The Shameful Price of Saving Paradise

Kew West Big Pine Key Marathon

As America ended last week by considering how to celebrate the 4th of July amidst the continued COVID-19 crisis, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released its initial plan to address one aspect of another crisis: rising sea levels from climate change that threatens Monroe County, home of what’s been called the American Caribbean, our precious and fragile Florida Keys. The Keys are at the very real risk of disappearing over the next few decades due to sea level rise principally caused by the world’s use of fossil fuels. The damage has already begun and local leaders are desperately looking for options to save the region.

You can read more about the it here but the Army Corp’s initial $5.5 billion plan includes:

  1. Raising and strengthening six areas of highway U.S. 1, the only road from the mainland to Key West.
  2. Raising the elevation of 7,300 existing homes.
  3. Flood-proofing 3,800 buildings.
  4. Using eminent domain laws to have the government take (purchase) and then destroy 300 homes.
  5. Retreating from certain areas where maintaining roads and other infrastructure is deemed too costly and thus allowing climate change induced sea rise to claim those properties.

The plan is both costly (initial estimates being $ 5.5 billion) and controversial. Local leaders have already expressed an unwillingness to invoke eminent domain laws to take people’s homes (the government would buy them for fair market value) and has asked for a waiver from this requirement to make it voluntary. Government officials and property owners alike are faced with what will surely be gut wrenching decisions over renovating or selling and destroying one’s home or business and being forced to abandon past memories, much less future dreams in the process. It’s all just tragic and it’s happening because of our society’s use of fossil fuels over the past 120 or so years.

And the worst part of all of this is that the insane costs like these initial estimates for Monroe County, costs that will borne all over our society, much less people’s pain, can largely be avoided if we become serious about quickly transitioning away from fossil fuel use by embracing sustainable energy everywhere. Not 50 or 100 years from now but today. This year. This decade. Now!

If we can, as a nation, decide to place men on the moon as happened in less than a decade in the 1960’s, then we can surely take the world by the hand by transitioning to sustainable energy today just like we did into outer space. If we truly want to avoid those costs and that pain, it is absolutely possible to avoid the worst of the sea level rise if only we were to be serious about solving this crisis. If only.

Those that fight that transition, the businesses that cause or protect fossil fuel consumption, or capitulate until it’s too late to save places we love and need will have that “blood” on their hands for not having had the foresight to foster and demand the necessary changes today. No, not mitigation measures such as raising roads and buildings, or destroying property the sea renders useless, but actually eliminating the core issue that’s causing the problem: fossil fuel use.

Allowing those that produce fossil fuel products (cars and gasoline) or use them as utilities (gas and coal) or protect them (fossil fuel oriented business leaders, lobbyists and politicians) to drag their feet and fight the required transition will only escalate the cost our society will bear and the pain and suffering people will be subjected to and that’s a solid shame.

The Silence of the Lambs

Whenever feasible, one should always try to eat the rude.
– Dr. Hannibal Lecter

As long as I live I will always remember what thousands of people yelled again and again as we marched through the streets of Miami in 2017 during the first ever Miami March for Science:

Science, NOT Silence!  

Science NOT Silence!

Science NOT Silence!

When I conceived and hosted the first March that year, I wondered how many people would actually take to the streets to support the need for our society and its leaders to base decisions on factual, transparent, scientific data but the crowds that covered the lawn of Miami’s Bicentennial Park as far as the eye could see that morning gave me great hope.

