guy spends more time on the run than The Fugitive's Richard Kimble.

Once again the artful dodger refused to say whether he believes if global warming is real, accepts mankind's contribution to the problem, or outline what the DEP is doing to combat its impact on a vulnerable peninsula.

Just what Scott hoped to accomplish by suppressing state employees charged with safeguarding the environment from merely using factual language to describe the climate challenges confronting Florida isn't entirely clear — or rational.

Perhaps it was merely a ham-handed, sloppy air-kiss sop to Scott's tea party acolytes, who somehow have accomplished the Gordian knot delusion that objective, empirically scientifically validated climate change is linked to dreaded liberal ideology. Man-made climate change = socialism?

You could probably make a modest argument that the body politic doesn't demand all that much literacy from their elected officials. Expecting the governor to acknowledge established science and avoid banning the state agency mandated to protect the environment from using accepted terms is a low bar to clear.

But this is Florida, a state at great risk from the chilling side effects of semantic chicanery.