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An Ecology Florida Staff Feature

In a July 15 letter, ten climate-change experts volunteered to help Florida Governor, Rick Scott, better understand the reality of climate change and its impact on Florida.  The specialists are faculty from public and private schools of higher learning in Florida. The letter's opening line was: "We respectfully request the opportunity to meet with you to discuss the current and future impact of human-induced global warming on Florida."[7]  The request was prompted by the governor's prior rejection of scientific evidence for climate change and his more recent deflection of questions about his position with the declaration "I am not a scientist."[2]

Photo Credit Meredyth Hope Hall
Governor Scott
The next day, July 16, the governor responded that his "administration" would be "happy to meet" with the scientists.  What that means is not clear, but a number of sources mistakenly reported the governor himself was accepting the invitation. The Tampa Tribune and Tallahassee Democrat made this mistake using misleading titles on their articles about the governor and the experts. [5][6] The Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald both got it right – the governor did not say he would meet with the professionals in this area, he told reporters "his administration" would meet with them. [3][4] This could mean anyone working in the governor's office, from the senior administrators to lower ranking assistants.

During his successful gubernatorial campaign in 2010, Scott rejected the position of the vast majority of climate scientists that global warming is caused by human activity and is accelerating an alarming rate.  At that time, Scott affirmed he was "not convinced that there's any man-made climate change."[1] Despite his rejection of the scientific evidence of the reality "man-made climate change," Scott was elected governor of Florida, one of the states most threatened by the consequences by climate change.

Since then, and especially recently as he campaigns for re-election, when asked about his position on the issue, Governor Scott has used a response increasing popular with political figures who are climate change deniers.  This new response, offered by others, and now by the governor is: "I'm not a scientist" – often simply repeated if there are follow up questions. [2] Obviously, this is not an answer, but it is a common tactic used in response to questions on this and a number of other issues politicians are unwilling to engage publicly.

Rhetorically, the I-am-not-a-scientist maneuver appears designed to avoid addressing the public position rejecting anthropogenic global warming.   In practice, it allows a speaker to avoid the issue, even if there are persistent questions:  Don't ask me about that.  My mind is made up on this subject that I do not understand because I am not a specialist.

Fortunately, in this case, the specialists have come to the rescue of the governor.  Not only are these climate-change experts, they are also professional educators.  The governor's affirmation of ignorance has received a positive response, and the best and brightest have stepped forward to teach him the basics of climate change and how it is impacting the state. It remains to be seen who exactly the climate-change experts will meet with – or if the meeting will occur at all.  One of the experts, and the professor who hand-delivered the letter, Jeff Chanton of FSU, said he "is still hoping to meet with the guy in charge, Scott."[4]  If the meeting does take place, Chanton and the others will not transform the governor into a scientist, but perhaps in the future he'll be more prepared to answer questions about anthropogenic global warming.

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Related Reports

The Initial Story

[1] Governor Scott's 2010 rejection of climate change

[2] Miami Herald article with Governor Scott's (and Senator Rubio's) avoidance of climate change questions, using "I am not a scientist" rhetoric

[3] Miami Herald on the "Administration" meeting with scientists

[4] Tampa Bay Times on the "Administration" meeting with scientists

[5] Tampa Tribute and [6] Tallahassee Democrat, both with misleading titles

[7] The letter from the Specialists, July 15

Originally posted to jtietz on Tue Jul 22, 2014 at 09:24 AM PDT.

Also republished by North & Central Florida Kossacks, DK GreenRoots, and DKos Florida.

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