A couple of years ago, Sen. Marco Rubio, an unapologetic climate denier, was asked how old he thinks the planet is. The Florida Republican replied, “I’m not a scientist, man.”
Today, another far-right GOP policymaker from the Sunshine State used eerily similar rhetoric. The Miami Herald’s Marc Caputo reported:
Florida Gov. Rick Scott won’t say whether he thinks man-made climate change is real and significant.“I’m not a scientist,” Scott said when asked about anthropogenic global warming during a Tuesday stop in Miami.
This is arguably evidence of mild progress – in 2011, the Republican governor said he hasn’t seen evidence that climate change is real. In 2014, apparently, Scott’s slightly more agnostic on the subject.
That said, asked if his position has evolved at all, the Floridian again told reporters, “I’m not a scientist.”
It’s important to understand why Scott’s position, like Rubio’s, is wholly inadequate.
The point isn’t that the public has a reasonable expectation that elected officials will be proficient in complex areas such as climate science. Scientific professionals occasionally seek elected office – take a bow, Rush Holt – but as a rule, very few policymakers are actually scientists.
The response, however, is a rather pathetic dodge. The question isn’t whether Rick Scott is a scientist; the question is whether Rick Scott believes scientists.
The governor’s response is arguably the ultimate cop out, to be used in response to any inconvenient question. Do you believe the United States should launch another war in the Middle East? “I’m not a general.” Do you believe the deficit will go down if we cut taxes again for the wealthy? “I’m not a mathematician.” Do you believe veterans are receiving quality care through VA facilities? “I’m not a veteran.” Did you support the congressional agriculture bill? “I’m not a farmer.” How about net neutrality? “I’m not a computer scientist.” How will the Supreme Court rule on contraception? “I’m not a lawyer.”
Look, policymakers aren’t going to be experts in every possible field; that’s just not a realistic expectation. But therein lies the rub: voters don’t expect our elected leaders to be specialists in every possible academic discipline; we expect them to have good judgment and act responsibly in the face of credible evidence.
And when it comes to climate science, the overwhelming evidence is that global warming is real and the threat has reached crisis levels. This will affect people everywhere, but it’s going to be **especially significant in a place like Florida.
For public officials committed to the Sunshine State’s well being, “I’m not a scientist” isn’t going to cut it. Either policymakers take evidence, reason, facts, and science seriously or they don’t.