In the Climate Change Coal Mine: The Year the Canaries Came Home to Roost

January 1, 2014

In the Climate Change Coal Mine
The Year the Canaries Came Home to Roost

(Counterpunch) For my final essay of 2013 I am going to (again) write about climate change. This seems to be the year of the canaries in the climate-change coal mine. “Seems”, because at the risk of repetition I have been on that metaphor from the moment I started on the environment.

Back in the late 1980′s I wrote about serial algae blooms in northern Florida Bay. Although the scientists were scratching each other’s eyes out at the time — on the facts and cause –, it was clear that nothing could stop amorphous, amoeba-like blobs from destroying a vast, extraordinary piece of the Everglades ecosystem.

Nothing but government action to reverse decades of water mis-management that accrued to the benefit and upstream profits of Big Sugar. But the deniers controlled the levers of government: it was the time of Ronald Reagan, James Watts and the Wise Use Movement mobilized through the precursor to the Tea Party, called then the Sagebrush Rebellion — against government and especially against environmental regulation — and its Florida Keys branch, the Conch Coalition. Read the rest of this entry »


Losing the Glades: Ghosts of the Bonefish

January 9, 2013

Losing the Glades
The Ghosts of the Bonefish

On visits to watery Biscayne National Park, I am reminded of the simple shock that one can still view signposts of the natural past despite a hundred years of pollution, the mangrove cutting and wetlands filling, and general disregard of elected officials for laws, regulations and lax enforcement.

On a quiet winter day in the shallows, while the light is low in the sky, it is still possible to find a baby manatee feeding at the shoreline, thrashing the bay bottom only five minutes from the boat ramp. At the right tide and time, close observers can still find dolphin and sharks, from small blacktip to massive bullsharks sunning in the shallows. There are heron, cormorants, and osprey. There are even a few bonefish left, though to see the solitary numbers is to be sadly reminded of the legions that once roamed the shallow water meadows like squadrons of grey ghosts, seeking out pockets of shrimp and crabs before disappearing to the safety of deeper water.

The Everglades ecosystem was once magnificent. At 19th century observer wrote that turtles were so plentiful, one could imagine walking on their backs from Miami to Key Biscayne. Among fishing guides during the time I knew these waters best, in the 1970′s, the southern part of Biscayne Bay was legendary for large bonefish. Who remembers, forty years later? Read the rest of this entry »


The Sea Eats Miami: It’s Only a Mystery to Marco Rubio

November 20, 2012

It’s Only a Mystery to Marco Rubio…
The Sea Eats Miami

(Counterpunch) After the 1992 super-hurricane Andrew, South Florida was in a state of shock, similar to coastal New Jersey and New York today. Andrew was a compact, category five hurricane. In South Dade where the impact was strongest, the morning after the storm, sun and blue skies prevailed. The strike zone looked like a bomb had gone off.

Civic leaders quickly rallied under the proud banner, “We Will Rebuild”. How would South Florida rebuild? the blue ribbon panel asked. Twenty years later, the coastal areas of New Jersey and New York are facing a similar question after Superstorm Sandy. This time, the answers may be very different.

Twenty years ago in Florida, talk of sea level rise and climate change was in the margins. The subject had a place in the corner, where Chicken Little’s nursed their wounds, far from sight and off the political radar.

In its congratulatory essay on the Obama victory, The New Yorker put the issue startingly in front. The magazine, understandably rattled by the impacts of Sandy, followed bold statements by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The eponymous magazine, Bloomberg Businessweek, instantly put on its Nov. 1 cover, “It’s Global Warming, Stupid”, as though channeling a Clinton era ordering of priorities, largely avoiding global warming, that the former president might wish he could do over.

In Miami in 1992, a segment of the urban planning community proposed that rebuilding South Miami-Dade, hardest hit by the hurricane, ought to be done with care and with an eye toward sustainability, incorporating planned growth in flood plains such as those provided by nearby national parks. Modest plans were drawn up and circulated through well-intended public meetings. Read the rest of this entry »


A Visit To India Is Hard To Leave Behind: What separates New Delhi from the Everglades

March 20, 2012

(Counterpunch, March 20, 2012) At two in the morning, the sleek, modern airport at New Delhi hummed with activity. Most travelers pointed westbound to European capitals and from there, mid morning connections to the Americas.

What piqued my curiosity at that ungodly hour: airport security worked at half pace while the crowds piled behind. For the most part, India’s bureaucratic indifference was far from sight during a three-week visit.

Here at the moment of departure, anxious lines pushed and security responded with its own laws of gravity, and I felt the curious pull of the familiar, something that reminded me of home. You know what they say about Schenectady: it’s not hell but you can see it from there?

The places that hold us, whether in Uttar Pradesh or New York, have their tell tales. For example, in Florida –my home–, the sign of the eternal, damning wheel is the predisposition of bureaucrats to work hand-in-glove with politicians and lobbyists to destroy the Everglades. Read the rest of this entry »


Taking Over BP

June 11, 2010

(Counterpunch) As a routine strategy, “managing expectations” is the best way to deal with disaster. It is easy to understand why BP’s first instinct was to keep the video feed of the oil spill 5,000 feet underground from flowing to the public. BP is continuing to harass and to limit access of reporters from viewing and reporting damaged wildlife. Those oiled birds and sea turtles are toxic to corporate power. The images also contribute substantially to the pressures rising on the Obama administration, as the Gulf of Mexico turns into a horror over a long, hot summer.

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Stage Managing a Catastrophe in the Gulf: From “Top Hat” to “Top Kill”

May 24, 2010

(Counterpunch) From the very first, the Gulf Oil Spill has been about “managing expectations”. Coast Guard Admiral Mary Landry used exactly that term in an early televised press conference about “Top Hat”, the first failed intervention to stop tens of millions of gallons of oil from leaking into the Gulf. “Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry cautioned about high expections for the containment system. ‘So, please, I have to manage your expectations and just understand that our job is not done until this well is sealed, until this well is cemented, our job is not done ’til then.'” (Crews prepare to take contraption to Gulf oil leak, AP, May 5, 2010) Read the rest of this entry »


The Tragedy of Managed Expectations in the Gulf: When There’s No Good News, Make Some Up

May 19, 2010

(Counterpunch) Where is the Gulf oil? This morning googling the question produces 16,676 related articles. It is the spatter of zeitgeist, of Youtube clips, talk shows, nightly news, CSPAN and press conferences from sea to sea shining with petroleum. The hidden clouds of oil spilled by BP into the Gulf of Mexico may or may not be light, may or may not be dispersed into droplets or globs, may or may not coat beaches, wetlands and mangroves along the Gulf coast for decades to come: toxic as the day is long. According to AP, “At first we had a lot of concern about surface animals like turtles, whales and dolphins,” said Paul Montagna, a marine biologist at Texas A&M University Corpus Christi who studies Gulf reefs. “Now we’re concerned about everything.” (Deep sea oil plumes, chemical dispersants pose risks for the Gulf’s coral reefs, food chain”, May 17 2010)

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