Thanks so much for your kind words and thoughtful comments. Let me first offer a shamelessly self-serving response to Karene, who finished The Swamp and wants more to read: You can pre-order my second book, The New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era. It’s not about the Everglades, but it’s got a lot of surprising and (I hope) compelling environmental stuff. Otherwise, I was somewhat underwhelmed by Swamplandia; the best Everglades novels are Peter Matthiessen’s Watson trilogy and almost anything by the brilliant and hilarious Carl Hiaasen. For non-fiction, I recommend Cynthia Barnett on water, Craig Pittman on wetlands, manatees, and orchids, and Les Standiford on Henry Flagler’s crazy railroad. Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief, while somewhat problematic as journalism, is an amazing piece of writing and thinking.
One thing I like about The Orchid Thief is its portrayal of the way the natural world rubs up against the artificial world in South Florida, which gets at some of the issues that Mark, JO, Ellen, and Bill raised in their comments. There are over 7 million of us living in the Everglades ecosystem—not to mention over 50 million annual visitors—and most of us have no clue that a century ago this region was virtually uninhabited. We call animal control 18,000 times a year to report alligators in our backyards; it doesn’t occur to us that we’re in the alligators’ backyards. We expect our water managers to keep us dry and prevent flooding; we forget that we’re living in former wetlands, in active floodplains, that the Everglades used to provide water management for the entire region.
|Image courtesy of the NPS - Everglades National Park website|
[See whole speech]
But while Truman celebrated the wildness of the southern Everglades, he called for Americans to “make full use of our resources” in the rest of the Everglades. Many of the park’s greatest advocates—including Marjory!—supported the Army Corps of Engineers water control plan that has ravaged the entire Everglades. It has become a cliché that in South Florida, the environment is the economy, and it’s true, but politicians often interpret that to mean that whatever economic interests want must by definition be good for the Everglades, instead of vice versa.
I think Ellen is right when she talks about the importance of environmental education. I think Mark and JO and Bill are right to emphasize the magic of the wild, the idea that the Everglades is its own best advocate, the importance of exposing Americans to the natural world they don’t always notice in their SUV’s. But I really don’t expect most people to value nature for the sake of the bugs and bunnies. It’s got to be connected to a larger sense that these special places are part of what makes America America. Bill wants us to embrace nature in ways that go beyond pure utilitarian calculations, beyond the notion that by saving the planet we can save ourselves, maybe even beyond Truman’s idea that protecting special places will bring us closer to God. I think those calculations are a pretty powerful place to start, but I also suggest at the end of my book that the test of the Everglades—the test of whether we’re going to have a chance to keep the planet—has a moral dimension as well. It’s a test not only of restoration science and engineering and planning, but a test of our willingness to restrain ourselves, to share the earth’s resources with the other living things that moveth upon it, to learn how to live in harmony with nature.
If we pass that test, we might deserve to keep the planet.
Thanks again for your thoughts; please keep them coming. I also just started tweeting at @MikeGrunwald if you want to hit me up directly.