The climate idiocy of Ron DeSantis
Florida's governor is spending $1 billion to shield his constituents from a crisis he's actively trying to make worse.
For more information on how to help Hurricane Ian victims, click here or here.
As governor of the most climate-vulnerable state in the U.S., Ron DeSantis has gone to great lengths to convince people that he is Not Like Other Republicans.
He created a chief resilience officer position for his administration to "prepare Florida for the … impacts of climate change.” He signed two bills to strengthen sea level rise protections across the state. Overall, DeSantis has committed a total investment of $1.2 billion in resilience projects to prepare Florida for climate impacts.
But as DeSantis invests all these taxpayer dollars protecting Floridians from climate change, he is also enacting anti-climate policies to ensure those investments will fail. It’s like spending a bunch of money to buy new tires, while also installing a bunch of spikes in your driveway. Stupid. Why would anyone do that?
I don’t know, but DeSantis is doing it. The only explanation I can think of is that he doesn’t think spikes cause holes in tires, or that fossil fuels cause climate change. That is evidenced not only by his rhetoric—he’s said he’s not ”concerned about what is the sole cause” of climate change—but by two major policies he has recently enacted to ensure fossil fuels keep burning as long as humanly possible.
These policies, if adopted on a national level, would all but doom Florida and other climate-vulnerable states. Considering DeSantis is widely considered a 2024 presidential contender, it’s worth taking a look at how truly dangerous and financially irresponsible they are—and how lots of other Republicans are adopting them, too.
Two recent policies to keep Florida underwater
The first policy enacted by DeSantis in Florida is what Food & Water Watch called “the most extreme energy preemption bills in the nation.” Signed last year, these bills ban Florida cities and towns from adopting 100 percent clean energy goals, reasoning that those goals “discriminate” against fossil fuels.
That means municipalities in the literal Sunshine State are being forced to keep using fossil fuels even if they don’t want to. It doesn’t matter if a climate change-fueled hurricane destroyed your town and now you want to be part of the solution. Sorry, honey. DeSantis said no.
The second policy came about a month ago, when DeSantis adopted measures to ban the state’s $186 billion pension fund from making investment decisions that consider climate change. DeSantis did this because he said such decisions constitute an “ideological agenda.”
The pension measure is particularly mind-boggling given the staggering economic damage of Hurricane Ian, which scientists have already confirmed was made worse by climate change. That excess rainfall contributed to massive economic damage, which could total between $100 billion and $120 billion, according to AccuWeather. Many Florida insurance companies will likely go bankrupt.
Climate change is also just generally very costly, both to Florida and the world. Locally, Florida homes have lost $2.4 billion to floods since 2005, and $2.86 trillion of insured state property is vulnerable to hurricanes. Globally, the insurance provider Swiss Re predicted climate change could reduce global GDP by 11 to 14 percent by 2050 compared with a world without climate change, amounting to a $23 trillion loss.
It is obviously not “ideological” to consider climate change in investment decisions. This is why BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, said it would make climate change central to its investment decisions in 2020.
But DeSantis is not trying to make financially prudent decisions. He’s trying to make politically prudent ones. After all, this is what all the other Republican governors are doing. And hopping on the oil train is known to have its perks.
Courting the oil industry for political gain
For DeSantis to make a successful 2024 run, he needs to have the oil industry on his side. To that end, there’s nothing better he can do than push their priorities—which just so happen to be the two policies described above.
“DeSantis is following political trends,” said Dan Cohn, an energy researcher for the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. “Republicans across the country are trying as hard as they can to move the funds they have control over to stand against the tide”—the tide being toward clean energy and a safe climate.
Indeed, Florida is just one of 17 Republican-led states that have proposed or adopted legislation limiting the ability of the state government to do business with entities that are moving away from fossil fuels. DeSantis is also part of a coalition of 19 Republican-led states that sent a strongly-worded letter to BlackRock CEO Larry Fink, threatening legal action against him for investing with a clean energy future in mind. 19 other Republican-led states have adopted laws that prohibit cities from banning natural gas and other fossil fuels.
If legislation like this were adopted nationally, effective action to slow climate change would be near-impossible. Both governments and financial institutions would be forced to fund fossil fuels, financial risks of climate change be damned.
“This is the Republican’s latest version of climate denial, where all of a sudden climate science is out the window,” said Jackie Fielder, co-director of the Stop the Money Pipeline coalition. “Ultimately, the people who will pay for it are the folks in Florida having to repair their homes, and so many other victims of climate change.”
So stupid that it probably won’t work — for now
Republicans like DeSantis are trying their best to prevent financial institutions from moving away from fossil fuels. But it turns out that, at least for now, their best is not very good.
