From draining the Everglades to depopulating S. Florida: The blip in time

“Drain the swamp and create an empire!” Governor Napoleon Bonaparte Broward challenged Florida around 1904, beginning the era of South Florida’s mega-development.

In coming years, our descendants might point to December 21, 2015, as the beginning of the era that led to our un-development:

“There’s no keeping the water out. . .ultimately this area (South Florida) has to depopulate,” South Miami Mayor Philip Stoddard is quoted in the article,  “The Siege of Miami,” published December 21, 2015 in The New Yorker. If you are at all interested in the present and future of our region, you should read and study this article, easily accessible on line.

“We can’t let investor confidence, resident confidence, confidence in our economy start to fall away,” Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine explains his priorities in the same piece. “There’s no textbooks, there’s no ‘How to Protect Your City from Sea Level Rise,’ go to Chapter 4. So the city would have to write its own. We have a team that’s going to get it done, that’s going to protect this city. ..”

In just a little over 100 years South Florida has moved from the charge to “drain the swamp” and “create an empire” to the possibility of the forced “depopulation” of the area.

Mayor Stoddard’s words made my heart flutter. It isn’t often that someone who relies on votes has the courage to speak such an unpopular and scary truth. Finding that the Mayor is also a scientist made his position more understandable – he deals in facts.

But Mayor Levine’s words made me shudder even more:

“I believe in human innovation. If, 30 or 40 years ago, I’d told you that you were going to be able to communicate with your friends around the world by looking at your watch or with an iPad or an iPhone, you would think I was out of my mind…(Thirty or forty years from now) we’re going to have innovative solutions to fight back against sea-level rise that we cannot even imagine today.”

Mr. Mayor, the difference here is that decades of consistent research and millions if not billions of dollars and effort have gone into the development of tech devices. Conversely, for decades our response to climate change has been to deny, debate and ridicule the facts even as our beaches disappear and people are highly inconvenienced in flooding neighborhoods. Many of our ‘leaders’ still hide behind the rhetoric of denial while taking huge sums of money from industries that add to the problem.

I hope you’re right and we’ll speedily come up with that device that holds back the Atlantic and the Gulf so they don’t continue to rise from the pollution we’re spewing into the atmosphere.

Wouldn’t it be more sane to alert the population to this great challenge, encourage them to conserve energy, reduce waste and pollution, and discuss what we can do together to address this predicament? To be forewarned is to be forearmed.

As a citizen and an environmentalist, I feel a responsibility to share what I know. It’s bizarre to live in a region that the scientific world says will be more affected than nearly all others by sea level rise; to be governed by a politician who forbids the words “climate change;”  to hear one mayor say we have to look at orderly depopulation (compare that to Katrina-like depopulation of New Orleans); to hear another mayor say he’s sure we’ll come up with technology to counteract it; to know that our senator who’s a presidential candidate rejects human-caused climate change,  and to hear friends and relatives tell us with all nonchalance, “It will hit people over on the beach side first, so let them worry about it.”

From that mishmash, it’s obviously going to be up to every citizen to decide whether or not you will educate yourself to be part of the solution. But it seems likely we will not have another 100 years to figure out the “era of depopulation.”

Audrey Peterman is an environmentalist and author living in Ft. Lauderdale. Read her story about the President and the Park Ranger in her blog on the Huffington Post.