Florida Republicans admit climate change is real but still refuse to do anything about it


'I'm not a global warming person. I don't want that label on me,' Gov. Ron DeSantis said in 2018.

Republican officials across the country have for years refused to accept the fact that humans contribute to climate change, which can in turn contribute to catastrophic weather events such as the recent Hurricane Ian in Florida.

Florida Sens. Rick Scott and Marco Rubio both opposed the Inflation Reduction Act, which included $369 billion to cut greenhouse gas emissions — one of the leading causes of climate change. They also voted against the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The law provided $47 billion in funding for "climate resilience" to help states combat the increasingly extreme weather events such as fires, floods, storms and droughts.

A 2021 Center for American Progress report found that 139 members of Congress, 109 representatives and 30 senators, deny that human activity is a factor in climate change.

"These 139 climate science deniers have accepted more than $61 million in lifetime direct contributions from the oil, gas, and coal industries, which comes out to an average of $442,293 per elected official of Congress that denies climate change," the report noted.

Hurricane Ian, a Category 4 storm that devastated much of southwest Florida at the end of September, is just the latest in a long list of hurricanes that have fueled debate over the role of climate change in storms that are becoming more frequent and more destructive in the Sunshine State and beyond.

Reuters reported in December 2021 on a study by a climate expert at MIT that showed an uptick in the number of hurricanes in the North Atlantic over the past century. Ian, the deadliest storm since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, cut power to more than 2.5 million Florida homes and businesses, flooded thousands of buildings across the state, and killed more than 100 people.

Scientists have pointed to climate change as a major factor in the increase in hurricane frequency and intensity. But Republican lawmakers have largely dismissed the tropical storms as isolated events rather than part of a growing trend.

Experts have widely accepted the fact that human activity is largely to blame for climate change. In a report published recently on its website, NASA says that "multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals show that climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities. In addition, most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position."

One week after Hurricane Ian made landfall in southwest Florida, President Joe Biden toured the area and held a press conference with Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis standing behind him.

"I think the one thing this has finally ended is a discussion about whether or not there's climate change, and we should do something about it," Biden said. The Guardian noted that DeSantis did not react to Biden's words.

DeSantis distanced himself from people who care about climate change during his 2018 campaign for governor.

"I'm not in the pews of the church of the global warming leftists. I'm just not,” he said at the time. “I'm a Republican. I'm a conservative. I'm a Teddy Roosevelt conservationist. It's just a different analysis.”

He added: “I would say human activity contributes to changes in the environment. I'm not a global warming person. I don't want that label on me."

DeSantis has a history of denying that climate change affects weather and of blaming those who want to take measures to combat it of having ulterior motives. At a press conference last year, DeSantis said:

What I've found is, people, when they start talking about things like global warming, they typically use that as a pretext to do a bunch of left-wing things that they would want to do anyways, and so, we're not doing any left-wing stuff. What we're doing, though, is just reacting to the fact that, um, OK, we're a flood-prone state, we do have storms — I don't know that we really haven't had more storms in the last 10-15 years than we had in other portions of — you could pick different periods, we've had a lot. But the bottom line is, this is something that has a huge impact. As our state becomes more populated, of course there's more property that can be damaged.

Rubio has also repeatedly denied the science around climate change.

In 2014, during his unsuccessful campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, Rubio was asked by ABC reporter Jonathan Karl whether he believed that human activity had caused the planet to warm. He answered:

I don't agree with the notion that some are putting out there, including scientists, that somehow there are actions we can take today that would actually have an impact on what's happening in our climate. Our climate is always changing. ... I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it. That's what I do not, and I do not believe that the laws they propose we pass will do anything about it except it will destroy our economy.

By 2019, Rubio had changed his tone somewhat, writing in an opinion column for USA Today that "Florida will be forced to continue making adjustments in the coming decades because of the changing climate. Trend lines suggest sunny day flooding will become increasingly common as local sea levels rise from a variety of causes … To be clear, attempting to reverse engineer the U.S. economy to absolve our past climate sins — either through a carbon tax or some 'Green New Deal' scheme — will fail."

Continuing to attack "global elites and American leftists," Rubio added: "Regardless of one’s specific beliefs, Floridians have a challenge that we must confront. To do so successfully requires a clear-eyed assessment of the problem and the choices available to us. The good news is these problems are manageable." He links the claim on manageability to an article published in Foreign Affairs in 2017 by right-wing commentator Oren Cass.

Scott, the former governor of Florida and the state's junior senator, has said that he accepts that there is climate change and a need to do something about it. However, in 2015, when he was governor, the office of the general counsel of the state's Department of Environmental Protection banned the department's staff from using the terms "climate change" and "global warming," according to a report by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting.

Most Americans support policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Gallup annual environmental poll released in April of this year. Such policies include the development of infrastructure for electric vehicles along with tax credits for purchasing them and domestic clean energy appliances.

The Gallup poll also noted that one in three Americans reported having experienced extreme weather events, including extreme cold, blizzards and hurricanes, over the previous two years. A majority of people surveyed who had experienced such weather events reported worrying "a great deal" about climate change.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.