Florida Gov. Rick Scott is freaking out over the potentially devastating Hurricane Matthew — but he has banned state workers from discussing the climate change that may have made the storm so strong.
The category 4 hurricane is expected to make landfall late Thursday between West Palm Beach and Cape Canaveral, with sustained winds up to 140 mph, and could reach category 5 strength.
“This is going to kill people,” Scott said, urging residents to evacuate or prepare at least a three-day supply of food, water and medicine. “Charge your phone, do not surf, do not go to the beach. This will kill you.”
Matthew quickly turned from a tropical storm into a category 5 hurricane, and even thought it had weakened to category 4 before it hit Haiti — the hurricane was the strongest to hit the island nation in a generation.
Scientists warned that Matthew’s strength could not be officially blamed on climate change until an attribution study was conducted, but the hurricane is part of a recent pattern of stronger storms caused by rising ocean temperatures.
Florida officials might have a difficult time completing those studies, because Scott has unofficially banned state employees from using the terms “climate change” or “global warming” in any state documents.
Officials with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection told the Miami Herald last year that high-ranking officials in the Scott administration had forbid them from using any terms they did not consider to be “a true fact.”
The unwritten policy reportedly went into effect after Scott, who has said he’s not convinced that climate change is caused by human activity, took office five years ago.
A spokeswoman for Scott insisted there was no policy on using those scientific terms — but a top-ranking DEP official could not be goaded into using the phrase “climate change” in a hearing held shortly after the prohibition was reported.
DEP staffers expressed frustration with the intrusion of political correctness into their research, saying they were tasked with studying the effects and economic impact of climate change but could not even use the correct terms in meetings or documents.
“It’s an indication that the political leadership in the state of Florida is not willing to address these issues and face the music when it comes to the challenges that climate change present,” said Christopher Byrd, a former attorney with the DEP’s Office of General Counsel.