You are, perhaps, already familiar with the Republican List of Things You Cannot Say. If not, here’s a quick refresher:
1. “Vagina.” That’s a definite no-no. Three years ago, Republicans in the Michigan statehouse banned Democratic Rep. Lisa Brown from speaking after she used the v-word.
2. “Condom.” The Bush administration sought to ban sex-ed teachers from mentioning the c-word or, indeed, any contraceptive method but abstinence.
3. “Gun.” A 2011 Florida law prohibits pediatricians from asking if parents have a g-word in the house. Mind you, they can ask about swimming pools, tobacco, seat belts, lead paint and other potential home-based threats to children’s health. But not firearms.
To that list, a new term has now been added. In Florida, you may not say “climate change.”
Now, you’d think the Sunshine State would be using the double c-word quite a bit just now. Florida is, of course, a lowlands state, home to the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States, i.e., the Everglades, and as such, one of the most environmentally vulnerable places in the country. That confluence of facts represents a challenge to which a governor can respond in one of two ways: 1) grapple with the problem and look for ways to solve it; or 2) ignore the problem and silence those who dare to bring it up.
Gov. Rick Scott has chosen the second option. The state now operates under an unwritten gag order banning environmental officials from using the double c-word in any official email, correspondence or report to discuss the threat from human-caused planetary warming and rising seas.
The governor, for the record, denies any such rule exists. “It’s not true,” he told reporters last week. But Scott’s words are simply not credible in the wake of a withering report published last week by the Miami Herald. In it, multiple former state Department of Environmental Protection officials describe how they were, in fact, censored by their superiors. “We were told not to use the terms ‘climate change,’ ‘global warming’ or ‘sustainability,’” said former DEP attorney Christopher Byrd.
No, the GOP is not the only party to regulate what its officials may say. Yes, the Obama administration has lately come out against language conflating Islam and terrorism in order, it says, to deny gangs of criminal thugs the legitimacy of religious underpinnings. You may or may not find that reasoning persuasive, but give the White House this much credit: The ban seems designed to make a philosophical point – not to forestall discussion of terrorism.
What we see in Gov. Scott, on the other hand, amounts to little more than a reality-avoidance scheme, a way of not having a debate he cannot win and would rather not have. The governor has previously tried denying the reality of global warming. He has used the “I’m not a scientist” dodge that the GOP adopted in lockstep last year. But this may be his most effective means yet: Commandeer the language, rendering discussion impossible.
It is not, however, the debate about global warming that threatens to submerge downtown Miami, but global warming itself. It turns out that, contrary to what we believed as children, if you ignore a thing, it doesn’t go away. Often times, it simply festers and gets worse. And as guns, condoms and vaginas continue to exist despite GOP silencing, so too does the threat to Florida, the country and the planet from rising seas and temperatures.
Yet in the face of that existential danger, the GOP continues its strategy of sowing doubt, denial and delay. It is a depressing sign of our times that Florida’s governor exerts so much energy to manage the language of catastrophe.
Here’s a thought: Address the catastrophe and the language will take care of itself.
Leonard Pitts Jr.’s email is firstname.lastname@example.org.