Posted on March 12, 2015 at 6:47 PM
by Craig Klugman, Ph.D.
The data of climate change is very strong: warmest average years on record, increasing extreme weather, higher carbon dioxide levels, changes in sea level, increasing droughts, decreasing snowpacks and sea ice, melting glaciers and permafrost, warmer oceans and increasing ocean acidity. With so much data in support of a changing climate, it is getting harder to be a climate denier.
What does one do when the facts disagree with your beliefs: You ban talking about the ideas. Scientists and employees in the state of Florida are under a soft ban not talk about “climate change,” “global warming,” “sea-level rise,” and “sustainability.” This unwritten policy was publicized last week when an employee of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection was put on administrative leave for using these terms during an agency-wide conference call.
The latest salvo in the war against science is to censor any terms or ideas that conflict with official policy or with elected officials’ stated beliefs. In Florida, censorship of climate change terminology began in 2011 according to the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting. The lack of recognition is ironic and potentially tragic since Florida is the most vulnerable state to a major effect of climate change— rising sea levels. The Union of Concerned Scientists lists national landmarks at risk from climate change. No surprise, Florida has the largest number of landmarks on the list. The state that most needs to plan for the effects of climate change the most, is prevented from speaking on it.
Florida is not alone in denying the facts of science. North Carolina, Louisiana and Tennessee have passed laws of denial. North Carolina’s law was passed in 2012 and banned the use of sea-level rise predictions in planning. Now only historical records can be used. The same year, Tennessee allowed school teachers to teaching scientific fact as uncertainty. The law covers evolution, global warming, and human cloning.
This is not just a state issue. A pair of bills currently before the U.S. House of Representatives would restrict the ability of climate scientists to serve on panels, to have their research used for policy-making and to give testimony. HR 1030 Secret Science Reform Act would limit the kinds of science that could be used as a basis for EPA regulations. HR 1029 EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act would restrict scientist who has published on climate from serving on EPA committees. Votes on both bills have been placed on the House calendar for debate and vote.
Unfortunately, not talking about something does not make it go away. Avoiding a topic does not make it any less true. As EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy stated before a Senate panel on March 4: “Climate change is real…Climate change is not a religion. It is not a belief system. It’s a science fact.”
So Florida, North Carolina, Louisiana, and Tennessee will ignore what is happening in their backyard. Three of those states are a great risk from climate change. They could choose to be responsible to their citizens and make plans to diminish the disaster and mitigate the trauma when it does happen. Or they can score political points among others who choose not to believe in facts. They have chosen the latter.
I always tell my students, “Good ethics begins with good facts.” I teach that informed consent requires knowledge of the facts. I also teach them that a fiduciary relationship requires trust and one basis of trust is transparency. One of the core precepts of bioethics is the notion of sharing reliable information to engage the public in discussions of important issues.
Similarly, good policy should be based on good data. Pretending the data does not exist only causes harm to the very people these officials were elected to serve. “Climate change, “global warming” and “sea-level rise” are terms that we ignore only at our own peril. Florida’s soft ban needs a hard kick to the curb.