Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson had choice words for the state of Florida Monday, saying he was “astonished” by Gov. Rick Scott’s administration’s alleged ban on using the words “climate change.”
Speaking as part of a lecture series in Sarasota, Florida and at a press conference before it, the renowned scientist and science communicator said that he thought that the U.S., as a country, was above using science as a political debate. Tyson also said voters held responsibility for electing lawmakers like Scott, which points to the need to better educate voters about issues like climate change.
“I don’t blame the politicians for a damn thing because we vote for the politicians,” he said. “I blame the electorate.”
Tyson has a point: a poll last year found that Americans are, in general, less concerned about climate change than people in many other parts of the world. And though most Americans believe climate change is happening, many don’t fully understand why.
Tyson also said that Florida officials should be worrying about what to do to prepare the state for the imminent threat of sea level rise, rather than restricting state workers from talking about climate change.
“Now we have a time where people are cherry picking science,” he said. “The science is not political. That’s like repealing gravity because you gained 10 pounds last week.”
Gov. Scott (R) has long been known for avoiding talking about climate change — during last year’s gubernatorial election, he skirted questions about the subject, and said in 2010 that he had “not been convinced” that climate change was happening. But the Scott administration’s dedication to keeping climate change under wraps in Florida was brought to light by a Florida Center for Investigative Reporting piece earlier this month, which quoted multiple former employees of Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection, all of whom said that the agency had an unwritten rule barring its staff from speaking publicly about climate change.
Since that piece came out, more reports have come out claiming that the ban extended to other agencies in Florida. A report from Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility claimed that a state employee was reprimanded for speaking about climate change in an official meeting, and Florida’s emergency management chief was mocked during a state senate hearing for his clear discomfort in speaking openly about climate change. Gov. Scott, however, maintains that the claims that his administration forbids its workers from speaking about climate change aren’t true, though he hasn’t gone into specifics.
Tyson, whose radio show StarTalk is being turned into a TV series for the National Geographic Channel, didn’t just talk about Gov. Scott during his address in Florida. He also answered questions regarding Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who announced his plans to run for president this week. Cruz, who is chair of the Senate Space, Science, and Competitiveness Subcommittee, suggested in a hearing last week that NASA’s “core mission” would be better served if it spent less time studying the planet and more time finding ways to go out into space. Tyson dismissed this claim.
“If you’re going to ignore Earth — and no one else is paying attention to Earth the way NASA is — you could be planting the seeds of your own destruction,” Tyson said. “It’d be different if most of [NASA’s budget] was spent on Earth, but that’s not the case.”
Tyson has been outspoken in the past about climate denial, and the need for politicians, the media, and the public to accept the science on climate change. He spoke out against the media’s need to create “balance” in stories about climate change and other scientific issues last year, saying giving equal time to people who deny widely accepted scientific theories doesn’t make sense. He also spoke last year of the need to address climate change instead of arguing about it.
“When politicians start analyzing the science, I don’t know what to say at that point,” Tyson said on CNN in 2014. “Are we going to wait until the coastlines get redrawn as the glaciers melt off of Antarctica and Greenland?”