Back when dinosaurs ruled the earth and I was in high school, I was part of a singing group that traveled around to Panhandle churches and performed religious songs. No, really! I’m not making that up!
No one would have confused me with Andrae Crouch. You could accurately describe my singing style as “monotone baritone.” The director wisely gave me no solos.
Instead, I had a featured spot doing a spoken-word monologue as Judas Iscariot. I counted my 30 pieces of silver and slowly realized what a horrible betrayal I’d carried out. It was very dramatic. The audience usually looked relieved when it was over and the music started back up.
As a result, I have become something of a connoisseur of traitors, turncoats, and sellouts throughout history—Benedict Arnold, Vidkun Quisling, and Robert Hanssen, to name a few. Heck, I even read “The Sellout” by Paul Beatty.
So trust my expertise on this traitorous topic when I tell you that our own governor, Ron “Why Is Trump Beating Me Like I’m a Cheap Rug?” DeSantis just betrayed every Floridian.
He traveled to Texas last week to stand in front of a couple of noisy oil wells and a friendly crowd of oil field workers who were unlikely to boo him like the people in Jacksonville did recently. He was there to issue a clarion call for coping with climate change by … burning more fossil fuels.
No, I am not making that up either.
He actually acknowledged “the climate has clearly changed,” which may mark a first for a politician who’s always insisted he’s “not a global warming person.”
But then he said the way we should deal with it is by burning more of the stuff that’s been making our climate change so radically.
Specifically, he called for power plants to place a greater reliance on natural gas, which burns cleaner than coal or oil but is still a source of bad stuff for the atmosphere.
“It’s … the most practical way to reduce global emissions,” he shouted over the racket of extractive machinery.
Endorsing natural gas as your prescription for climate change is like announcing that instead of driving off a cliff at 90 mph, you’re in favor of driving off that same cliff, but at 60 mph. Same destination, but we don’t get there quiiiite as fast.
This is, of course, contrary to what the climate scientists say.
Natural gas is, at best, a stopgap measure as the world moves to cleaner fuels.
“Burning natural gas still does emit carbon dioxide,” said David Zierden, Florida’s state climatologist. “It’s not a permanent solution.”
But if you’ve watched DeSantis work, you know he pays little attention to what the people who know what they’re talking about might say.
It’s almost as if he believes he was chosen by God to buck the scientists. I keep waiting for him to tell the hurricane prediction folks that he knows more about where the next storm will make landfall than they do, because he’s done his own research.
Of course, by bucking the experts, he’s parroting exactly what the oil companies want him to say—instead of doing what’s best for Florida.
But Wait, There’s More!
Maybe you’re thinking this was just a slip, like when another Florida-based presidential candidate said this week that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was president during the Iraq War.
Maybe you think that what DeSantis meant was “use natural gas for now and then move to renewable energy sources like solar and wind.”
I wish that were the case. Unfortunately, as they say in the infomercials: “But wait, there’s MORE!”
As the Houston Chronicle reported, he promised that if he’s elected president, he would replace the words “climate change” in federal policy documents with the words “energy dominance.”
(Presumably he’d replace the verbs, too. Otherwise, the documents will call for us to try to stop or slow down “energy dominance,” which I think is the opposite of what he’s going for.)
The New York Times reported that our allegedly well-educated chief executive also vowed to “remove subsidies for electric vehicles, take the U.S. out of global climate agreements—including the Paris accords—and cancel net-zero emission promises.”
DeSantis was quick to remind his pro-drilling audience of how he’d pushed through a Florida law that says local and state agencies aren’t allowed to invest in funds that avoid businesses that fuel climate change. (This in spite of the fact that responsible investing tends to bring higher financial returns over time.)
So it’s clear he was completely serious about calling for more fossil fuel consumption as a way to battle climate change, despite how silly that sounds. It’s like saying you’ll fight a flood by pouring more water on it.
His argument is as paradoxical as the military regulation in “Catch-22.” The rules said the only way a World War II airman could prove he was mentally unfit to fly more bombing missions was to continue flying bombing missions.
“That’s some catch, that Catch-22,” one disgruntled bombardier admitted.
We’re No. 1!
The lectern in front of DeSantis bore a sign that referred to his craziest promise of all: $2 gas by 2025.
“We know that Joe Biden has waged war on domestic energy production,” DeSantis yelled at the oilfield crew. “As president, I will restore America’s energy independence.”
He promised to cut the regulations that are supposed to constrain the oil companies from dangerous drilling practices. You know, the tougher rules that were passed after the BP oil spill smeared nasty globs of oil on the white sandy beaches of the Panhandle. The ones that a certain Palm Beach club owner rolled back when he occupied the Oval Office, and the current occupant recently reinstated.
Yep, DeSantis wants to let oil drilling be sloppy and dangerous again, like it was in 2010. He wants to return to the days when giant international corporations could get a federal permit to drill in the Gulf of Mexico despite submitting paperwork full of erroneous information as a result of playing cut-and-paste with their Alaska permits.
Why would he do such a thing? Because, he says, making it easier to get a permit to drill will immediately lower the price of a gallon of gas to just $2.
There are a couple of problems with DeSantis’ two-buck plan which render it worth less than 2 cents.
One is that the main reason our gas prices are so high right now is because the Russians and Saudis cut the supply, not because of overly strict federal regulations.
The other is that the oil companies WANT the prices high. They’ve been posting record profits. They could charge less if they wanted to, but they don’t.
Remember how Trump rolled back those safety regulations while he was president? The day he left office (unwillingly, of course), the average cost of a gallon of gas was $2.93. That’s nearly a dollar more than DeSantis claims he could achieve using the exact same tactic.
