Florida congressman criticizes ‘alarmists’ talking about climate change and Hurricane Michael

Rep. Curbelo founded the Climate Solutions Caucus, but doesn't want to talk about climate change now.

Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) on October 11, 2018 labeled certain climate change activists as "alarmists." CREDIT: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) on October 11, 2018 labeled certain climate change activists as "alarmists." CREDIT: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), co-founder of the Climate Solutions Caucus, adopted the language of climate deniers in a tweet Thursday night that labeled people who want to discuss the connection between Hurricane Michael and climate change as “alarmists.”

In the tweet, Curbelo said, “Florida has had hurricanes for centuries” and that “there’s no time to waste, but alarmists hurt the cause & move our fight for #climatesolutions backward.”

“Those of us who truly care about #climatechange must be sober when discussing its connection to #HurricaneMichael or any other storm,” Curbelo tweeted.

Criticism of Curbelo’s tweet was swift. Katherine Hayhoe, one of the nation’s most prominent climate scientists, issued a scathing rebuttal to Curbelo’s tweet. “This man co-founded the inspiring bipartisan climate solutions caucus: yet he still feels the need to reject the science showing that hurricanes are intensifying faster in a warmer world,” Hayhoe tweeted Friday morning.

R.L. Miller, co-founder of Climate Hawks Vote, a grassroots-funded group that supports candidates and elected officials whom it identifies as making climate change a top priority, said Curbelo’s “bizarre criticism of ‘alarmists,’ a.k.a. scientists who wrote the IPCC report, shows the true colors of this climate peacock.”


“That’s why Climate Hawks Vote has endorsed his opponent, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, a genuine climate hawk,” Miller said in a statement emailed to ThinkProgress. Curbelo is facing a tough re-election bid against Mucarsel-Powell.

Oddly enough, Curbelo himself has previously pointed out the connections between climate change and more intense hurricanes.

“There were hurricanes before human-induced climate change — we should not blame every hurricane on climate change,” he said at a September 2017 Climate Solutions Caucus briefing after Hurricane Irma destroyed large parts of his South Florida district. “However, climate change without question contributes to the strength and to the factors that lead to these events. This storm was one of the largest and one of the strongest in the history of the Atlantic basin… certainly, [climate change] is a factor in the strength of these hurricanes.”

Despite Curbelo’s more nuanced view of so-called “alarmists,” the term is routinely used by Trump administration officials who do not accept the scientific consensus that humans are the primary cause of catastrophic climate change. It’s a term also used by climate deniers associated with the Heartland Institute and other far-right organizations that oppose action on climate change.


Doug Domenech, assistant secretary for insular areas at the Department of the Interior, where he makes decisions about Pacific island territories threatened by rising seas, believes the issue of climate change “is not settled.” He has called people trying to combat climate change as “climate alarmists” who “are once again predicting the end of the world as we know it.”

Larry Kudlow, director of President Trump’s National Economic Council, wrote an article for the National Review in which he criticized attempts by the federal government to take action to fight climate change. “As for the global-warming alarmists, imposing carbon caps or carbon taxes won’t do anyone any good,” Kudlow said in the piece.

Trump’s NASA chief, former Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), once criticized “climate change alarmists” on the House floor and claimed that “global temperatures stopped rising 10 years ago.” To his credit, Bridenstine changed his tune in June when he told a NASA town hall meeting he does not deny the scientific consensus on climate change. “I believe fully in climate change and that we human beings are contributing to it in a major way,” he said.

The Heartland Institute — the right-wing think tank that once ran a notorious billboard campaign comparing believers in climate change to mass murderers — has a web page titled “climate alarmists” devoted to attacking prominent climate activists.

Curbelo’s use of the term “alarmist” to describe certain climate activists is likely to give critics of the Climate Solutions Caucus more reasons to call for the group to do more. Earlier this year, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) referred to the caucus as the “do-nothing caucus” for its inability to propose any form of climate legislation.


“I do think that it is important on all of us that we not grade the House so-called climate caucus on too much of curve. At some point, they really need to do something,” Whitehouse said at a March renewable energy conference in Washington.

This is not the first time Curbelo has used the term “alarmist.” In an interview with the Washington Examiner in September, he said, “I am very careful not to be an alarmist because I know I lose people when I do that.”

“Unfortunately, Twitter is not a platform known for nuance,” Citizens’ Climate Lobby spokesperson Flannery Winchester said Friday in an email to ThinkProgress. “But based on his efforts in Congress, including his recent introduction of a carbon pricing bill, we know that he takes this issue seriously and understands the science behind it.”