President Obama used the backdrop of the Florida Everglades this Earth Day to highlight the dangers posed by a changing climate. He also took a swipe at Florida’s Republican governor, who’s been accused of discouraging state workers from discussing global warming.
“Climate change can no longer be denied,” Obama said. “It can’t be edited out. It can’t be omitted from the conversation. And action can no longer be delayed.”
Earlier this year, the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting quoted former state workers who said they’d been instructed not to use the term “climate change.” Florida Gov. Rick Scott denied issuing any such edict. But he’s also ducked questions about whether he believes that a rise in heat-trapping carbon pollution is contributing to a climb in global temperatures.
Obama insists that’s indisputable. And he pointed to changes already taking place in the Everglades as a result of rising sea levels and salt-water intrusion.
“Part of the reason we’re here is because climate change is threatening this treasure and the communities that depend on it, which includes almost all of south Florida,” Obama said. “If we don’t act, there may not be an Everglades as we know it.”
Obama noted that last year was the planet’s warmest on record, and 14 of the 15 hottest years have taken place since the turn of the century. “This is not a problem for another generation,” Obama said. “It has serious implications for the way we live right now.”
The president is pushing to rein in carbon pollution, in part by regulating power plants. Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell is actively battling that effort and encouraging Republican governors to do the same. McConnell’s home state of Kentucky is a leading coal producer.
The White House says Obama chose to make his argument in Florida partly because the state has a history of bipartisan support for environmental protection. It’s also home to two likely Republican contenders in the 2016 presidential race — Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio.
Obama is effectively challenging GOP candidates to take a stand on climate — an issue where Republicans are far less likely to favor government action than Democrats or independents, according to Pew.
In a statement issued ahead of the president’s visit, Gov. Scott said he remains “focused on real solutions when it comes to protecting our environment.”
Officials in the Scott administration insist there’s no prohibition on state workers discussing global warming.
“If the Scott administration is now joining the rest of us in confirming the impacts of climate change,” said White House spokesman Eric Schultz, “we welcome that change of position on the governor’s part.”