Open Letter to Rick Scott: Florida employee ‘punished for using phrase climate change’

Dear Governor Scott,
I would like to get some clarification on your unofficial policy regarding using the words “climate change” and “global warming” As a Floridian and an ex-English major, I am understandably concerned that your policy lacks the specificity required in order for it to be actionable. I am sure you will want to address these oversights as soon as possible.

For example, you do not mention context. According to the dictionary, the word “climate” may be used to describe either prevailing weather conditions or trends in “some aspect of public life.” Therefore, are state employees prohibited from stating, “The political climate change in Florida now favors tall, bald governors, whereas previously, governors with hair were preferred”? You also may be surprised to learn that many writers use “climate” to refer to emotional states. A highly literate and depressed state worker, may for example, complain that when you come into the office the climate in the office changes from friendly and innovative to stultifying and oppressive much like a hot, summer day in Florida. That’s called a simile, a very useful literary device for conveying mental pictures to a reader. In this case, almost everyone who has experienced August in Florida immediately gets a sense of what it feels like when you enter a room. Because August in Florida is hot. Very hot. Really, really freakin’ hot.

Now speaking of “hot,” I have to tell you, that you’ve left a huge loophole in your policy as I understand you have also forbidden the term “global warming.” You have not banned synonyms that I am aware of, so therefore a state employee could easily say “planetary heating” instead of “global warming” and now you have a problem on your hands. Nor have you addressed all the possible permutations of “global warming.” For example, does your prohibition extend to “The globe is warming” and “The climate is changing”? How about past tense? Say you have two state employees gathered around the coffee pot discussing what killed off the dinosaurs. One might say, “I read that scientists believe that the dinosaurs were killed off by large, roving herds of rabid chipmunks.” The other person may say, “No. I believe it is more nuanced than that. You see the climate changed which allowed for the rise of the Mammoth Chipmunk which exclusively ate nuts and dinosaur flesh.” Would this discussion violate the prohibition on the use of the term “climate change”? You leave this open to interpretation which is never wise, particularly from a law suit perspective.

And let us not forget our diverse population in Florida. Stunningly, you do not even cover whether or not the prohibited phrases are permitted so long as they are spoken in, say, Spanish or Yiddish or Vietnamese or Hungarian or Latin. Certainly the ACLU would have a field day with such discrimination. Personally I am quite surprised by your lack of cultural sensitivity in this area. Should you inadvertently hire a former Catholic priest who is environmentally conscious, he may run amok through the entire office shouting, “Global warming” and “Climate change” in Latin, and you would be none the wiser.

Nor do you address mocking. Should an employee who actually agrees with you state, “Global warming is sheer drivel” would that person be dismissed or not? This is a huge problem for those employees who are seeking to curry favor with your office by mindlessly agreeing with everything you say. You know the type. I am sure you are veritably surrounded by them. By banning these phrases at a global level, you deprive the upwardly mobile brown-noser from doing what he does best. If he cannot mock those things that you also mock, you are creating quite an impediment to his career growth and development. This may be his only marketable skill. His career hangs in the balance. No quality brown-noser will want to work for someone who prohibits mocking, but there you have it. Another huge gray area that may come around to haunt you if you do not promptly address it.

Finally you must be aware that by prohibiting the phrases “global warming” and “climate change” you actually had to utter these phrases yourself. Unfortunately this puts you in the awkward position of violating your own rules and you will have to call for your immediate resignation. Yes, I know this may look rather odd on television. People who talk to themselves in public are often suspected of schizophrenia and given large doses of Haldol on a locked ward. This is a situation I am sure you would wish to avoid. Unfortunately, I do not see an easy way out of that one for you, governor. Good luck with that. On the bright side, I did read that you ordered a mental health evaluation for the last person who used those phrases. Perhaps you could take advantage of this provision?
Carol Schiffler


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