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If Florida censors climate change talk, it's not alone

In addition to Florida's alleged unwritten gag rule for state environmental workers, North Carolina, Louisiana, and Tennessee have passed laws that restrict discussing climate science in certain contexts.

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    A limousine overturned by Hurricane Wilma sits on its roof in Pompano Beach, Florida in October 2005.
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Florida, one of the states most susceptible to the effects of climate change and sea-level rise, verbally banned state environmental officials from using the term "climate change," an investigation revealed. But the Sunshine State isn't the only U.S. state that has attempted to "outlaw" climate science.

North Carolina, Louisiana and Tennessee have all passed laws that attempt to cast doubt on established climate science in boardrooms and classrooms.

The reality of climate change due to human activity has been widely accepted by climate scientists, and some experts worry that attempts to deny the science could prevent states from preparing for sea level rise, extreme weather and other effects of a warming planet. [6 Politicians Who Got the Science Wrong]

In an investigation published yesterday (March 8), the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting (FCIR) found evidence of an unwritten policy that banned officials at the state's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) from using specific terms related to climate change in official communications, emails or reports.

"We were instructed by our regional administrator that we were no longer allowed to use the terms 'global warming' or 'climate change,'or even 'sea-level rise,'" Kristina Trotta, a former DEP employee who worked in Miami, told the FCIR. "Sea-level rise was to be referred to as 'nuisance flooding,'" Trotta added.

Other former employees confirmed the existence of the unofficial policy, which went into effect after Florida Gov. Rick Scott took office in 2011 and appointed Herschel Vinyard Jr. as director of the DEP. Scott, who was re-elected in November, has repeatedly stressed that he is not convinced climate change is caused by human activity, the FCIR reported.

But long before Florida unofficially banned these climate-related terms, other states passed laws attempting to limit the influence of climate change on land policies and education.

In 2012, North Carolina passed legislation banning the state from basing coastal policies on the latest predictions of sea level rise, ABC News reported. Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue allowed the bill, known as House Bill 819, to become law by not taking action against it.

The law was a response to a prediction by the state's Coastal Resources Commission   that sea levels could rise by 39 inches (99 centimeters) in the next century. The prediction raised fears that home insurance rates would increase and coastal development would slow.

Proponents of the law said the prediction is based on incomplete information, but critics accused the state of denying climate science.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, sea levels in North Carolina and other "hotspots" along the East Coast between North Carolina and Massachusetts are rising at three to four times the rate worldwide.

Meanwhile, other states had been passing laws of their own to curb the influence of climate change in education. In 2012, Tennessee passed a law to allow teachers to present alternative theories to climate change and evolution, making it the second state, after Louisiana, to pass such a law.

The law was supposedly designed to protect teachers who "help students understand, analyze, critique and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught," Reuters reported.

But some scientists saw the law as a threat to education. "We need to keep kids' curiosity about science alive and not limit their ability to understand the world around them by exposing them to misinformation," Brenda Ekwurzel, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, told Reuters.

At least five other states have considered similar legislation.

Follow Tanya Lewis on Twitter. Follow us @livescienceFacebook & Google+. Original article on Live Science.

Copyright 2015 LiveScience, a Purch company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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