Fast forward three years and today we live in an America where leaders all around us diminish and overlook science in favor of lies, manipulation and the dirtiest of politics possible to promote their schemes while costing and killing American lives.  If you think that’s a harsh statement then consider:

  1. At about 350 Million people the United States has 4% of the world’s population yet according to Johns Hopkins University’s COVID-19 Dashboard (click here to view) we have more confirmed cases of COVID-19 than any other country on the planet. In fact, of the 11,317,637 confirmed cases world-wide, as I write this the USA accounts for 2,852,807, or 25.2%, of the total. If we are doing such a  “great” job at testing, care and treatment as some politicians suggest then how can these American figures be so out of alignment and alarming? So much for doing “great”. Or paying attention to the science.
  2. Esteemed experts all over America, and countless other people with common sense, have concluded that we are failing to properly fight the virus because far too many elected officials have refused to embrace the science. And worse yet is that it’s increasingly clear that too many of those same elected officials are manipulating the facts, along with the status and severity of the situation, in what is clearly a conscious plan to avoid the science in favor of what some of those same people called it a few years ago when they were put into charge… “alternative facts”. Unfortunately, in the real world that we all live and breathe in there are no alternative facts; our reality is that our society is faced with a deadly disease for which there is no cure as of yet.
  3. And, speaking of deadly, Johns Hopkins data accounts for 531,729 global deaths from COVID-19 as of today, of which 129,718 (24.4% of the total) are here in the United States. In fact, the United States has a significant lead in this deadly competition, as some of our political leaders are playing with our lives, while the next closest country is Brazil at 64,265 followed by the United Kingdom at 44,305.
  4. And here in Florida, a state whose governor (Republican Ron DeSantis) was on the cutting edge of eagerly re-opening our society with little regard to the science and who at the end April repeatedly announced “we’ve flattened the curve” to anyone who would listen, we are setting records for the number of newly reported cases nearly every day over the past week after he facilitated false euphoria by opening up beaches, bars and most all else without mandating masks and social distancing and who still, even amidst the carnage, refuses to implement such proven requirements. Day after day this week Florida has set one unfortunate record after another including Saturday’s 11,458 new confirmed COVID-19 cases, a new daily record. Our state now has 109,052 confirmed cases, including 3,803 deaths, becoming the new “New York”, the hottest of hot spots in America and a place where the number of known cases are doubling every 13 days thanks to spineless political leaders’ zeal to overlook the science and scientists.

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And yet, faced with these facts, the science that defines what is happening and what we should all being doing to mitigate this crisis, what does our government do? It lies to us. It preys on the meek and weak lambs within the flock of followers, the “base” of its most ardent supporters, people seemingly so desperate to hear what they want to hear that they happily embrace this deadly misinformation campaign and, in doing so, overlook the data no matter the cost. And what do leaders such as the President, Republican Donald Trump, do while faced with overwhelming science sufficient to allow any decent person to lead our citizens to safety?

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He hosts not one, but two recent political events in states (Oklahoma and Arizona) with both skyrocketing spikes in confirmed cases and local health officials begging that the events be called off for fear people will get sick and/or die. And, of course, that’s exactly what has started happening since the rallies took place (including numerous people within his own team getting sick).

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And what else does he do? He asks attendees to sign waivers acknowledging they might get sick or die and does so while publicly disputing the benefit of collecting scientific data (it’s called testing, Mr. President) or protecting one’s self by wearing a mask. And what else does he and his handlers do? They walk through the arena in advance of the lambs’ arrival and remove stickers from every other seat that local health officials had placed on them, signs that read “Do Not Sit here, Please!”, to propagate some semblance of social distancing (and if you don’t believe politicians would do such a thing, then just read and watch about it here).

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“…be ready to celebrate, to enjoy the freedoms and the liberties that we have in this country… but we won’t be social distancing.”
– Governor Kristi Noem, South Dakota

Cue the fireworks because our President is not the only one complicit in diminishing science. Consider South Dakota’s Governor, Republican Kristi Noem, who inexcusably masterminded a pre-Fourth of July celebration in which the President read a hate-filled speech at the base of Mt. Rushmore in front of 7,500 passionate followers who eagerly sat side by side, nearly not a single mask in sight. In fact, despite America’s growing COVID-19 crisis, the Governor brazenly announced that neither masks nor social distancing – both of which the science tells us are essential to preventing the spread of the disease – would not be required at the event (I can only imagine what the esteemed South Dakota governor thinks about our climate crisis).

