During my tenure as a writer/editor/public relations director at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the agency took very seriously the threat of climate change to a state surrounded on three sides by water and subject to violent storm surges, eroding beaches, and disappearing habitat. The endangerment of 575 species of wildlife and 700 species of fish, both fresh- and saltwater, worried wildlife managers.
I took pride in the agency’s climate change initiatives and served as editor to the publication, Florida’s Wildlife: On the front line of climate change in 2009. The head of the climate change committee asked me personally to write a column on wildlife and climate change, which I did for two years. The Wildlife Forecast was published in newspapers, newsletters, and magazines around the state. Audubon Society and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reprinted the column on occasion.
Then in late 2010, I received word that my column was on hold until after the first Tuesday in November. That last column never made it into print.
What happened? Gov. Rick Scott happened. With his election in November 2010, state employees ran scared. The word went out that agencies, such as the FWC and Florida’s DEP, needed to tread carefully. Their budgets were on the line, and suddenly, despite scientific data and scientists’ assertions on the reality of climate change, the concept became verboten.
I left Florida soon after to move to Pennsylvania. Many of my colleagues, including any involved with climate change initiatives, moved onto the federal government. Many told me I’d certainly chosen my departure from the agency at an opportune time.
It’s interesting how things spiral together at one moment. I woke up this past Saturday morning with a thought running through my head: Publish The Wildlife Forecast columns in a book. I pulled them out and put them together and remembered how the column ended. I’d forgotten. Then two days later, an article came across my Facebook news feed from the Miami Herald. The headline screamed:
(Click on headline for link to the full article.)
Here’s an excerpt:
“We were told not to use the terms ‘climate change,’ ‘global warming’ or ‘sustainability,’” said Christopher Byrd, an attorney with the DEP’s Office of General Counsel in Tallahassee from 2008 to 2013. “That message was communicated to me and my colleagues by our superiors in the Office of General Counsel.”
Kristina Trotta, another former DEP employee who worked in Miami, said her supervisor told her not to use the terms “climate change” and “global warming” in a 2014 staff meeting. “We were told that we were not allowed to discuss anything that was not a true fact,” she said.
This unwritten policy went into effect after Gov. Rick Scott took office in 2011 and appointed Herschel Vinyard Jr. as the DEP’s director, according to former DEP employees. Gov. Scott, who won a second term in November, has repeatedly said he is not convinced that climate change is caused by human activity, despite scientific evidence to the contrary.
We journalists were advised a decade ago by news organizations to stop using the term “global warming” because it placed blame for climate changes on mankind’s actions. It was suggested we used the term “climate change” instead in all of our articles. I agreed because climate change is more accurate. The predictions are for wild and intense changes in all things dealing with climate. More frequent and intense storms, unpredictable weather catastrophes, and extreme variations in temperatures. Scientists point to Florida as one of the most vulnerable places in the world because of its shape and location. That’s too big of a concern to simply ignore.
However, even more concerning is the culture of a state government, in this case run by businessman Rick Scott, to forbid the use of any words by employees. I can tell you as I prepared to leave my job with the FWC, employees were running scared of losing jobs because of their beliefs. Is this ever a good thing?
The FWC’s website still offers the publication Florida’s Wildlife: On the front line of climate change in PDF form (Click here), which is good. They still have a special initiative for climate change, although it’s not listed in the main menu. Maybe things aren’t as dire as the article points out. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that open dialogue still exists in my beloved Florida, no matter what our beliefs.
The other night my husband was complaining about all the work needed around the house and garden right now.
I started to agree with him as I prepared a salad. Then I stopped and looked around the room with its intact walls, floor, windows, and ceilings. The image of mangled wood and tossed roofs and cars in Moore, Oklahoma, flashed through my head.
“We have no reason to complain about the work needed here,” I said. “We still have a house to clean and paint. Our garden is intact, weeds and all.”
The tornado that hit the community of Moore this past week flattened walls, roofs, and windows, but it did not flatten the intangible and collective backbone of the people living through a nightmare of debris. Twenty-four people lost their lives when the tornado hit, and I pray for their families.
When I look at the images, I wonder how anyone at all survived.
We are in a time of climate change. Climate isn’t the weather report on temperatures, winds, or storms. Climate is the long-term study of weather events. Climate change deals with more than temperatures rising, although that is a major contributing factor to some of the changes we’re seeing. Climate change also means that the weather will be more intense and the storms more frequent. Seasonal dates are being challenged each year. There’s an old saying that is appropriate for what we’re witnessing: The only constant is change.
The fact that only twenty-four folks perished in the tornado in Moore shows that we are more prepared than ever and that the spirit of rising above adversity in Oklahoma right now, is a superb example of the flexibility that will be required of all of us in the coming years.
I was going to put in an excerpt from my new book and then add a plug. But as I write this post, I don’t want to do anything but bow my head in prayer for those who perished and those who remain to clean up the mess on the ground. God speed, Moore, OK.