Florida Governor Rick Scott, a Republican running for the Senate, is a cable news celebrity this week as he reports on mobilizing evacuations and the impact of Hurricane Michael as it rips across the Florida Panhandle. Hurricane Michael hit the United States mainland as a Category 4 storm with 155 mph winds, one of the most powerful hurricanes to ever strike the continental United States and the worst in the history of western Florida.
While Scott takes full advantage of the Hurricane Michael to promote his Senate campaign, the reality is that Rick Scott is a climate change denier. His actions as Governor and in the corporate world have helped to make hurricanes more powerful and deadly.
When asked about the impact of climate change, Rick Scott generally avoids the topic by saying “I’m not a scientist.” What Scott did say is that “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.” With this statement, not only is Scott a non-scientist, he is anti-science.
As an anti-science non-scientist, Scott supported Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Accord designed to lower the production of greenhouse gases that are warming the planet. In April, eight young Floridians between the age of ten and twenty sued in an attempt to force Scott and the state government to develop a science-based “Climate Recovery Plan.” According Delaney Reynolds, an 18-year-old college student studying marine science, “Governor Scott says he’s not a scientist. Well, neither are most of the people that are forced to take action because the state is failing us.”
Scott has used his position as governor to undermine efforts to rein in global warming. In 2015, a report by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting revealed that the term “climate change” was removed from dozens of official state documents.
Some state employees claimed that they were even forbidden from referring to climate change and global warming in memos and when speaking. When Bart Bibler of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) mentioned climate change during a conference call with representatives from other states, he was put on a two-day leave and received a letter of reprimand for expressing his personal views. The Florida chapter of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility claims it has received more than a dozen complaints from Florida DEP employees.
Scott’s Department of Health is just as bad. A DOH grant to promote an examination of the “health impacts of a warming world” referred to “health effects related to weather events,” but avoided the term climate change. A doctoral student working with the DOH was ordered to remove references to climate change from her dissertation.
Rick Scott is a very wealthy man and his private sector investments are equally hostile to climate change science. Four years ago Florida’s Times Herald examined Rick Scott’s investment portfolio and discovered that the companies he invested in generally opposed the regulation of greenhouse gases. In April 2018, the London-based company Seadrill Partners wrote in a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filing that “Climate change and the regulation of greenhouse gases could have a negative impact on our business.” As of 2014, Rick Scott had an investment of $325,066 in that company. Scott also owned over half a million dollars’ worth of stock in Phillips 66, a petroleum company that reported to the SEC that “climate change legislation or regulation could result in increased operating costs and reduced demand for the refined products we produce.” But Scott’s biggest investment, $14.7 million, was in a Maryland holding company that invests in power generation. It expressed concern to the SEC that “We may be affected by regulatory responses to the fear of climate change.” Scott’s total investment in energy producing industries that contribute to climate change, global warming, and more powerful hurricanes probably exceeds $20 million.
We saw the Rick Scott Hurricane Show once before when Hurricane Irma hit the east coast of Florida in 2017. Scott ordered the evacuation of six and a half million people and placed National Guard units of emergency stand-by. But after the television cameras were turned off, Scott used hurricane relief dollars to enrich his campaign supporters. An investigation by a local television station later found that Scott issued emergency clean-up contracts, ignoring pre-existing agreements, feeding approximately $30 million to firms headed by major contributors to his campaigns.
Rick Scott is using Hurricane Michael as free advertising in his campaign for the United States Senate. On television he wears a Navy cap, Scott was in the Navy thirty tears ago, and gives brief updates in Spanish to show he cares about Latino voters. But the bottom line is that Rick Scott is a climate change denier. A vote to put Scott in the United States Senate is a vote for more powerful, more deadly, human-enhanced natural disasters.