The Chronicle reporter who covered DeSantis’ Texas appearance said in an interview that DeSantis was … oh, let’s be kind and say “misinformed” … about the state of the American oil industry. He depicted it in dire straits when its straits are anything but.
“The number of rigs that are active right now in Texas is almost double what it was when Joe Biden came into office,” Jeremy Wallace, formerly of the Tampa Bay Times, explained to the Texas Standard. “And the number of jobs and the wages for oil workers in Texas are both up, according to the Texas Oil and Gas Association.”
In fact, the top crude oil producer in the world is us—by which I mean, the United States. We hit the top spot in 2018 and haven’t fallen from it yet. That’s a string of successes not even Taylor Swift can match. If we wanted to run around the United Nations building in New York chanting “We’re No. 1!” we totally could.
Sounds like we’ve already hit that “energy dominance” goal that DeSantis was promising to achieve in 2025, doesn’t it?
But DeSantis ignores all these facts to push a phony narrative that the poor, beleaguered oil and gas industry is in trouble from Big Bad Biden. That’s why we need hundreds of new wells to pump out a lot more petroleum to “help” us with our carbon emissions.
It’s almost as if he wants to force the climate to change even faster: “C’mon, you darn climate! Crank up the temperature! We can take it! We’re just that tough! We drink sweat like it’s a fine French wine!”
Except, of course, we don’t.
Soaking in Irony
This is why I say DeSantis has betrayed his native state: Florida has been leading the nation in suffering the immediate effects of our alteration of the climate. We need real relief, not this phony baloney that DeSantis has been peddling.
Instead of talking only to oil industry executives and Fox News hosts, he should be talking with scientists like Wanless and Zierden. Then he’d know the sad and scary truth.
How hot was it? “This year, July was our hottest month ever,” Zierden told me. “The previous record was in June 1998 when we had all those wildfires. Then August came along and crushed the July record.”
The heat’s been hardest on people who work outside—farmworkers, commercial fisherfolk, construction workers, roofers, those kids at Chick-Fil-A who take your order. And it’s been tough on all the poor people who can’t afford air conditioning. I’m assuming DeSantis merely cranked the mansion thermostat down a couple of notches.
But the bad news is where a lot of that heat wound up.
“Ninety percent of the heat is transferred to the oceans, which is what’s causing sea level rise,” Wanless told me, pointing out that heat makes water expand. Within the next two decades, “it’s going to be pretty dramatic. Miami’s already had a foot of sea level rise.”
Our peninsula is so flat that these rising seas lead to greater storm surge and sunny-day flooding. Meanwhile, the hot oceans are fueling more intense hurricanes even as they’re cooking our coral reefs.
Warmer air holds more moisture, leading to “rain-bombs” that inundate cities. Those stinky toxic algae blooms we’ve seen are stoked by warmer temperatures. And mosquito-borne diseases spread by the hordes of skeeters born in all the standing water are becoming more widespread.
In Florida, irony is always around us like the humidity. It’s like you’re soaking in it. Here’s an irony about DeSantis’ promise to lower gas prices: One reason the prices are so high right now is the extreme heat.
“Extreme temperatures along the Gulf Coast have kept refineries from operating at full capacity,” a spokesman for the American Automobile Association told WTVT-TV last month.
“Refineries already generate incredible heat while operating,” the station’s report explained. “When outside temperatures exceed 100 degrees, that can cause breakdowns and equipment failures.”
Wow, if only we had a chief executive who cared about Florida more than he cared about racking up an unlikely victory in the Iowa caucuses. Maybe then we’d see some progress toward weaning our state off these atmosphere-damaging fossil fuels.
At one point, in the late 2000s, we did have a governor like that. Charlie Crist, a Republican at the time, signed executive orders requiring more energy-efficient building codes and setting a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2025.
He even persuaded the Legislature to pass a law setting up a cap-and-trade system to limit emissions from power companies and other polluters. It also created a marketplace through which they could buy or trade credits to go over the limit.
Then, in 2011, Rick “I Wear My Navy Hat to Remind You How I Sunk This State” Scott took office as governor. He junked all those far-sighted climate initiatives.
Scott made it clear he didn’t want to hear the words “climate change,” much less do anything about it. For 12 years, we’ve been stuck in this same mode, even as the feds and other states try to fix the problem.
And now all our inaction has caught up to us.
Look, let’s be real for a second here. Right now, DeSantis has as much chance of being elected our next president as I do of winning the next season of “The Voice.”
He’s spent the past five years sucking up to the donors who could finance his dreams of winning reelection and then the White House. That’s what he was really doing when he went to Texas. He was meeting with the money men who could hand over a few dollars to keep his presidential campaign chugging along a little while longer.
As a result, he’s spent all this time repeatedly parroting exactly what the fossil fuel industry wants to hear.
Maybe those pro-drilling talking points have been drilled into him so much that it’s become something he repeats even when he’s alone. Maybe he mutters about fossil fuels like Nick Nolte at the end of “The Prince of Tides” murmuring “Lowenstein, Lowenstein … .”
But in a few months, when he finally pulls the plug on his presidential campaign, he’ll have to return to our hot, sweaty, mosquito-infested state full of flooded streets and toxic algae blooms. He’ll have to face up to his betrayal of the people who looked to him for leadership.
I hope he realizes then that those 30 pieces of silver he collected in Texas for his campaign were far too cheap a price for his integrity.
The Phoenix is a nonprofit news site that’s free of advertising and free to readers. We cover state government and politics with a staff of five journalists located at the Florida Press Center in downtown Tallahassee.