Of the eight Republicans who stood on the stage at Milwaukee’s FiServ Forum during last week's primary debate, three were past or current governors of states that have been hit by devastating hurricanes. No hurricane made landfall in South Carolina during then-Gov. Nikki Haley’s six years as governor, but Hurricane Sandy devastated parts of New Jersey in 2012, when Chris Christie led the Garden State, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was in charge last year when Hurricane Ian landed as the fifth-strongest storm to hit the continental U.S. and the deadliest storm to hit Florida since 1935.
As Florida’s governor, protecting Floridians should indeed be DeSantis’ concern. But climate denialism does not protect them.
Now, exactly a week after DeSantis took the lead in pushing back against a young Republican’s question related to the causes of climate change, the governor is dealing with the effects of Hurricane Idalia, which exploded in strength to a Category 4 storm before making landfall around 8 a.m. ET as a dangerous Category 3 storm. By midday, at least two fatalities had been linked to the storm.
At an early morning news conference before the storm's landfall, DeSantis told a reporter that fellow Florida resident Donald Trump’s silence on Idalia was “not my concern.” “My concern,” DeSantis continued, “is protecting the people of Florida.”
As Florida’s governor, protecting Floridians should indeed be DeSantis’ concern. But climate denialism does not protect them. Climate denialism results in status quo policies that make people in hurricane territory even more vulnerable.
This summer of bonkers weather — wildfires in an uncommonly arid and even hotter than normal Louisiana, a tropical storm in commonly dry Southern California, tornadoes and floods in Cleveland and Detroit — also included a July report out of Florida that a buoy in Manatee Bay had recorded water temperatures of 101.1 Fahrenheit. Those are hot-tub temperatures. And as Idalia approached, there was an assessment from a Louisiana State University climate scientist that the Gulf of Mexico is “wildly hot.” In a recent MSNBC column, Kate Marvel quoted her colleague Katharine Hayhoe, who uses the phrase “global weirding” to describe what we’ve been seeing.
But a hurricane hitting Florida isn’t weird. Given its exposure to the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, it’s one of the most predictable U.S. weather events there is. What’s weird are temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico that are, according to Ben Schott, director of the National Weather Service office in New Orleans, “way above normal than where they usually would have been 10, 20 or 30 years ago.” Also weird? Politicians in hurricane zones acting as if humans haven’t helped bring about such changes.
To be clear, Republican politicians who deny either the existence of climate change or the fact that humans are causing it aren’t to blame for costlier, deadlier or more rapidly intensifying storms. Though he’s been disastrous in plenty other ways, nothing DeSantis has said or done as governor can be linked to the existence or the strength of Idalia. An acknowledgment from DeSantis that climate change is real and caused by humans wouldn’t have prevented or weakened the storm, either.
And yet, even with all those caveats, it matters a great deal that leaders who’ve had a front-row seat to climate change choose to ignore what they’re seeing. By refusing to admit that solutions exist, by dismissing climate change as a hoax, as Vivek Ramaswamy did in Milwaukee, or by characterizing it as something that’s only a liberal concern, such leaders help persuade parts of the public to see an acute global issue as an irrelevant partisan one.
Even with all those caveats, it matters a great deal that leaders who’ve had a front-row seat to climate change choose to ignore what they’re seeing.
There’s no mystery why most Republicans won’t admit human actions have caused the climate to change. To do so would mean welcoming big government, specifically welcoming stricter regulations, and such concessions are verboten in the Republican Party.
As Hurricane Idalia continues to batter parts of the United States, here’s hoping state leaders like DeSantis are as responsive as their constituents desperately need them to be. But, as contrary to Republican orthodoxy as it is, let’s also hope that someday soon DeSantis realizes one of the things Floridians need is a leader who’ll be honest about why Florida remains in such hot water.