Dear Rick Scott, Climate Change Is Real
“While we do not yet know whether Scott’s actions played a part in the inexcusable deaths at the Rehabilitation Center in Hollywood Hills after Irma, it is clear he values corporations more than the safety and care of our elderly.”
Governor Rick Scott did a good job in the week preceding Hurricane Irma’s Florida landfall. But before we heap on too much praise, we should remember all that Scott has done during his tenure to make Florida residents more vulnerable to storms like Irma. His championing of government deregulation and continued denial of the effects of climate change have increased the risk that Floridians face during hurricane season.
Government deregulation is a cornerstone of Rick Scott’s political agenda. Yet many of these actions have left Floridians more vulnerable to catastrophic storms like Irma. Just this year, Scott signed bill HB 1021, which significantly weakens the strict building codes put into place after Hurricane Andrew devastated Florida in 1992. This action was taken by Scott in spite of proof that the building codes protected people – after Florida was hit with four hurricanes in 2004, FEMA reported that homes built to these strict codes fared significantly better than other homes. A former head of FEMA, Craig Fugate, said this recent move by Scott and the Republican-controlled legislature sickened him.
In 2011, Scott repealed a 1985 law that restricted development on wetlands. Because our wetlands absorb water and thus help prevent flooding, their depletion results in a much higher risk of flooding during storms like Irma. Hurricane Harvey provided a real-time example of how development-depleted wetlands can exacerbate the effects of a storm.
Scott also slashed funding for the state’s water management districts by $700 million and replaced the scientists with pro-development industry insiders and lawyers. Water management districts are responsible for establishing flood protection programs, and their decline degrades Florida’s capacity to cope with hurricanes.
Scott’s administration has rolled back safety protections for long-term care facilities, thereby reducing the number of hours that nursing homes must provide direct care to their residents. In fact, just 34 days into his governorship, Scott agreed to a direct request from the long-term care industry to fire the director of Florida’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program, Brian Lee, who had served in that role for seven years, providing a voice for the vulnerable patients in these facilities. While we do not yet know whether Scott’s actions played a part in the inexcusable deaths at the Rehabilitation Center in Hollywood Hills after Irma, it is clear he values corporations more than the safety and care of our elderly.
In all of these examples, Scott supported actions for the sake of increased industry profit, ignoring the danger they posed to the people he was elected to serve.
There is overwhelming evidence that rising sea levels and warmer oceans make storms like Irma and Harvey even more powerful. Actions can be taken to minimize the effects of climate change, but leaders like Scott who deny its existence, stubbornly refuse to protect us.
Our governor has repeatedly voiced his disbelief in climate change. He even banned use of the words “climate change” and “global warming” from all official state communication. This is particularly absurd in a state whose governmental agencies must, by necessity, figure out how to build new roads to accommodate rising sea levels and prevent saltwater contamination of our freshwater aquifers –two immediate consequences of climate change.
Not even the ferocity of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma could open Scott’s eyes to global warming or soften his perverse resolve to leave Floridians unprotected. After twice visiting the ravaged Keys, he told reporters: “Clearly our environment changes all the time, and whether that’s cycles we’re going through or whether that’s man-made, I wouldn’t be able to tell you which one it is.”
Scott’s climate change denial in a state that is already being significantly impacted by climate change reminds me of one of my favorite quotes, from conservative darling Ayn Rand, no less: “We can ignore reality, but we cannot ignore the consequences of ignoring reality.”
Scott deserves praise for his numerous press conferences and clear directives in the buildup to Irma, but while showing up in a ball cap and barking orders is impressive, responsible leadership over the long term is what counts. Over his tenure, Rick Scott has steadily and intentionally eroded Florida’s defenses against hurricanes in the name of corporate profits. Now, just as storms are growing stronger than ever, Floridians have been left more vulnerable because of his actions.