Earth Day on the River of Grass
by Grant A. Mincy
The Everglades are among the last sub-tropical wilderness areas in the United States. Their Floridian air is thick with humidity, but a cool breeze is commonly felt from both the fresh and saltwater systems that spread throughout the landscape. Open prairies provide relief from the dangers of the swamp. A mosaic of forest, from pinelands nourished by ancient limestone, to tropical hardwoods, coral reef communities and mangroves, supports an incredible array of wildlife. These unique systems are habitat for numerous endemics including aquatic birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians — of which many are endangered or threatened.
Hard to think of a landscape quite like the fragile Everglades, but it is politics that brought U.S. President Barack Obama to such splendor on Earth Day. In the backyard of Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush, both GOP presidential contenders (with checkered environmental legacies), Obama talked of climate change impacts on the imperiled wetland community. He went on to highlight the 100 year anniversary of the Park Service, coming up in 2016, and a new report that notes National Parks store 14 million tons of carbon each year. Point after point was made for conservation.
Hard for me to argue with his rhetoric. Easy for me to recognize his insincerity.
Obama did not mention his administration’s new push for offshore drilling, limited funding for national parks, the leasing of natural lands to oil and gas companies, or the permitting of mountaintop removal coal mines. No commander-in-chief will ever mention their extensive, carbon burning, wars. No executive will talk poorly of the state economic system, nor their policies that encourage the growth machine. National monuments are good, I have a fond place in my heart for the national parks, but state archism trends towards violence and the mass consumption of resources. This will not change.
We see the failures of state decisions everywhere. From sprawl and drought in the Southwest, industrial disasters in the Midwest, Cancer Alley along our coasts, the destruction of Appalachian mountain ecosystems and so much more. Natural resources are terribly mismanaged. As a result of state decree, and the rise of hegemonic corporations, we are in the midst of a 6th great extinction. The age of the Anthropocene is upon us.
If we are to be serious about climate, conservation and environmental health, perhaps we should investigate best management practices. Perhaps we should explore our individualist spirit. A radically different social order is necessary if we are to permit a life worth living to our posterity. Imagine a world without archism, a place where every human being is free to bring their inclined labor to one another in mutual account. Imagine such liberty.
Decisions regarding climate, thus how to allocate resources across social/economic systems, should not belong to a few decision makers. Furthermore, the populace should not be held hostage by internal political bickering among Republicans and Democrats in the halls of power. These decisions should be made democratically, in common, where power is equally distributed among all stakeholders. Thanks to the work of famed economist Elinor Ostrom, we know that governance of this type is not only possible, but incredibly successful.
With such polycentric decision-making, human beings are not subject to the wishes of the state, but instead to community needs. Here, resources are distributed by need as opposed for the sake of growth. Let’s reclaim the power that is rightly ours and build a society worthy of our future generations.
Without collective action, we remain at the mercy of systems of power and domination — wild places, like the River of Grass, are doomed. Without wild lands, we are doomed as well.