U.S. Sen. Rick Scott used to battle with reporters over the semantics of the term “climate change,” but he now believes it’s an “important issue.”
During an interview on Fox Business’ “Mornings with Maria,” the Florida Senator was complaining about the Senate Budget Committee when he offered the latest seeming endorsement of the idea that human beings’ actions are heating the planet.
“We talked about climate change,” Scott said by way of describing the meetings the panel had this year. “It’s an important issue, but we didn’t talk about the budget, right?”
Scott has become comfortable with the term “climate change” in recent years, but that wasn’t always the case, specifically during his eight years as Florida Governor.
The Florida Center for Investigative Reporting (FCIR) notes that in 2015, there were allegations from former state officials that “climate change” and other related terms were banned in the Executive Office of the Governor.
“We were told not to use the terms ‘climate change,’ ‘global warming’ or ‘sustainability,’” said Christopher Byrd, an attorney with the Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Office of General Counsel until 2013. “That message was communicated to me and my colleagues by our superiors in the Office of General Counsel.”
Others corroborated Byrd’s claim that “climate change” and “global warming” were forbidden, including staffers in Tallahassee and workers throughout the state.
While Scott’s own staff claimed there was “no policy” on this in response to reporters’ inquiries at the time, the FCIR report noted that the term had been stripped from environmental reports in favor of phrasings like “climate drivers” and “climate-driven changes.” Other anecdotes reinforced the strong impression that the phrases were rejected by the administration at the time.
“Sea-level rise” eventually became permitted, Reuters notes, though “coastal resiliency” was the preferred euphemism for that for some time.
Other documents, such as one from the DEP, alluded to the concept.
“Both natural and anthropogenic (man-made) processes contribute to changes in global weather patterns such as temperature, rainfall, snowfall and wind,” read the agency’s website during the Scott era.
“These changes have been observed throughout earth’s history, but with the onset of the industrial revolution and the human population explosion, increases in the intensity of climate changes associated with human activities have been reported with growing frequency.”
However, Scott as Governor was coy about the phrase when asked directly, choosing non-answers like “I’m not a scientist” through much of his time in Tallahassee. He paid for that in the 2018 campaign, with Democrats pressing the case that he was a “denier” of climate change with investments in companies opposed to anti-pollution regulations.
Since going to the Senate, Scott has gotten more comfortable with the phrasing itself. He said “climate change is real” in 2019, during a floor speech blasting the so-called Green New Deal. An NPR interview from 2021 found him using the phrase “impacts of climate change” a few times.
But the evolution was years in the making.