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 »

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The Reluctant Heretic: Clay Shaw, Big Sugar, and the Everglades

September 18, 2013

The Reluctant Heretic
Clay Shaw, Big Sugar and the Everglades

In obituaries, Florida Congressman Clay Shaw has been roundly praised as a moderate Republican and champion of the Everglades. A little too roundly. Shaw served 26 years in Congress, at a time when the GOP perfected polarization tactics as well as any southern Democrat. It is not enough to note, in passing, a Republican leader who stood up for protecting one of the most threatened ecosystems in the United States. How Clay Shaw was a friend of the Everglades deserves a closer reading and involves the story of a Republican who braved dissent of the Jeb Bush orthodoxy at the time and in a state that determined the outcome of the most contested presidential election in US history.

In June 2001, Shaw was in the entourage when President George W. Bush visited the Everglades. According to a New York Times report at the time, “Mindful, perhaps, that the president was not seen as having lavished sufficient praise on Representative Shaw at the Everglades event, speakers went out of their way to pay homage to him here. Al Cardenas, the state Republican chairman, singled out Mr. Shaw for “special recognition” as “someone who fights so hard for Florida every day in Congress.” (“Florida GOP sees Bush visit as latest slight”, NYT, 6/14/2001)

The fact of the Everglades as a political swamp could not have been lost on any of the participants. In a region where every developed acre of wetland involved the vigorous application of persuasion skills — from zoning applications, to sales, to mortgages and political contributions — , the sixty mile wide watershed of the River of Grass — stretching more than a hundred miles from the boundaries of Orlando and Lake Okeechobee to the Florida Keys — represented more a totem for platted subdivisions, strip malls culture, sugar cane and rock mining (for cement) than a herald for ecological harmony.

The vaunted balance between man and nature in the Everglades is often preached and more often breached. By that summer 2001, political leaders at the speaker’s podium were doing what they had been doing for decades before and since: promising to re-arrange the multi-billion dollar water infrastructure in one of the nation’s fastest growing states to give some chance of survival to the once-magnificent biodiversity of America’s only tropical wilderness, including iconic predators like the Florida panther roaming a shrunken, degraded habitat. Protect the environment and the economy. 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 »


Florida’s Fraudsters: The Toxic Lies of the Growth Machine

August 1, 2012

In Miami-Dade County — Florida’s most populous and politically influential county– a billion dollars is needed immediately to replace just the most deteriorated and vulnerable sections of the wastewater system, according to a five month internal study. It is scarcely news. Miami Dade County government has been concealing its infrastructure deficits for years. County commissioners kept the crisis away from the sight of voters.

The purpose of the concealment was to make the region attractive to cheap development. The billion dollar infrastructure bill is the tip of the iceberg, and it is only emerging because a federal agency, the US EPA, had the guts to insist that Miami-Dade do something to prevent a catastrophic sewage break. At the height of the housing boom, cheap development and jobs servicing more cheap development ferried more than a thousand people a day to live in Florida, a state that boasted one of the highest growth rates in the nation. In 2010, Florida was home to one-third of all homeless families who have no shelter at all — people living in their cars, under bridges, in parks.

It is more than trickery to claim — as Florida’s Growth Machine does– that the ad valorem tax base has to be increased to cover infrastructure needs. The claim was spurious twenty five years ago,when I learned how local power brokers in the Florida Keys set their sights on development at any cost, enlisting the political class to its service. On face value, encouraging more development in order to fill in funding for infrastructure, like roadways, schools, prisons, and water infrastructure, is institutionalized fraud. Read the rest of this entry »


The Wrecking Crew: Making Florida a Haven for Polluters

July 15, 2011

We have reached the nadir of the dumbing down of American politics. The path was cleared by ideologues: and why should the devastation not be delivered by the conservative right holding the Book of to their American flag lapels? I am half-tempted to go along with the Ron Paul wing of the Republican Party and let August 2nd come and go: just like Y2K right? (On Jan 1, 2000 apocalypse was predicted when computers would all shut down or short circuit because they had not been programmed to accept the millenium date. If you don’t know what happens on August 2nd, stop reading now.)

