Florida, a state known for criminal wedgies, rampaging herpes monkeys and oranges, now has an unfortunate new distinction: the first state in the nation to punish someone for talking about climate change.
According to the Guardian, Barton Bibler, a land management plan coordinator at the State Lands section of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, was ordered to take a leave of absence and submit to a mental health examination after including the phrase "climate change" in official notes during a Florida Coastal Managers Forum teleconference on March 4.
For those uninitiated in Florida's sophisticated "hear no evil/see no evil" political framework, terms like "climate change" and "global warming" are unofficially forbidden, in much the same way wizards and witches fear the name of Lord Voldemort. After he dropped the bomb, the "conference call moderator appeared shocked," Bibler told Mic.
"I think it's ridiculous that there is a ban on speaking about climate change in the state of Florida," Bibler said. "I didn't know there was such a ban ... I sort of stumbled it."
The de facto ban came into force when the state's Republican governor, Rick Scott, took office in 2011. While the state officially denies its existence, the Florida Senate all but acknowledged it during a recent meeting of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development, with one committee member suggesting that efforts to deal with its effects be labeled "atmospheric re-employment," which "might be something the governor could get behind."
"It's particularly Kafkaesque," Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, told Mic. "What happened to Bart was one of the cruder examples we've seen." Ruch took up Bibler's case and filed an official complaint with the DEP Inspector General's office.
Ruch said he could not recall any similar instance of an employee being suspended merely for talking about an issue.
"I'm no scientist!" Scott, who proudly declares he's "not a scientist" whenever climate change comes up from somebody he can't punish, continues a long tradition of Republicans leaders casting doubt on global climate change — which is now accepted by just about every scientist in the world.
And while most elected Republicans aren't scientists either, they don't have a problem criticizing the work of actual ones.
"I am not convinced that the problem of global warming is what the scientists say it is," Arkansas Congressman Tim Griffin told local media. Alaska Republican Congressman Don Young declared to Alaska's KTVA-TV that climate change was the "biggest scam since Teapot Dome." In a debate with a democratic rival, California Republican Congressman Doug LaMalfa astutely observed that, "The climate of the globe has been fluctuating since God created it."
Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe, the chairman of the Senate Environmental Committee, arguably the party's most powerful voice on the subject, managed to completely disprove climate change with a snowball and a picture of an igloo that his daughter built — watch out, David Blaine!
All told, 56% of elected Republicans in Congress are on record as being climate skeptics, according to ThinkProgress.
Florida's head-in-sand approach to climate change is particularly striking given how much the state has to lose. As sea levels rise enormous swaths of the peninsula could become submerged. According to the Miami Herald, "Some 2.4 million people and 1.3 million homes, nearly half the risk nationwide, sit within four feet of the local high tide line." The state has already been battered by increasingly nasty hurricanes that have driven insurance up and created a pricy burden on state finances.
As per the state order, Bibler is planning to seek a psychiatric evaluation sometime next week. He's also looking for a lawyer.
"I am not looking for money," he said. "I'm looking to stop this ban. We need to be able to talk about climate change in Florida without fear."