With the possible exception of Louisiana no US state will be more immediately and profoundly impacted by climate change and rising sea levels than Florida. Yet the state’s ideologically-driven “business-friendly” Governor Rick Scott refuses to acknowledge the threat. Worse yet as our readers all know he has imposed a gag order on use of the term “climate change.” Since mere discussion of what’s happening to this state could get those whose job it is to serve and protect our state in serious trouble, those who work in state government either have to close ranks behind the Governor or seek employment in the private sector.
In an area considered ground zero in the fight against sea rise level and climate change the administration is hostile and in complete denial as to reality. The obstinance in a coordinated way dictated by the very top is reminiscent of the types of lengths southern segregationists did to prevent any sort of progressive change in the state for a good percentage of Florida’s citizens.
So much of the segregationist era is a blot on Florida’s history and again demonstrated the reactionary nature in the 1950’s and 1960’s of Democrats from rural areas. While Florida was attempting to move forward into a shining city on the hill when compared to the rest of the region under Governor Leroy Collins, the “Pork Chop Gang” and allied legislators kept Florida looking like Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia politically. Today Rick Scott unlike Collins is actually leading the legislature into a reactionary pose that makes Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia look faintly progressive at times by comparison.
What followed the 1960’s was the 1970’s Golden Age of Florida politics, set by Collins and executed by Reubin Askew and a very talented legislature. But today memories of that time have faded in the rear-view mirror as ideologues have taken control of the state. In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s we lamented what had happened to our state as we entered an era of no-return. But as it turns out, the likes of Jeb Bush, Dan Webster and Tom Feeney were in fact just appetizers for what has happened in the decade since. The slippery slope of Florida’s ideological lurch to the right has intensified to a breakneck pace.
Ideological considerations have trumped everything else to the point where actual data, facts and empirical evidence to the contrary of the rock-ribbed “conservative” philosophy Scott and his cohorts share is dismissed as leftist propaganda or worse yet socialism. Climate Change much like economic indicators, tax cuts and job numbers are treated this way. What’s worse is that those local and county authorities that understand the problem are being prevented from doing the job they need to protect their communities by a heavy-handed ideologically-driven state government whose hypocritical principles of preemption are about as non-conservative as it gets.
Scott’s attitude and that of other climate deniers will be seen twenty or thirty years from now in much the same light as southern segregationists. Rick Scott himself as a ideological zealot will go down much the same way as Charley Johns, Sumter Lowry or even like George Wallace. When sea level rise occurs and the impacts of climate change which already stark in peninsular Florida become even more pronounced, the Scott era will be looked back upon a lamentable time in Florida’s history – a time where a ticking time bomb was ignored and the opportunities lost ended up costing the state’s economy and citizens dearly.
But even those Republicans in the state that are less zealous about climate denial than Scott will pay the price in history. It might behoove some younger folks to understand why so many Democrats here in Florida and in neighboring southern states supported segregation up until the 1960’s. It might even stun some to understand that many of these Southern Democrats had otherwise progressive or at least moderately progressive records particularly on economics. It’s a stunner in some ways when you mention the positive records on a number of issues of the likes of J. William Fulbright, George Smathers or others that inevitably their opposition to Civil Rights comes up. Today’s Florida Republicans run the same risk in the future of becoming pariahs in history.
Climate change is real and Florida is on the front lines. But we may look back on the Scott era as the time when we fatally lost the battle to save our state.