MIAMI — Gov. Rick Scott is again weathering criticism over global warming in the wake of Hurricane Irma, and won’t say if he believes man-made climate change is real.
“Clearly our environment changes all the time, and whether that’s cycles we’re going through or whether that’s man-made, I wouldn’t be able to tell you which one it is,” Scott said after twice touring the storm-ravaged Florida Keys this week. “But I can tell you this: We ought to go solve problems. I know we have beach renourishment issues. I know we have flood-mitigation issues.”
In not taking a position on climate change, Scott’s views and responses to questions about climate change have remained markedly steady for years. The only major difference, for instance, between his comments Wednesday evening to reporters and his statements before his 2014 reelection is that he no longer says, “I’m not a scientist.”
Before that, in his first election in 2010, Scott clearly denied the idea of anthropogenic global warming.
“I’ve not been convinced that there’s any man-made climate change,” Scott said then. “Nothing’s convinced me that there is.”
Scott this week mentioned “man-made changes to our environment” when asked about climate change, but he did so in the context of his concerns over the stability of the Herbert Hoover Dike, which helps state officials manage water in South Florida.
Similarly, in 2014, Scott addressed questions about climate change by instead talking about the money his administration has spent addressing floods, repacking beaches with sand or managing the Everglades.
Scott might run for office again next year against U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), who took a veiled shot at the governor just after Irma left the state.
“It’s denying reality,” Nelson told POLITICO on Tuesday. “You can call it politics or whatever, but the Earth is getting hotter. This storm is another reminder of what we’re going to have to deal with in the future.”
Nelson said that climate change is “certainly going to be an important issue, and if certain people such as the one you mentioned is my opponent, there’s a significant contrast in what we believe.” And he said that “99.5 percent of climate scientists” believe in man-made climate change.
Scott was also criticized in 2015 after the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting reported that his Department of Environmental Protection banned the use of the terms “climate change” and “global warming.” But Scott denied that he issued such an edict.
Before and after Irma, which first struck the Florida Keys on Sunday, Scott was bashed in a series of opinion pieces in state and national media with headlines like “GOP denies climate change, America pays the price,” “Florida governor has ignored climate change risks, critics say,” “Climate deniers play politics with looming natural disasters,” or “Editorial: Gov. Scott’s Irma leadership undercut by his climate denial.”
Still, the relationship between global warming and hurricanes isn’t straightforward. While it’s true that hurricanes are essentially heat engines that thrive off warm water, more heat hasn’t clearly led to more storms — although it may have led to more intense hurricanes, but not by a big amount.
“With a few exceptions, the large majority of studies in the last 10 years have indicated that under global warming, the numbers of hurricanes would stay the same or decrease, with a small increase in the intensity of the strongest storms,” said David S. Nolan, chair of the University of Miami’s Department of Atmospheric Sciences. “As for Harvey and Irma, I think it is wrong to attribute any single event to global warming.”
Scott’s close political ally, President Donald Trump, once called the concept of man-made climate change a “hoax.” When asked Thursday in Florida if Irma and Hurricane Harvey, which struck Texas, changed his views on the matter, Trump suggested the answer was no. “We’ve had bigger storms than this,” the president said.
But other Republicans, many from South Florida — including Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Giménez and Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen — say man-made climate change is real and needs to be taken seriously.
Nelson said it was ironic that climate-change deniers don’t believe the majority of climate scientists about global warming, but they rely on hurricane forecasts that the scientists have produced.
Scott said he’s instead focused on “what we can solve and we have to go do it.” He said the state should prioritize Irma relief and recovery efforts.
“I think we ought to focus on the fact that we have a state that just went through a Category 4 storm,” Scott said. “And we ought to get people their power back, most importantly, get their fuel back, and that’s what we should focus on right now.”