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Cut short by Gov. Rick Scott, climate scientist finishes his thought

Eckerd College marine science professor David Hastings, left, speaks to Gov. Rick Scott about climate change.
Published Sep. 3, 2014

David Hastings of Eckerd College in St. Petersburg recently traveled to Tallahassee to talk to Rick Scott about how to save Florida.

Hastings, a professor of marine science and chemistry for 20 years, was one of five academics who met with the governor last month, half of the group of 10 that sent him a letter in July. "I'm not a scientist," Scott kept saying. "We are scientists," the scientists wrote. They "respectfully" asked him to listen to them about the reality of climate change and the severity of the potential consequences of doing nothing about it. Scott granted them half an hour. He spent the first half of that half an hour making polite but off-topic chitchat. That left three minutes per scientist.

So I called Hastings with an offer. More time.

He started by saying he was grateful for the time he got with Scott. He acknowledged the governor is a "very powerful person."

He then said he's not at all opposed to concision. Here's his Climate Change For Dummies:

It's real.

Temperatures are going up.

Sea levels are going up.

And it's our fault.

And almost all scientists agree.

But we can fix it!

We just can't wait. We have to do it now.

In Tallahassee, Hastings said scientists can make the maps for fixes, so to speak, but Scott has to be the navigator. It's his task to look at the maps and pick the right route. Hastings suggested to Scott some easy fixes: more energy-efficient cars, more energy-efficient buildings, the elimination of coal-fired power plants, the …

An aide for Scott cut him off. "We have to move on," Hastings was told.

What would he have said had he been allowed more time? He would've talked more about those cars and those buildings, he told me. He would've talked about renewable energy, like wind and rain and sun, and he would've advocated for financial incentives for utility companies to help, not hinder. He would've asked Scott how he plans on addressing the new federal mandate that says Florida has to reduce carbon emissions by 38 percent by 2030, which seems like kind of a long way away but isn't. "I would've liked an answer to that," Hastings said.

Hastings said he's worried that he and the other four scientists more than anything were photo-op props. "My concern is that (Scott) will use this to give the impression that he's doing something when in fact all he did was meet briefly with us," he said. "If this is just a facade and we're playing into his campaign strategy, I don't want to be a part of that."

But the Eckerd professor is no Chicken Little. The sky is not falling. At least it doesn't have to. Florida is unusually vulnerable, yes, our hot, long, flat, porous peninsula, but it's also unusually capable. There's no good reason, for instance, the Sunshine State shouldn't be a solar energy hub, Hastings said. "We can do this. We really can." And it doesn't have to be good for just the planet. It can be good for the economy. It can create jobs, jobs, jobs. All Florida needs is a leader who leads.

Contact Michael Kruse at mkruse@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8751. Follow @michaelkruse.

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