DeSantis’s new policy to ban Florida’s pension fund from considering climate risk, for example, “doesn’t actually change much,” said Cohn. “He's making a big show of it, but Florida law already says that investments must be made for the sole, exclusive purpose of providing benefits to members and beneficiaries.” And if you want to get the best investment benefit, you actually have to consider climate change.
This is the problem with all these Republican states’ efforts to ban investments that move away from fossil fuels and toward clean energy: they’re not actually in the states’ best financial interest. “In order to believe [DeSantis is] right, you have to agree that climate risk is not an investment risk,” said Cohn. “But climate risk is an investment risk, and Florida just got bombarded again. They’re trying to make you forget that that’s a real thing.”
Because of this reality, the Republican states’ threats to sue financial firms like BlackRock for investing with climate change in mind are likely empty. Last month, Martin Lipton, the founding partner of one of of the world's most influential corporate law firms, agreed, accusing Republicans of spreading “misinformation” about environmental risks in order to “politicize” them.
Of course, this could all change if Republicans continue their coordinated drive to appoint judges that are against climate action. And if a Republican like DeSantis wins the presidency, there’s no telling how far these financially stupid actions could go.
For now, though, some climate advocates are just taking it as a sign that the tide is truly turning against fossil fuels.
“I view this as a sign that the divestment movement is winning, the fact that DeSantis and all these Republicans are suddenly engaged on this topic,” said David Arkush, the policy director of Public Citizen’s climate program. “Of course, I would like them to not do these things, not hurt their own citizens … But these are ultimately fossil fuel lobbying dollars that are behind this push. So if they’re pushing money here, it's because they feel themselves losing.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misspelled Dan Cohn’s last name.
-Florida’s Statewide Climate Change Response Ignores Cause. Tampa Bay Times, March 2022.
-The Deranged Demands of the “Anti-ESG” Movement. The New Republic, August 2022.
-Rightwing Lobby Group ALEC Driving Laws to Blacklist Companies That Boycott the Oil Industry. The Guardian, February 2022.
-How the Natural Gas Industry is Freezing Climate Action in its Tracks. Vox, September 2021.
A SPARE QUOTE FROM DAN COHN, ENERGY RESEARCHER AT IEEFA:
This is a great example of how Republicans are using anti-elite politics in this country and twisting it for the purposes of the fossil fuel elite. They're castigating BlackRock and other Wall Street companies as pushing this liberal agenda, which they're absolutely not. These banks and asset managers are really the biggest investors in fossil fuels in the world. But they’ve actually struck on a successful political strategy, which is to gin up populist anger at Wall Street and direct it towards right-wing goals.
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DeSantis is ignorant and wrong about a LOT of things!
Thank you for the in depth article on this evil man. A part of the reason why your journalism is so important, and party of why I appreciate it immensely, is the context you provide to why politicians like DeSantis do the things they do, and I don't understand why that is so rare in the more mainstream press.
I'm hesitant to criticize the press, because most journalists do awesome reporting and I'm ignorant of the realities of newsrooms or reporter's offices, but at the same time I absolutely hate how psychopathic, climate denying, bigoted, fascists like DeSantis are able to skate by as some opposing perspective to the Left in some grand debate by the press. To me, I just don't understand why the press is seemingly forced to operate that way, and can't just begin every article about someone like DeSantis accurately representing the threat he poses to LGBTQ+ people, climate and the environment, or basic democracy itself.
And I hate that that bleeds down into the reporting in the mainstream press, like how even esteemed outlets like the New York Times published despicable articles about some completely invented trans "debate", instead of just calling out the harm Republican politicians like DeSantis are doing to vulnerable trans people.
Which is exactly what the Republican politicians WANT them to do. They want there to be some invented "debate", and I don't understand why outlets like the even the fucking New York Times don't recognize they are a tool and weapon of fascists, instead of countering them. It makes me feel crazy, like how do they not see that? I'm an irrelevant nobody and they are the New York Times, and they don't see how they are being used by fascists to attack trans people?
And if the press is a reflection of society, it's almost like I have to pretend there is another side to the trans "debate" I have to respect, instead of having a press on my side just calling out Republican politicians for their harm.
Sorry for the rant Emily, I don't want to take away anything from this great article about DeSantis and his threat towards the climate with this comment, but I absolutely fucking hate this vile piece of shit for how he has made my trans friends feel, alongside all the other fascistic things he does and the threat to the climate he poses. And I just wish I had a press that I felt was on my side, like your journalism always does. Your journalism is one of the few things that make me feel like I'm not crazy, so again thank you.