Of course, all things politically controversial seem to always have a tie to Florida and that sure is the case with the silence of the lambs.

While he was busy opening our state and touting his great leadership in recent months, Florida’s Governor has been happy to roll out the welcome mat to the “slaughter house” by proudly announcing that our state will now host the Republican National Convention in his home city of Jacksonville in August after news that Republicans plan to abruptly move the event from Charlotte, NC because its local officials expected attendees to follow its healthcare experts advice by practicing social distancing, wearing masks and taking other sensible steps to try and stay safe. The promise in offering Florida and Floridians up for the sacrifice, I mean the convention, is that they can seemingly take place with little to no real concern for people’s well-being and thus provide our Reality TV President a packed arena filled with cheering followers, lambs, so that the optics on television look, to use his favorite word, “great”. Oh, I am sure we will be told that all steps are to be taken, masks handed out to those who want one and other such silliness, but his followers will not want to disappoint their leader in his (hopefully) last hurrah and therefore we should expect that social distancing, and science, will be once again set aside.

I am not sure how that’s going to work out with Florida’s confirmed cases on a meteoric rise as our Governor, like his mentor the President, refuses to implement aggressive rules such as requiring those masks the President dreads or seeing that a fraction of the expected crowd of lambs showed up in Tulsa, but I sure do not like Florida being used as a weapon to diminish science, much less our government putting good, even if ill advised, Americans at risk. There is no leadership in being a coward, and not embracing the science and public health experts’ guidance to protect our citizens might just be the most cowardly thing our Governor can do.

Of course, like me, you are watching all of this disturbingly unfold on a daily basis in ways, behaviors and comments that have moved from unconventional and outright odd to alarming and dangerous. Whether your concern is social science in the midst of a thankfully enlightened world, medical science for fear of your and your loved one’s health or environmental science as you watch our natural world disgraced and diminished with each cruel Executive Order, enough is enough. The mockery in every direction that’s before our eyes has gone beyond fatiguing a nation to upsetting the good people who make up the majority within our borders. People like those I saw marching for science three years ago. Caring, decent, loving Americans who expect our country and its leaders to have some substance and to use it to do the right things to protect us and the world we live in.

Thankfully, if there is any savings grace to all of the lies, the indecency and insanity that surrounds us, it is that the end is near. No, not of COVID-19, nor of humanity but of this horrible reality show that has become too painful for our nation to witness much longer, much less support. The time has arrived for Americans to change the channel, if you will, before more of us become sick or die and the way we do that, of course, is for all of us to vote in November’s election.

Please vote.

Don’t put your guard down. In fact, rise up and make your anger and concern heard around the world. None of us can afford to put ourselves in a position to one day think back to November 2020 and complain about what did and did not happen, unless you actually let your views be known by voting.

Please vote.

Don’t place yourself in a position to wonder what you could or should have done.

Please vote.

Together we can begin to repair our nation and put an end to too many of our leaders trying to silence the science.

Please vote.

Vote in 2020 as if your very life, our society and, yes, our natural environment depend on it… because they do.

98 Degrees

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It’s not the type of record that I want to see South Florida set, but it’s inevitable. And it has only just begun. I’m talking, of course, about the records that were broken when Tampa and Leesburg, two cities in Central Florida, broke long time historic records by seeing the thermometer climb to 98 degrees.

June 2020 will most certainly be the hottest month in the history of South Florida and all of this foretells our future. A future of increasingly hotter and unbearable temperatures that cause human health crises, agricultural disasters, more frequent/powerful monster hurricanes and, of course, warmer oceans that are the oven for South Florida’s sea level rise catastrophe.

I have written about temperatures many times (you can find one such blog here) and as I have said before, if one can read a thermometer, you know we have a serious problem. Mitigation, whether raising roads, seawalls or any number of other things that will most certainly be part of South Florida’s future, will never help control our planet’s ever rising temperatures. If we are to ever solve our climate change crisis, it is essential that we gain control of these temperatures before it’s too late.

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