Governor DeSantis’s “Don’t Say Climate Change” Law Won’t Fly With Voters

Politicians may try to delete climate change from the books, but science doesn’t work that way

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Every Monday, in Climate on the Ballot, we pass along a topic to help you integrate climate into your newsroom’s campaign reporting. Consider sharing this newsletter with your colleagues on the politics beat. Vea la versión en español de “El clima en la boleta.”

This Week: Erasing Climate Change

Florida governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill earlier this month deleting the words “climate change” from state statutes and deprioritizing climate solutions in policy decision making. It could be a tough sell to Florida voters, who are on the frontlines of the crisis. The latest Florida Climate Resilience Survey released May 14 found that the percentage of Floridians who believe climate change is happening (90%) is much higher than the national average (72%), and 68% want their government to do more to address climate change. The move also came amid a scorching heat wave in South Florida, which climate change is helping to intensify. In this environment, head-in-sand climate denial wouldn’t seem to be a winning strategy.

This certainly isn’t the first time politicians have tried to suppress inconvenient truths. In its first year in office, in 2017, the Trump administration removed pages containing scientific information and research about climate change from the Environmental Protection Agency website. (The Biden administration reinstated the pages in March 2021.) Last year, Montana governor Greg Gianforte signed into law a bill prohibiting state agencies from considering greenhouse gas emissions and climate impacts for energy and mining projects.

“State government leaders have long suppressed politically inconvenient data and research related to climate science,” reported the Brennan Center for Justice and the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Reporting Ideas

  • Make the local climate connection clear. In Florida, one of the top issues on voters’ minds is the precipitous rise in home insurance rates, which have risen 125% over the past five years ending in 2023 and are the highest in the nation. But rising rates due to climate risks is a nationwide problem. What’s happening in your city or state? What solutions are government officials putting forward?
  • Dig into Project 2025’s energy policy. Project 2025 is a roadmap for a second possible Trump term drafted by The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that has been influencing Republican presidents’ policies for more than four decades. Politico’s “deep dive into energy plans for Trump 2.0” is a great place for journalists to gain understanding of how the Trump administration might go about rolling back climate progress, including the suppression of  scientific data and government research about climate change.
  • Investigate book bans. State legislatures and school boards in some states, including Ohio, Utah, and Texas, have considered limiting or removing the study of climate change from school curricula. What’s being taught (or not) in your state’s schools and universities about climate change?
  • Interview local climate scientists. Nearly every state has a state climatologist. What do they think about their state’s policies on climate change? And about our climate prospects depending on the outcome of the November elections?

Take Inspiration

  • Miami meteorologist Steve MacLaughlin delivered an on-air report excoriating the new law and encouraging Floridians to do their research on climate change and solutions when they vote, “earning praise from peers and perhaps paving the way for more meteorologists to speak out about the urgency of climate change action,” reported The Washington Post.
  • Capital & Main’s The Heat 2024 newsletter highlights the “Trump Paradox.” Voters say they believe in climate change and the need for solutions, but they also want Trump.
  • A group of New Hampshire students wanted to learn more about climate change and solutions in their classrooms. So they wrote a resolution for the state legislature. The measure didn’t pass. In Illinois, students succeeded in getting their school board to make Evanston Township High School the third in the country to adopt a Green New Deal for Schools plan that includes sustainability goals and lessons.

Spotlight Piece

In Vermont, the Climate Superfund Act, a bill modeled on the federal superfund program that requires companies to clean up toxic waste, landed on Governor Phil Scott’s desk this month. Though Scott has threatened to veto it, Grist reports, overwhelming bipartisan support for the legislation would likely override it. The law would require fossil fuel companies to pay some of the costs of extreme weather damage in the state.