As Hurricane Irma bore down on Florida, EPA Chief Scott Pruitt told CNN in a phone interview that “now is not the time to talk about climate change.”
He then added, “To have any kind of focus on the cause and effect of the storm; versus helping people or actually facing the effect of the storm, is misplaced. To use time and effort to address it at this point is very, very insensitive to the people in Florida.” Only in America is the thought of addressing climate change as a second major storm hits the south within weeks a partisan issue.
But in Irma’s aftermath, MSNBC’s Chris Hayes managed to find that rare and elusive creature: A Republican who not only believes climate change is a problem but who actually wants to address it: Penny Taylor, the GOP Chair of the Collier County Commission.
Collier County lies on the Gulf Coast, which got hit hard and includes the city of Naples. As they strolled along a windswept stretch of beach, Chris Hayes mentioned the County had decided to perform a study on how the county would be affected by sea level rise and asked if it had made local residents more open to the issue. “As horrible as this event has been,” Penny Taylor answered that she sees this as “an extraordinary opportunity to gain data. In fact, today we’re flying over the county to map where the flooding is.”
As the video footage below shows, Hurricane Irma did a lot of damage in Collier County.
— Kal Ⓜ️ (@RightWingLawMan) September 10, 2017
Chris Hayes then asked how Penny Taylor talks with her fellow Republicans about the need to address climate change. “The president of the United States dismisses it,” he mentions, “Scott Pruitt said now is not the time to talk about this…”
Penny Taylor then interrupted him as she burst into gales of laughter while surveying the wreckage beyond the video camera’s view. “Where is this man?” She joked. “Get him here!” But then the Collier County Commission chair grew serious again.
“We’ve never had such a strong storm acting like Irma,” she declared. “The scientists say storms are going to get stronger, come at us with more frequency, there’s more water pushed in, the water’s going to come up.” Penny Taylor adds, “There will always be the doubters, but I think rational people in quieter moments will understand. This isn’t the end of the world, but my gosh, we have to prepare. There has to be an adaptation technologically to accept the fact that the sea level is going to get higher.”
Even without hurricanes, this alarming new map of rising sea levels from NASA’s Earth Observatory shows the low-lying state of Florida is highly vulnerable. This projects a sea level rise of 16 feet. But even a rise of just a few feet could put the Everglades and much of the coasts underwater. In 2015 NASA warned sea levels had already risen three to nine inches in locations around the world since 1992, because the Greenland ice sheet is melting.
— Lauren Anderson (@leanders0123) September 10, 2017
Chris Hayes then bluntly asked, “Does it frustrate you that the leaders of this party are just whistling past the grave on this?” Penny Taylor bluntly answered, Yes, frankly. Yes. It’s nonsense.” She adds the tourist dynamics come into play because many say tourists will be afraid to come if they talk frankly about climate change and extreme weather events. Or they think or that this will take care of itself. But she explains this isn’t just about the next 20 years. “We’re looking for our children and our grandchildren to be able to live in a place that we love and cherish. And we want to work with the climate and … adapt to the change.”
As far as she’s concerned, Hurricane Irma “is a wakeup call for everyone here. And I think it’s a wakeup call for the state of Florida…And hopefully, we don’t have to have too many of these wakeup calls to make those adjustments.”
But when Chris Hayes mentioned how Gov. Rick Scott “literally told people not to use the words ‘climate change’ in the state’s planning apparatus,” Penny Taylor defended him.
“I don’t know why that was said, because he’s a highly intelligent man and what he’s done in mobilizing for this storm… I think it’s part of that mindset where … If you talk about climate change, it’s going to hurt our economy and people aren’t going to come.”
She then stated, “Nothing is further from the truth. I mean we’re here on the beach, it’s sunny, people love this weather, they can kind of put it out of their mind. They’re going to come. Right now, we have to build for them and we have to build for the future. It’s very, very difficult. But, it’s not impossible.”
Penny Taylor’s definitely right about this. Because if the Republicans running Florida don’t talk about or address climate change, it will still hurt the economy.
— Jeff Goodell (@jeffgoodell) August 24, 2017
Watch: Collier County’s GOP Chair Penny Taylor laughing at EPA chief Scott Pruitt’s climate change denial on MSNBC’s All In With Chris Hayes.
And here’s WOCHIT’s report on Scott Pruitt’s climate change denial as Hurricane Irma approached.
Featured image: Video screen grab via MSNBC (with photo of the EPA’s Scott Pruitt added).