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While Not Too Sure, Scientists Hopeful Gov. Scott Got Their Climate Change Message

Gina Jordan
Gov. Rick Scott sat down with five scientists Tuesday afternoon to speak with them about climate change.

After weeks of not knowing whether Governor Rick Scott would meet with them, several scientists say they’re happy the Governor did meet with them Tuesday to talk to about climate change and its ongoing threat to Florida. But, they’re not too sure they got their point across.

Months ago, when reporters asked Governor Scott about his position on climate change, he told them “I am not a scientist.”

“Well, we’re trying to convince him that climate change is real. He says he’s not a scientist, but that’s not an excuse for avoiding the issue of climate change and 99 percent of the scientists, myself included, believe that it’s happening, that it’s real, and it’s a real threat to the state of Florida,” said John Van Leer.

Van Leer, a University of Miami Associate Professor of Ocean Sciences, is among a group of scientists who last month wrote a letter to Scott, asking him for a meeting to discuss “the current and future impact of human-induced global warming on Florida.”

Scott, at first, said his administration would meet with the scientists. Later, he changed that to saying he, himself, would meet with them.

That’s after Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Charlie Crist decided to meet with the scientists last month, which Scott called a “publicity stunt.”

Credit Lynn Hatter / WFSU
Gov. Rick Scott listening to Florida State University Oceanography Professor Dr. Jeff Chanton talk about climate change during the presentation.

Still, hours before the meeting, Scott told reporters he wants to hear the scientists out.  

“I’m excited to meet this afternoon with the scientists,” said Scott. “We’re going to talk about global warming. So, what I’m looking forward to with the scientists today is listening to their solutions. That’s what our citizens care about and being in business, that’s what you have to do. You have to solve problems, so…”

So, how did the meeting go? Governor Scott listened to a presentation by several scientists, which started with a few words from UM Professor of Geological Sciences Harold Wanless.

“We’re here because major climate change is already happening,” stated Wanless. “Further warming of our atmosphere and oceans will occur through this century and beyond. This will result in accelerating ice melt—which is already happening—and sea level rise. Florida will be seriously catastrophically affected.”

Each of the five scientists then took turns and tried to give Scott a basic understanding of global warming, what’s at stake for Florida, and possible solutions.

But, following the about 30-minute presentation, Eckerd College’s Marine Science and Chemistry Professor David Hastings wasn’t too sure Scott got the message: to start taking action on a federal plan to reduce carbon emissions by 2030.

Credit Miami Herald's youtube
Miami Herald's youtube
Eckerd College’s Marine Science and Chemistry Professor David Hastings speaking to reporters, following the meeting with Governor Rick Scott. He's joined by University of Miami Professor of Atmospheric Sciences Ben Kirtman and FSU Professor Jeff Chanton.

“He did have questions during our presentation, but there was, in fact, no acknowledgement of the seriousness of the issue, nor was there any reflection of the position he’s going to take,” said Hastings.

Still, Hastings says he remains hopeful Scott will see the light.

“I’m inherently an optimist. I think it’s fantastic that he met with us. I think it’s fantastic that he had us come here and I’m also a realist. I look forward to hearing what he’s going to do, and I’m concerned he might not do anything. He has a real task in front of him to reduce carbon emissions by 38 percent or to develop a plan to reduce those carbon emissions. This is a very forward thinking on behalf of the EPA,” he added.

The scientists say Scott needs to develop a transparent process that will show how the state expects to meet what they call an “ambitious goal.” They add Florida can take the lead from other states that already have alternative energy and greenhouse gas initiatives. Under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Climate Action Plan, the comment period deadline to develop a plan to reduce carbon emissions is October 15th.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.