“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!” The Wizard of Oz
Generally, history has not been kind to authorities who knowingly suppress the truth. If suppression results in oppression or injustice, we feel anger. But in nearly every case, we react with scorn.
That’s why last week’s revelation that Florida’s GOP Governor Rick Scott has forbidden state agencies to use the words “climate change” and “global warming” has attracted more ridicule than indignation. Scott’s “I-am-not-a-scientist” approach to climate science has provided ample fodder for the country’s comedians. The Twitter hash-tag #Scottaway has gone viral. But now we have the words of his General Counsel Larry Morgan, warning state employees to suppress established science: “Beware of the words ‘global warming, climate change and sea-level rise’….”
Small-minded officials, in the service of powerful polluters, who sacrifice their children’s futures for the benefit of wealthy donors?
Governor Scott’s gag order on science burst into the news this week, when a number of Florida news outlets tracked down Florida scientists and officials whose reports were censored to redact virtually all references to climate change.
Florida is the country’s most climate-vulnerable state, with all of its barrier islands and 30 percent of its beaches threatened by sea-level rise in the next 85 years. In just the next 33 years, much of Miami-Dade and Broward Counties are projected to be inundated by rising seas – plus virtually all of Monroe County, home of the Keys and the Everglades. And globally, Miami ranks #1 among cities projected to suffer monetary losses from rising seas, according to the OECD. And so the censorship was widely seen as both ridiculous and incredibly dangerous in this state.
The governor’s staff has denied the reports, but increased scrutiny is unearthing a flood of very detailed reports, plus many whispered accounts of intimidated employees cowed into compliance under the threat of termination or de-funding of entire offices and programs.
The governor himself has become famous for dodging the question of manmade climate change. When asked about it by a reporter from The Miami Herald, Scott offered a familiar response: “Well, I’m not a scientist,” he said, echoing John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal and many other GOP politicians.
So last year, a group of Florida’s leading climate scientists publicly offered to educate Scott, then locked in a tight reelection battle with former governor Charlie Crist, who took climate change very seriously during his time in office. Under intense media pressure, Scott agreed to give the scientists thirty minutes of his time.
“This is not complicated,’’ said David Hastings, professor of marine science and chemistry at Eckerd College, before the meeting. “We teach this to 18-year-olds every year and I’ve been doing it for 25 years. It’s not hard science.”
One by one, the scientists used their precious half-hour to give Scott the barest summaries of their disciplines, ranging from the changing composition of the earth’s atmosphere, to the melting of the polar ices sheets, rising sea levels, dying coral reefs and alarmingly acidic oceans – all linked to the burning of fossil fuels.
And they warned of the cost of inaction: “The longer you wait the cost of the solution goes up about 40 percent a decade.”
By all accounts, the meeting did not go well at all. University of Miami geologist Harold Wanless remembered that Scott “spent ten minutes doing silly things like prolonged introductions,” which reduced their time to speak to about 20 minutes. “He said thank you and went on to his more urgent matters, such as answering his telephone calls and so on. There were no questions of substance.”
I hope we don’t miss how incredible this is. The governor of the most climate-threatened state in the country doesn’t know enough to act on climate change. So his state’s scientists band together to teach him. In response, he doles out 30 minutes of his precious schedule, and then filibusters one-third of it, cutting deeply into a meeting that was impossibly short to begin with.
Could there be a clearer way for the governor to say: I don’t know, and I don’t WANT to know?
But if the scientists made no progress with Scott, evangelical pastor Rev. Mitch Hescox couldn’t even get his foot in the door. Hescox, the President of Evangelical Environmental Network, brought a petition signed by 60,000 Christians, urging fellow evangelical Scott to take action to protect Florida from the threat of climate change. But Hescox was sent away without even the courtesy of an audience.
Scott, it happens, is one of a handful of climate deniers who openly profess faith in Jesus Christ, while promoting policies which suppress the basic knowledge necessary to care for God’s creation. Some of these even cite their Christian faith as the reason for their denial of climate science. And to Christian earth-keepers, this makes our skin crawl.
To our many friends who are becoming disaffected with the anti-science voices that are being dressed up these days as “American evangelical Christianity,” we beg you to consider: There are more than 2.1 billion Christians in the world today; only about five percent of them hail from the US; almost all of them come from countries where the science of climate change is accepted as fully reliable; the vast majority face very tangible climate threats, including droughts, flooding, rising sea levels, ocean acidification – and social upheavals which arise from these ills. And even here in America, there are numerous evangelical declarations that affirm the importance of creation care, and call Christians to action against climate pollution. And only one takes the position of the climate denial politicians. What you hear from the religious talking heads on American cable news channels has precious little to do with the global Christian church, which understands the perils of environmental abuse with first-hand clarity.
In our experience, the world’s Christians watch with near disbelief as American politicians cite the Christian scriptures as the skin-deep rationale for their heart-deep collusion with wealthy polluters, inflicting severe harm to the world’s poorest communities.
Consider GOP Senator James Inhofe, the inventor of the “greatest hoax” narrative of global warming. A professing Christian, he cites this verse as his favorite premise for denying that human actions can change the world’s climate: “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease” (Genesis 8:22). In context, God makes this promise in the aftermath of the story of the great flood, as he makes a new covenant “with every living creature” never again to destroy the earth by a cataclysm of judgment.
Perhaps serious theologians might debate the possible meaning of this passage. But surely no scholar thinks it means that climates never change: that the Little Ice Age of the 17th Century (which killed roughly one-third of the planet’s humans) could never have actually happened; or that the Earth did not warm since the last great Ice Age; or that there would have to be a “seedtime” in Antarctica; or that equatorial regions would have to have a “summer and winter;” or that the world cannot have warmed by 0.9 degrees Celsius during the last century. And certainly, no scholar believes that a passage like this negates the natural laws that God has set in motion, like the workings of greenhouse gases that warm and protect the planet when in balance, and cause climatic chaos when thrown out of balance.
Senator Inhofe, we beg you to refer us to a single biblical scholar who affirms your narrative.
But back in Florida, suppression of the truth is much less bombastic, and more insidious. Gov. Scott never says why he shuts his eyes to climate science. No silly speeches warning of massive hoaxes by corrupt scientists. He just makes sure his administration suppresses climate science, and intimidates experts who rely on state funding.
By the end of this century, most of South Florida will be uninhabitable. The Keys will be gone; Sanibel-Captiva and much of Ft. Myers will be abandoned; the Everglades will be open water; what remains of Miami will be a narrow sliver of land frequently inundated by periodic storms. Those who remain in the state may well remember that they once had a governor who suppressed the one discipline that might have saved their state.
But, alas, he was not a scientist.
“The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” (St. Paul, Romans 1:18)