MIAMI – After the 2008 financial crisis, underwater became an-all-too familiar word for hundreds of thousands of Floridians. The term didn’t refer to the many wonderful opportunities for undersea exploration accessible just off the shore or in natural and artificial reefs a few miles from the coastline. Instead, the word was used to describe hapless homeowners who had bought a house at the height of the price boom and were now stuck with a debt much greater than the post-bust market value of their property.
Countless lost their houses to foreclosure because the federal government bailed out the big banks who made bad loans and did nothing for the average family who lost its shirt in large part because of the fecklessness and greed of the big boys and girls who didn’t go under water but largely emerged unscathed.
Increasingly, however, underwater has taken on a more literal and ominous meaning in the Sunshine State. Florida is beginning to drown as the world warms and sea levels rise. Southeast Florida is the most imperiled part of the state, but more frequent floods have been reported in coastal areas as far north as St. Augustine.
The problem is serious, real, and it is here now and not in some faraway future.
Meanwhile, the man who runs the state, Governor Rick Scott, is doing nothing about it. In fact, he is doing worse that nothing. As the Miami Herald reported on May 11, just as the threat is getting graver, “Florida’s environmental agencies under Scott have been downsized and retooled making them less effective at coordinating sea level rise planning in the state…” The Herald’s assertions are based on a review of thousands of documents and emails conducted by the Associated Press.
Scott’s undermining of the very government infrastructure required to respond to a problem of the magnitude of sea level rise equals or exceeds in irresponsibility other reprehensible actions taking by Florida’s governor in the recent past, such as needlessly endangering the health of countless people by refusing to expand Medicaid.
One thing is certain. Scott’s decisions are not driven by lack of information. More than five years ago, in 2009, the Florida Oceans and Coastal Council (FOCC) issued a report on sea level rise in Florida. It states: “Thus the question for Floridians is not whether they will be affected, but how much—that is, to what degree sea-level rise will continue, how rapidly, what other climate changes will accompany sea-level rise, and what the long-term effects of these changes will be. Some detrimental effects of sea-level rise are already well documented. Others will begin in the coming years and decades, and the time is coming when the state will be simultaneously and continuously challenged by all of these effects.”
That was then. Things have only gotten worse in the last five years. Even climate scientists who have warned of the problem for years have been regularly surprised by the acceleration of the trends that produce sea level rise, such as the melting of the polar icecaps, the shrinking of glaciers all over the world, and the loss of ice on Greenland.
What is Rick Scott thinking? Scott is regularly described in the media as a climate change skeptic. A politician who represents a coal or oil producing state is likely to be a skeptic. Not admirable but at least predictable. But Scott leads a state that produces no fossil fuel. Its only abundant source of energy is the sun, and the utilities and the politicos they have in their pockets have connived to virtually neutralize solar power. A governor from a state than can only lose from climate change and sea level rise can be called a skeptic. I think nut case is a better description.
Is there logic to this insanity? There is, or at least Scott’s lunacy is part of a much broader pattern. That pattern is what the March 2015 issue of National Geographic focuses on: “The War on Science.”
The war on science comes in many forms and it is not a conspiracy. Anti-science warriors are not monolithic. Some are liberal and many are well educated. Overall, however, the war on science skews Republican, especially two strands of the crusade each of which represents a major wing of the GOP.
The anti-scientific belief that “climate change does not exist” appeals to the corporate component of the party. The counterfactual conviction that “evolution never happened” appeals to the evangelical sector.
Climate change skepticism amounts to willful disbelief based on politics and ideology. Studies indicate that liberals and communitarians tend to believe the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change. Conservatives who are committed to a politics based on self reliance and minimal government tend to be skeptics.
The two camps are divided by something deeper than differences in knowledge. A recent study showed that more information about climate change does not lead skeptics to become converts. They just interpret the new information to fit their beliefs.
Rick Scott is a nut case no doubt, but his aberrant beliefs and abhorrent policies on climate change are not a function of one individual’s psychosis. What they show is that Rick Scott is more Republican than he is a citizen of a state in danger of literally going under.
What has happened in American politics for over a generation is that what used to be called the lunatic right-wing fringe has become the mainstream of the Republican Party. Rick Scott just prefers to be a well regarded denizen of the asylum than a contrarian who defies his party to safeguard the interests of the people of his state.