ORLANDO, Fla. (Reuters) - Climate change activists blasted Florida Governor Rick Scott on Monday for leading an “Orwellian” campaign to ban employees of the state’s lead environmental agency from using such terms as “global warming” and “climate change.”
Despite coastal Florida’s vulnerability to storm surges and rising sea levels, the state’s Department of Environmental Protection was directed in 2011 not to use the phrases in official communications, according to a report by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting.
“This is embarrassing, but worse than that, it’s very worrying,” said David Hastings, a marine science professor from Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, on Florida’s west coast.
“To have this authoritarian word control is very Orwellian, a page right out of ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four,’” he said, referring to George Orwell’s dystopian novel about widespread government surveillance.
The governor’s office and the Department of Environmental Protection denied there was a policy banning the terms. “There is no policy and it simply is not true,” said Scott’s deputy communications director, John Tupps.
Former employees of the department detailed the unwritten policy in interviews with the non-profit news agency, which reported the ban on Sunday.
Employees were told not to use the phrases ‘climate change,’ ‘global warming,’ ‘sea level rise,’ or ‘sustainability,’ attorney Christopher Byrd, who worked with the department’s Office of General Counsel from 2008 to 2013, confirmed to Reuters.
“Nobody questioned it. There was just a lot of snickers and internal chuckling,” Byrd said.
The euphemism suggested to employees for “sea level rise” was “coastal resiliency,” he said.
The prohibition began after the election of Scott, who had disputed the human impact on climate change during his 2010 campaign, according to the report.
Concerns about climate change are widely voiced by research scientists, but questioned by conservative Republicans who oppose controls on carbon emissions blamed for causing environmental damage.
Hastings was one of five climate scientists who were granted a half-hour meeting with Scott in August 2014 in which they warned him of the threat posed by a steadily rising ocean.
Harvey Ruvin, who chaired a sea level rise task force in Miami that delivered its findings last year, told Reuters it was important for Florida, with about 1,000 miles (1,600 km) of coastline, to put politics aside on the climate change issue.
“It would be very nice if we could resolve problems simply by eliminating their titles from the dictionary,” he said.
Additional reporting by David Adams and Zachary Fagenson in Miami; Writing by Letitia Stein; Editing by Doina Chiacu, Bernadette Baum and Mohammad Zargham