Rick Scott Passes ‘Anti-Science’ Law In Florida

Two Sad Ironies In Florida Passing Its ‘Anti-Science’ Law

Forbes.com – It is officially called Florida House Bill 989, and it was signed into law by Florida Governor Rick Scott on June 26th, 2017 after passing both chambers of the house. According to the National Center for Science Education’s website:

With the law now in place, any county resident — not just any parent with a child in the country’s public schools, as was the case previously — can now file a complaint about instructional materials in the county’s public schools, and the school will now have to appoint a hearing officer to hear the complaint.

Does this mean that some “Joe or Jane” public can file a complaint if they think schools should be teaching that the Earth is flat and not an oblate spheroid? Many of the affidavits filed in support of the bill complained about evolution and climate change being taught. One even complained that they have seen global warming being taught as a reality. Hellooooo000, it is a reality. Numerous credible sources show that our climate system is warming, and even many conservatives are now acknowledging the threat. Sea level doesn’t care about “red” and “blue,” it just rises. This week one of the climate doubter’s signature arguments was dealt a blow. A new study by some of the pioneering satellite climate scientists found that their measurements of warming had been underestimated. What struck me about the Florida law is that there are two sad ironies with this so-called “Anti-Science” Law.

Florida is particularly vulnerable to climate change. This first irony has implications for life and property. This week arguably the most comprehensive study estimating economic damage from climate change was published in one of the world’s top peer-review journals, Science. The study examined economic damage as a function of crime, energy, storms, human mortality, and labor. A key finding is that there is an economic cost of about 1.2% of gross domestic product (GDP) for every 1°C  rise in temperature. They also found that Southern states in the United States are most vulnerable, particularly Florida. A map of the most economically-vulnerable counties can be found by clicking this link. My colleague Pam Knox also made me aware of more detailed maps showing each contributing factor (this link). I have worked as a scientist developing major satellite missions, but it does not take a rocket scientist to understand why Florida is so vulnerable. It is a peninsula state vulnerable to increasing sea level rise, saltwater intrusion in its drinking water supply, and hurricanes. Joe Romm recently wrote an excellent analysis of climate change being the nightmare scenario for Florida’s Coasts. Florida Congresswoman Schultz opined last month in the Miami Herald

Human activity is contributing to climate change. Its effects, expected to only worsen over time, are happening right now in South Florida. Hiding from that reality will not change it. And if the near-universal conclusions of climate scientists aren’t enough for him (referring to President Trump’s exit from the Paris climate agreement) perhaps he should consult with the property appraisers or insurance companies in South Florida who are already factoring sea level rise into their home value assessments…..Ask any of my constituents about an experience they’ve recently had with flooding, and you’ll likely get a lengthy story. Listen to enough stories about South Florida’s ever-increasing king tides, and you’ll hear about fish swimming in the streets.

Florida has been a leader in science. The other irony comes from reflecting on some of the greatest science and technology achievements in history. NASA is a national treasure, and I was privileged to work at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center for twelve years as a scientist working on Earth science related missions. As I left NASA to join the faculty at the University of Georgia, people were stunned that I was leaving NASA. It is that awesome. One of the interesting things as I reflect on from my NASA days is that people would always ask me if I worked at Kennedy Space Center. My answer was always no. NASA has several different space centers around the United States, and they all have different specialities. As I reflect on this new Florida law, it is almost a slap in the face to a state that so many associate with scientific greatness and the space program. It is also now hosts several private enterprises like Space X, which are pushing the boundaries of science and technology. These companies will need a scientifically literate workforce not students spewing fringe theories. This Florida law sends a dangerous message about sound science and would make me nervous if I was a parent sending a child into this type of situation.

Such a law opens up so many “cans of worms” that another commentary could be written on that topic. We are currently in a time period where opinions and beliefs mean more than facts. If you stand on the top of your roof, do no get too close to the edge because there is still gravity whether you believe so or not. As I write this, CBS News is reporting that the current White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) is unstaffed and there is currently no person appointed as White House Science Advisor. There is still no NASA Administrator appointed either. We have officials at the Department of Energy that dispute published science that people from both sides of the aisle acknowledge. We have an EPA Administrator calling for silly “red and blue” team climate reviews when science journals, conferences, the National Academies, and others already provide sound mechanisms for independent review.

Pay attention to what is going on with science education and policy at the local, regional, and national levels because our kids and their future depend on our diligence now.

And perhaps the ultimate irony as someone suggested in a tweet, it adds more layers of process and government intervention…..

A cyclist and vehicles negotiate heavily flooded streets as rain falls, Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014, in Miami Beach, Fla.
A cyclist and vehicles negotiate heavily flooded streets as rain falls, Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014, in Miami Beach, Fla.

Dr. Marshall Shepherd, Dir., Atmospheric Sciences Program/GA Athletic Assoc. Distinguished Professor (Univ of Georgia), Host, Weather Channel’s Sunday Talk Show, Weather (Wx) Geeks, 2013 AMS President

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