By Trevor Aaronson
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
President Barack Obama on Wednesday — which is Earth Day — will give a speech in Everglades National Park to highlight the importance of addressing the effects of climate change.
“The Everglades is one of the most special places in our country,” the president said in his weekly radio address Saturday. “But it’s also one of the most fragile. Rising sea levels are putting a national treasure — and an economic engine for the South Florida tourism industry — at risk.”
The setting for Obama’s speech is a telling one.
Last month, Tristram Korten of the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting revealed that employees at the state Department of Environmental Protection had been ordered not to use the terms “climate change” or “global warming” in official communications. The story made national and international news. A subsequent report by FCIR found that the ban on the terms had extended to other agencies, including the departments of Health and Transportation.
Gov. Rick Scott’s administration has denied that state employees are prohibited from using the terms “climate change” and “global warming.” But additional reporting by FCIR revealed a steep decline in documents on the DEP website containing the words “climate change” since Scott took office. Meanwhile, other episodes came to light indicating the terms were suppressed. Bryan Koon, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, refused to say “climate change” during a state Senate hearing when directly asked about it. In a series of emails Pamela King Phillips, a DEP administrator, instructed a DEP staffer not to discuss the causes of sea-level rise while being interviewed for a National Geographic documentary.
The unofficial policy within state government not to use “climate change” has already received the attention of federal government officials.
During a hearing related to climate change, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, questioned Florida Public Service Commission Chairman Art Graham about why his written testimony didn’t contain the term “climate change.” Meanwhile, U.S. Representative Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, tweeted a photo of himself with tape covering his mouth. The words “climate change” were written on the tape.
In March, Secretary of State John Kerry responded to FCIR’s reporting during public remarks at the Atlantic Council. He said at the time:
Literally a couple of days ago, I read about some state officials who are actually trying to ban the use of the term “climate change” in public documents because they’re not willing to face the facts.Now folks, we literally do not have the time to waste debating whether we can say “climate change.” We have to talk about how we solve climate change. Because no matter how much people want to bury their heads in the sand, it will not alter the fact that 97 percent of peer-reviewed climate studies confirm that climate change is happening and that human activity is largely responsible. … 97 percent, over 20-plus years – that’s a dramatic statement of fact that no one of good conscience has a right to ignore.
FCIR will cover Obama’s speech in the Everglades on Wednesday.