Peter Dykstra: What will it take on climate change?

As the Florida Panhandle begins to recover from Hurricane Michael, the state's attention will turn to a big Senate race next month. Hurricane Michael may cast the deciding vote.


Term-limited Republican Gov. Rick Scott hopes to unseat veteran Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, and if he does, Democrats can kiss their hopes to take over the Senate goodbye.

Scott just completed a tour de force as the in-charge governor leading the emergency response to Michael. Like him or not, he's good at this. By contrast, Nelson is stiff and uneasy on TV. Fair or not, elections are decided by such things.

Scott is also a first-rate climate denier. In 2015, whistleblowers and former staffers for the state environment agency accused Scott of banning discussion of climate change in any state meetings or documents. Scott denied the charges.

For the past eight years, Scott has run a state experiencing rising seas, intense storms, and unprecedented algae blooms offshore. And this climate denier's political star may be rising. Go figure.

If he wins a Senate seat, Gov. Rick Scott will become the latest example of how climate denial is not a political liability.

Climate change is rarely mentioned as a factor in news coverage of extreme weather or wildfires. It was rarely mentioned in coverage of Hurricanes Florence and Michael. And it will be up to the somnolent Senator Nelson to make it an issue as he fights for his political life over the next four weeks. In the immediate wake of Hurricane Michael, he appears to be reticent to do so, for fear that he'd appear to be politicizing a tragedy.

Denial: Not a political liability

If he wins a Senate seat, Scott will become the latest example of how climate denial is not a political liability. The same can be said for Republican Sen. Ted Cruz in Texas.

How did Republicans get to be the way they are today? It wasn't always this way. From about 2008 to 2010, some of the biggest names in the party backed away from previous statements and actions acknowledging the threat of climate change. Newt Gingrich disowned a famous climate commercial he did with Nancy Pelosi. Mitt Romney became a doubter after creating a forward-thinking climate action plan while Massachusetts governor. The late John McCain backed off after co-sponsoring climate legislation. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah PalinSarah Palin!! – created a "climate sub-cabinet" before departing for national aspirations and reality TV.

As denial slowly fades among the general public, it's more firmly entrenched than ever in Washington, D.C.

By 2014, it was simply out of the question for a Republican who wanted to seek or keep an elective office to stump for climate action. "I am not a scientist" became a nonsensical disclaimer, as if lack of a Ph.D. robbed one of the moral authority to listen to real scientists and form an opinion. Scott was one of many who went there, as did Florida's other senator, Republican Marco Rubio.

Fertile turf

With the 2016 elections, President Trump's cabinet became fertile turf for climate deniers. As denial slowly fades among the general public, it's more firmly entrenched than ever in Washington, D.C.

Florida just got walloped by the most intense hurricane ever to landfall on its Gulf Coast. The summer saw algae blooms on both its coasts that surpassed any previous outbreaks. Miami Beach is actively preparing to elevate its streets to adapt to flooding that's already underway.

All of which returns us to the central question: Just what will it take to get climate deniers like Scott to admit that there might be a little problem here? If he's rewarded with a six-year term in the Senate, the solution may be more difficult than ever.

Hurricanes, algae blooms, rising seas and melting ice. How much more before climate denial fades away?

Poll: 75% of Pennsylvanians accept evidence of climate change

A new statewide poll shows three quarters of Pennsylvanians accept that global warming is happening. It’s the highest level of acceptance since Muhlenberg College pollsters started asking the question 15 years ago.

Sunrise in the woods

Get our Good News newsletter

Get the best positive, solutions-oriented stories we've seen on the intersection of our health and environment, FREE every Tuesday in your inbox. Subscribe here today. Keep the change tomorrow.

This Metro Vancouver business is diverting 70,000 kg of food from the trash. Here's how

A couple of enterprising young business students in Metro Vancouver are reducing carbon emissions by saving ugly or surplus produce from being tossed away.

Exxon Mobil CEO Darren Woods on energy transition, gas prices

Exxon Mobil CEO Darren Woods warns that an abrupt transition to renewable energy will cause society to “pay a high price.”

Climate change is altering the chemistry of wine

Warming, wildfires and unpredictable weather threaten to disrupt the delicate processes that underlie treasured wines. Researchers and producers are innovating to keep ahead.

President Joe Biden says the United States, other Group of Seven leading economies will ban imports of gold from Russia

President Joe Biden said Sunday that the United States and other Group of Seven leading economies will ban imports of gold from Russia, the latest in a series of sanctions that the club of democracies hopes will further isolate Russia economically over its invasion of Ukraine.

Biden teams with East Coast governors to boost offshore wind

The White House has launched a formal partnership with 11 East Coast governors to boost the growing offshore wind industry , a key element of President Joe Biden's plan for climate change .

From our Newsroom
Global Warming: Why the problem is worse – and solutions simpler – than you thought

Global Warming: Why the problem is worse – and solutions simpler – than you thought

Noted ecologist John Harte offers a fresh take on the dire topic of climate change.

Colorado fracking

Colorado is the first state to ban PFAS in oil and gas extraction

The toxic “forever chemicals” are used in fracking wells across the country.

gun control

Peter Dykstra: Gun and climate change delusions

Millions here suffer from twin hallucinations: Guns don’t cause our mass shootings, and the climate isn’t changing.

Op-ed: An engine for social justice leads the way to change

Engine for social justice leads to change

Virginia Organizing's 27-year history as a role model for The Daily Climate

Using comedy to combat climate change

Using comedy to combat climate change

The Climate Comedy Cohort aims to help comedians infuse climate activism into their creative work.

roe v. wade

Derrick Z. Jackson: Roe v. Wade draft bodes ill for air, wetlands and the EPA

Justice Alito’s longstanding consistency in wanting to restrict EPA authority makes it transparent where he wants the court to go.

Stay informed: sign up for The Daily Climate newsletter
Top news on climate impacts, solutions, politics, drivers. Delivered to your inbox week days.