CREDIT: Office of Rick Scott / Meredyth Hope Hall
If you’re not a scientist, presumably you should listen to people who are when grappling with climate change.
That is the logic, at least, of a group of scientists who sent Florida Governor Rick Scott (R) a letter on Tuesday requesting a meeting so they can explain to him the science of climate change. The Tampa Bay Times reported that ten prominent scientists, including professors at the University of Miami, Florida State, Florida International and Eckerd College, signed the letter, which read in part “it is crucial for policymakers, such as yourself, to have a full understanding of the current and future threats to Florida.”
In his initial 2010 campaign, Scott replied “I have not been convinced” when asked if he believes in global warming. And as the letter noted, the Governor has since settled into a common pattern among Republicans whenever pressed on the issue of climate change, simply responding with “I’m not a scientist.”
“We are scientists,” the letter continued. “And we would like the opportunity to explain what is at stake for our state.”
“Those of us signing this letter have spent hundreds of years combined studying this problem, not from any partisan political perspective, but as scientists — seekers of evidence and explanations. As a result, we feel uniquely qualified to assist you in understanding what’s already happening in the climate system so you may make the most effective decisions about what must be done to protect the state, including reducing emissions from fossil fuel burning power plants.”
Jeff Chanton, a professor of oceanography at Florida State University, hand-delivered the letter to Scott’s Capitol office.
“I just want him to understand what the situation is — and put it in a historical, million-year context, about what the greenhouse gas history is,” Chanton told the Times, pointing to ice core data that shows the Earth plowing through vast temperature extremes over its multimillion-year history, rising whenever the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increased, and falling when it decreased. But those concentrations also never ranged outside of 180 to 280 parts per million (ppm). Today, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere stands at 400 ppm.
“It’s not rocket science,” Chanton said. “I can explain it. Give me half an hour.”
Scott has effectively been silent on how Florida should respond to climate change, even as local governments have stepped up efforts to grapple with looming problems like sea level rise. And it remains unclear how the state will respond to its obligations to cut the carbon dioxide it puts out, under new federal rules requiring the nation’s power plants to reduce their emissions.
“You should have a detailed understanding of the specific climate change impacts already affecting Florida to help you formulate the optimal plans for mitigating future impacts, while simultaneously preparing Florida’s communities and businesses for the changes already underway, and almost certain to accelerate in coming years,” the letter continued.
Florida lawmakers are also caught between dueling pressure groups. On one side are the conservative group Americans for Prosperity and the utility industry, which have spent several million in the state and have convinced lawmakers to dismantle several climate initiatives laid down by the previous governor, Charlie Crist. On the other side is the federal super PAC called NextGenClimate, which was set up by billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer, which included Florida in the list of states it intends to target in a massive campaign effort this election season.
As for Florida’s communities and citizens, the letter pointed to reports like the recent National Climate Assessment, which warn that the state and the rest of the Southeastern U.S. is in for increased heat waves, more water scarcity and destructive sea level rise over the course of this century if nothing is done to curb global carbon emissions. Ironically, Scott’s own $9.2 million mansion sits only 200 feet from the beach in Naples, Florida, and about a foot above sea level — putting it directly in the path of future storm surges as sea levels continue to rise. Projections show those sea levels could increase as much as six feet by 2100, which would not only do away with Scott’s home, but would also effectively put Miami, Florida underwater.
“This is not a ‘save the earth’ message,” Chanton concluded. “This is about the continued comfort and amiability of civilization, or human beings.”