Rick Scott's baffling climate hypocrisy: Pledges to protect environment, refuses to acknowledge global warming

The GOP governor is all about the environment now, but he's continuing to ignore the biggest threat of all

Published August 5, 2014 1:00PM (EDT)

Florida Gov. Rick Scott                  (AP/J Pat Carter)
Florida Gov. Rick Scott (AP/J Pat Carter)

Can Florida Gov. Rick Scott have it all? The Republican governor still refuses to talk about climate change, but on Monday he attempted to "flip the script" on his skepticism by publicizing new plans to protect the environment if elected.

The eight-page report, published on Scott's website, is an appealing testament to the governor's commitment to preserving the state's natural resources, "the foundation of the state's economy," and of the mandate to "cherish and be good stewards of the lands and waters that define our state." It details his commitments of $500 million each to spring restoration and the development of alternative water supplies and $150 million for preserving sensitive lands, agriculture and parks, among other promises, all with an emphasis on science-based investments. That last one, of course, is kind of ironic, since Scott insists that he's "not a scientist," using the excuse as justification for why he refuses to comment on whether he believes that man-made climate change is happening.

Also ironic: "Climate change" are two words that never show up in the report. It's not surprising, of course, but it's also a glaring omission. The report, for example, touches on the need to protect the Florida Keys and the Everglades; the third U.S. National Climate Assessment (NCA), released earlier this year, identifies both of those places as being threatened by climate change-induced sea level rise. Read that way, the entire plan turns out to be one long exercise in climate denial -- one that's only going to harm the resources Scott claims to want to protect.

It should be obvious by now that it's not possible to preserve natural resources without being committed to mitigating and preparing for climate change: Florida, in particular, is a textbook example of a place where such changes are already wreaking havoc. In a letter to the governor offering to explain climate science to him, a group of 10 Florida scientists emphasized the importance of this piece of the puzzle: The NCA, they reiterated, found that Florida is "exceptionally vulnerable to sea level rise, extreme heat events, and decreased water availability" caused by climate change. "In short," the wrote, "Florida is one of the most vulnerable places in the country with respect to climate change, with southeastern Florida of particular concern." (While Scott told reporters he'd be "happy to meet" with the scientists, that meeting has yet to take place.)

On the same day that the Scott campaign released the report, billionaire hedge fund manager turned climate activist Tom Steyer announced that he's dedicating $750,000 of his own money to help Democrat Charlie Crist defeat Scott, as part of his larger effort to defeat climate-denying candidates. “It’s hard to look at the map of the United States and not understand that not only is Florida ground zero for climate [change], it’s the third most-populous state,” Steyer told the Miami Herald as to why he made Scott one of his targets.

Crist, it's worth noting, is a former Republican who cites the party's climate skepticism as one of the reasons behind his conversion. In Florida, Scott's continuing to prove, it would seem you can't be a Republican and acknowledge climate change at the same time. Unfortunately for Scott, you can't be an environmentalist and not acknowledge climate change.

By Lindsay Abrams

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Climate Change Climate Change Denialism Florida Gov. Rick Scott (r-fla) Republicans Rick Scott Tom Steyer