How often have we seen it? An ecosystem is impacted by countless factors — often more than can actually be identified, much less quantified, yet environmental special interests try to designate a single villain and punish that villain. Their assignment of blame isn’t based on science or proportionate responsibility. Rather, it’s based on a political agenda.
On a global scale, just look at “climate change”. Any credible scientist will tell you that, to the extent man is causing climate shifts, the contributing factors are many. Automobiles, clearing forests, replacing grass with concrete, livestock, running air conditioners, generating electricity…They are all impacting the atmosphere, along with myriad other activities.
However, when it comes time to assign blame — and impose the costs of fixing it, the politicians and their supporters in the environmental community direct their ire and their advocacy at a single group of “bad guys”. In the case of climate change, the bad guys are those who use coal to generate electricity. They are an easy target, and have deep pockets.
To those of us in South Florida, this kind of political targeting is a familiar story. For decades, the state and federal governments, private landowners, farmers, municipalities, businesses, environmentalists and water managers have been engaged in a massive effort to restore the Everglades and critical estuaries. The magnitude and breadth of that effort has long been based on a recognition that no single contributor is responsible for water quality impacts on the Everglades — and that no single industry or group should bear the burden of restoration. Rather, it is a collective problem with collective solutions.
Nevertheless, for years, and increasingly so of late, environmental special interests have been determined to lay the responsibility and costs of Everglades restoration squarely and disproportionately on the shoulders of Florida’s agriculture industry, specifically sugar farmers.
Earlier this year, for instance, those special interests spent a fortune trying to convince the legislature to divert hundreds of millions of dollars from the comprehensive, science-based restoration program in order to buy up farmland, put the farmers out of business, and in doing so, punish an industry that those special interests simply don’t like. There is little doubt that similar attacks are in the works for the weeks and months to come.
A perfect example of the folly — and hypocrisy — of the “single perpetrator” approach to environmental challenges is the Indian River Lagoon algae bloom that state and local officials have been battling for the past few years.
As the experts have scrambled to find the causes and solutions to the toxic red tide that has afflicted the lagoon, one thing is clear: There is no single cause. In fact, there are likely dozens of contributing factors that were inevitable in a waterway with 1.7 million people living, working and playing alongside it. Old septic tanks, stormwater runoff, changes in vegetation, a massive buildup of sediment, coinciding weather patterns, and, yes, agriculture have ALL combined to create ideal conditions for a devastating algae bloom.
Accordingly, the massive effort underway to reverse those conditions and restore the Indian River Lagoon recognizes the many contributing factors — and most certainly does not single out any one “culprit” to bear the burden of that restoration. Sewer systems are being installed or replaced. Vegetation management is being carried out. Millions of cubic yards of muck are being dredged out of the system. The list goes on to include literally dozens of specific actions being taken.
It is the kind of comprehensive effort that reflects a simple reality that, when millions of people occupy an area and conduct their daily lives, there will be impacts. And when those impacts must be dealt with, the responsibility for doing so must be distributed on the basis of science and sound policy — not political agendas.
The larger challenge of Everglades restoration is precisely the same. Fortunately, after decades of work and billions spent, policy-makers, water and environmental experts, and elected officials at all levels of government have arrived at a comprehensive, reality-based approach to restoration that is based on science and an appropriate distribution of responsibility.
And it’s working.