While Hurricane Matthew intensified to a Category 4 "monster" on Thursday as it approached the southeast U.S. coast, Republican Governor of Florida Rick Scott made dramatic headlines as he urged residents to evacuate vulnerable areas in the low-lying state. "This storm will kill you," he declared.
But while crediting Scott for fulfilling his duty to manage what is certain to be a disastrous event when Matthew comes ashore, Greenpeace took the opportunity to call out a governor with a long record of denying the existence of human-caused climate change which scientists have repeatedly shown are making extreme weather events like Matthew more likely and more dangerous.
"Once the waters recede and the power comes back on, though, all of us will need to think carefully about whether climate deniers like Rick Scott—and Donald Trump—are really suitable candidates to take responsibility for our future." —John Hocevar, Greenpeace
"Gov. Scott has utterly failed the people of his state," said Greenpeace Senior Campaigner John Hocevar in a statement. "Instead of working to reduce carbon emissions, help homeowners and municipalities develop strategies to cope with climate impacts like sea level rise, erosion, flooding, salt water intrusion, insect-borne disease outbreaks and extreme heat, he has stuck his head in Florida's sand. Famously, Scott even banned state employees from using the phrase climate change. This would be irresponsible anywhere, but in a state like Florida, with so many people living by the coast, it borders on criminal negligence."
Hocevar cited the global scientific consensus that has long held that continued use of coal, natural gas and oil has been warming the planet and fueling larger, more powerful, and more devastating storms. In addition to the lessons that should have been learned by Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, he said, it "has also been clear for a long time that Florida, with its expansive coastline covered with high rise hotels and condominiums, often just a few feet above sea level, is among one of the most vulnerable places in the world."
And—with apologies to the right-wing Daily Caller—it's not "liberals" who are "blaming Hurricane Matthew on global warming." It's actual scientists and their research that saying keep that. Over and over and over again. And again. And again.
As Kerry Emanuel, a climate scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, explained to the Guardian's Oliver Milman on Wednesday: "We expect to see more high-intensity events, category 4 and 5 events, that are around 13% of total hurricanes but do a disproportionate amount of damage. The theory is robust and there are hints that we are already beginning to see it in nature."
And a significant factor, he added, is rising sea levels, especially when it comes to low-lying coastal regions which Florida epitomizes.
"If Hurricane Sandy occurred 100 years earlier it may not have flooded lower Manhattan because the sea was about 1ft lower in 1912," Emanuel said. "We expect another 3ft in sea level rise by the end of the century, so we should expect steadily increase damage. People moving to the coast really need to be aware of climate change."
Though acknowledging the governor's proper focus in the days ahead will be on managing the impacts of the coming storm, Hocevar said the Scott's inaction on global warming—and the climate denialism by the entire Republican Party establishment and their presidential nominee Donald Trump—should not go unmentioned.
The focus now, Hocevar said, "needs to be on providing access to food and shelter to the many people affected by the storm, the worst to hit Florida in almost a decade."
But, he added, "Once the waters recede and the power comes back on, though, all of us will need to think carefully about whether climate deniers like Rick Scott—and Donald Trump—are really suitable candidates to take responsibility for our future. For a growing number of people who have experienced the impacts of the politics of denial firsthand, the answer is clear."