U.S. Rep. Ross Spano's recent comments about climate change were as ridiculous as they were flip, and they are alarming coming from a congressman representing the nation's third-largest state. Tampa Bay is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, and it would help if the region's entire congressional delegation is united in acknowledging its causes and pursuing meaningful responses.
Spano, R-Dover, was asked during a weekend interview broadcast on WFLA-Ch. 8's Politics On Your Side whether he believed the climate was changing due to man-made activity. "Uh, I do not. I do not," he replied. "I don't think there's sufficient evidence to show that." He went on to question the overwhelming consensus of the scientific community that man-made climate change is real. "I've also seen reports that it's not true," Spano said. And then he went further, accusing the academic and political communities "worldwide" of pushing "to basically force people to accept that it is true."
"And if you speak out against it," Spano continued, "if you say - 'No, no, let's talk about the facts' - well, you're an idiot, you're stupid."
Spano is an educated lawmaker. He holds a bachelor's degree and a law degree. He was a member of the Florida House before winning election last year to represent U.S. House District 15, which covers eastern Hillsborough, western Polk and southern Lake counties, including Brandon, Plant City and Lakeland.
But these comments are inexcusable. Refusing to act on climate change is bad enough. But denying the cause - then playing the victim - is a disservice to his district and a terrible example. As a low-lying, coastal state, Florida is uniquely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, from extreme weather to flooding from rising seas. Given this region's growth, its agricultural sector and the threat that global warming poses to public health and safety, voters have an expectation that their elected representatives are living in the real world.
Spano tried to inoculate himself as many climate skeptics do by declaring: "I'm not an expert." That's not a free pass for denying the undeniable evidence that the Earth is warming and that man-made activities are making it worse. Spano made his comments just as scientists reported that global temperatures in July matched or possibly broke the warmest in recorded history. Last year, a team of 300 federal scientists released a report that said "the evidence of human-caused climate change is overwhelming and continues to strengthen (and) that the impacts of climate change are intensifying across the country." As the Tampa Bay Times' Craig Pittman reported, a 2014 report from that same group said that Florida is squarely in the cross-hairs of climate change, and the state would see impacts not just from rising sea levels and higher temperatures but also from an increase in toxic algae blooms and mosquito-born diseases. A new United Nations report approved Thursday said human-caused climate change and land use practices around the world were combining to make food scarcer and more expensive.
"Let's get into a detailed conversation about it," Spano offered during his interview. Great idea. The congressman should hold town halls across his district to see whether his views fly with those residents he has sworn to represent.