By Tristram Korten
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
President Barack Obama, wearing sunglasses and without a jacket, walked with three park rangers along a wooden bridge on the eastern edge of the Everglades this afternoon before taking the stage in front of about 50 people at the Ernest Coe Visitor Center at Everglades National Park. He was here on Earth Day to highlight the future dangers associated with climate change.
“We don’t have time to deny the effects of climate change,” Obama said.
“Here in the Everglades you can see the effect of a changing planet,” the president said, citing increased levels of seawater seeping into fragile freshwater ecosystems like the Everglades.
Obama’s speech about climate change had a national focus, but the choice of Florida for the location for this speech was a symbolic one. Low-lying Florida is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. At the same time, Florida’s state officials have made national and international news for their controversial positions on climate change.
As first reported by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, state employees at the Department of Environmental Protection had been ordered not to use the terms “climate change” or “global warming” in official communications. Subsequent reporting found that the ban extended to other agencies, including the departments of Health and Transportation, and data analysis by FCIR discovered a steady decline in the use of the term “climate change” in environmental records during Scott’s administration.
Obama appeared to make several references to Florida’s ban on using the terms. “Climate change can’t be denied,” he said. “It can’t edited out. It can’t be omitted from the conversation.”
A few minutes later, he added: “Simply refusing to say the words climate change” doesn’t mean climate change isn’t happening.
Obama and Gov. Rick Scott did not meet during this trip. White House staff invited the governor to meet with Obama at the airport, as is customary. The governor declined the invitation, said Eric Schultz, Obama’s deputy press secretary.
Asked about Scott’s denial that Florida state officials were prohibited from using the terms “climate change” and “global warming,” Schultz replied: “If it’s not true, we look forward to them contributing to the discussion about one of the most important issues that we face. If the Scott administration is now joining the rest of us in confirming the impacts of climate change on both the environment and the energy sectors, we welcome that change in position on the governor’s part.”
Trevor Aaronson of FCIR and White House pool reporters contributed to this story.