Florida Case Study Illustrates How to Not Communicate about Climate Change

In this Path to Positive blog, we like to highlight best practices, tips, and success stories about how to most effectively communicate about climate change, often referring to ecoAmerica’s go-to guide, “Connecting on Climate”. The guide shares advice for communicators, for example, about putting people first, bringing climate impacts close to home, and making climate science meaningful while acknowledging skepticism and uncertainty. The intent is help civic and community leaders to facilitate conversation with Americans who are increasingly seeking to understand what climate change is, what it means for their loved ones, and what they can do about it. The key here, the ultimate goal, is to motivate people to personally engage in taking action on climate solutions – to protect ourselves, our children, the planet, and future generations.

Specifically, case studies help us share and learn from others about what works best and what doesn’t work so well. As you will learn from Tristam Korten’s investigative report about Florida’s censorship of conversation about climate change, this is a case of what doesn’t work so well. As the Miami Herald’s Fred Grimm points out, “None of this climate change stuff. Just happy talk” is a good example of what not to do. Not only is this censorship a breach of the basic right to freedom of speech for all Americans, it is also dangerous and dishonest to actively withhold information that is critical to the choices and policies which affect the safety and well-being of the American people. Please take the time to read this article as a case study about what not to do if you care about engaging your communities in open and honest dialogue about climate solutions.

In Florida, officials ban term ‘climate change’

BY Tristram Korten | Contributor to Miami Herald | March 10, 2015

The state of Florida is the region most susceptible to the effects of global warming in this country, according to scientists. Sea-level rise alone threatens 30 percent of the state’s beaches over the next 85 years.

But you would not know that by talking to officials at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the state agency on the front lines of studying and planning for these changes.

DEP officials have been ordered not to use the term “climate change” or “global warming” in any official communications, emails, or reports, according to former DEP employees, consultants, volunteers and records obtained by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting.

The policy goes beyond semantics and has affected reports, educational efforts and public policy in a department with about 3,200 employees and $1.4 billion budget.

“We were told not to use the terms ‘climate change,’ ‘global warming’ or ‘sustainability,’” said Christopher Byrd, an attorney with the DEP’s Office of General Counsel in Tallahassee from 2008 to 2013. “That message was communicated to me and my colleagues by our superiors in the Office of General Counsel.”

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