Rick Scott, a Political Descendant of Bartleby the Scrivener, Prefers Not to (Talk about It)

Here is a current map of Florida:


Here, in contrast is a map of what will be left of Florida if the polar ice caps continue to melt:

Florida after Sea Rise

So the revelations over this past week that Florida Governor Rick Scott has prohibited state employees from using the term “climate change” are fairly astounding on multiple levels.

First, if you consider the two maps of Florida, Scott’s prohibition is reminiscent of the stance taken by the mayor of Amity when it becomes clear that a Great White Shark is roaming the waters off the island resort. The mayor would rather ignore the worst possibilities, no matter how imminent they may seem to be, because simply acknowledging them might cause vacationers to change their plans and negatively impact the community’s businesses that depend heavily on the tourist season. Likewise, Scott would like residents, tourists, and investors to ignore for as long as possible–or at least for as long as he or someone from his party is governor—the fact that the ocean will soon literally be rising around their feet.

Second, Scott’s stance does not make much sense on a basic economic level. Despite the expansion of offshore oil and gas drilling, those industries do not contribute a fraction of what tourism contributes to Florida’s economy. But Scott, like many political figures on the Far Right, has received substantial direct and indirect political support from the fossil fuel industry. So his ideological interests have rendered him unable not just to deal effectively with the major threat to his state but even to admit that the threat exists.

Third, if you recall my recent post on the votes taken on climate change in the federal House and Senate, there are more than just business and political self-interest at work here. The Far Right is ideologically skeptical not just about climate science but about science in general. So we are witnessing an ideological obstinacy that should seem extremely anachronistic in 21st century America: politicians seem to believe that the existence of non-existence of natural phenomenon is dependent on their legislative sanction. As I said in that earlier post, it is a political phenomenon that seems straight out of the works of Swift or Orwell.

Fourth, as Tristram Korten documents in a long article for the Miami Herald [http://www.miamiherald.com/news/state/florida/article13576691.html], Scott himself has recognized that his attempt to silence discussion of the issue of how climate change will literally alter his state will expose him to justifiable ridicule. So despite his effort to insist that his ideologically driven positions are unassailable, he knows that they are not. If he truly believed that they were so, he would not only welcome debate on their merits, but he would not have initially denied that he had issued any such prohibition. Then, when that position proved unsustainable, he would not have insisted that no one was penalized for failing to abide by the prohibition. Then when that position proved unsustainable, he would not have insisted that the incidents were isolated and involved more than the simple issue of using the proscribed terminology.

The whole thing has become completely unraveled as the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting has conducted an extensive survey of the language used in state documents, a study which has revealed that the uses of the term “climate change” have declined steadily and steeply over Scott’s first term as governor. Perhaps Scott will claim next that the employees of the state of Florida have simply, on their own impulse, decided that the term “climate change” is abhorrent to them.

Lastly, as Jon Stewart observed in a recent episode of the Daily Show, the broader irony is that the term “climate change” has been a fairly recent Far-Right coinage. It is, in fact, the substitute that their strategists offered in place of the much more inflammatory phrase “global warming.” So, Scott and others on the Far Right are ideologically objecting to the use of a phrase that is the direct product of their ideology. Equally ironic is the fact that the term “global warming” is probably a much-easier term to ridicule because every time that there is a heavy snow or a cold spell somewhere, some yahoo can be encouraged to ask if that weather is proof of “global warming.” But the ultimate irony may be that when a euphemism fails to mask an unpleasant reality any more effectively than the more objectionable term for which it has been provided as a substitute, that is a linguistic indicator that the reality is resistant to being masked by any euphemism. So, in trying to prohibit the use of the term, Scott has been implicitly acknowledging that climate change poses a serious threat to his state that he is either unable or unwilling to address.


2 thoughts on “Rick Scott, a Political Descendant of Bartleby the Scrivener, Prefers Not to (Talk about It)

  1. Bartley walled the world out. Scott walls himself in under the allusion he a gifted all knowing leader. His career in the private sector would indicate otherwise. His public career has been secretive and not beneficial to the state. As a Floridian I can’t believe we elected him. How could a state that elected Floridians such as LeRoy Collins, Ruben Askew, Lawton Chiles and Claude Pepper accept such as Rick Scott? You’re article is appreciated and informative.

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