Republican brainiacs believe they can pin “this budget thing” on President Obama and the Democrats, but if there is no resolution to the budget and debt ceiling crisis, expect a stock market crash of at least 20 percent off the bat. No one thought home values could be worth only half of what they were, five years ago. Let the GOP masterminds like Karl Rove explain how it is the Democrats’ fault our savings turn out to be worth only half of what they were.

That the Republican Party turned into a party of unrecognizable extremists didn’t happen overnight. For those who thought Grover Norquist was just trying to shrink the size of government, look at the consequences of the decapitations that are working themselves out in slow motion. Turn, for example, to Florida’s GOP wrecking crew in the House of Representatives.

If you were too focused on Texas’ GOP initiative to save the incandescent light bulb, or the electric utilities’ decision to abandon investment to reduce man-made chemicals that cause global warming (because of regulatory uncertainty as a result of Republicans effort to kill environmental regulations), then you might have missed the Florida GOP delegations’ most recent tactic in the Holy War against the US EPA: to gut the Clean Water Act as revenge for the federal agency’s efforts (after decades of lawsuits and inaction) to clean up Florida’s filthy waters where the state refuses (thank you, Governor Barely Legal Rick Scott). Read the rest of this entry »


The Salting of Florida: And Not a Drop to Drink

June 28, 2011

Drought, wildfires, floods. The first three minutes of network news is like a TV primer from the Book of Revelations. Al Gore, in Rolling Stone, was inventor of that line, but at some point in the not-so-distant future, destroyed drinking water wells in South Florida could be on Nightly News. And if Al Gore is still with us, the shot wells scattering chaos in the nation’s presidential bellweather state will not go unremarked. Florida’s threatened drinking water supply is a stark reminder of Gore’s 2000 loss in Florida. Fearing dissent in his own ranks on policies governing growth and the environment, Gore retreated. Today there is no doubt, none at all, that water management has put South Florida property owners into the path of fresh water at the price of gold or a modern Exodus. This is the dirtiest little secret in Florida and why the dying Everglades are a potent symbol of politics in America today.

For decades in Florida, elected officials supported more growth and development and agriculture than our aquifers could reasonably sustain. It is not conjecture. It is not smarmy, feel-good ethos. Within government agencies, scientists, policy makers and attorneys treaded on the subject like walking on egg shells. Early on, it was established that standing up to the destroyers on water supply or water quality issues was the fastest way to lose one’s job. Sugar billionaires, their lobbyists, builders and developers and trade associations like Miami’s Latin Builders Association had the inside track in the inside hallways of government: from the White House to the lowliest office of the county commission. It is still going on. Last week, Florida’s Jack-Ass-In-Chief Barney Bishop– the Associated Industries leader, a self-described “life-long Democrat” (who led the successful effort to dismantle Florida’s growth management agency), appeared on Fox News, calling out the U.S. EPA for “killing jobs faster than President Obama can create them”. Bishop, a carpetbagger if there ever was one, has prevailed on Florida Governor Rick Scott to push back against federal authority to regulate nutrient pollution where the state won’t: overwhelming Florida’s valuable rivers, estuaries and coastal real estate values. To round up the disaster, after so many decades, in a pithy “killing the goose that lays the golden egg” puts an unforgivable smiley face on abject corruption. Read the rest of this entry »


Sergio Pino’s Bad Year: The Fall of a South Florida Banker

March 22, 2011

On the same day that Sergio Pino announced his resignation from the board of the bank he founded, US Century Bank in Miami had more bad news: the ratings agency, Fitch, withdrew its rating. In a public statement to South Florida Business Journal, Pino said his withdrawal had nothing to do with the severely deteriorating condition of the bank.

Pino, along with other bank directors, have been major Republican campaign contributors and lobbyists for suburban sprawl in Florida wetlands and farmland. They have strongly supported and pushed for the expansion of the Urban Development Boundary in Miami-Dade to include lands purchased as speculative investments for future platted subdivisions and sprawl. The bank they founded has been the recipient of the largest infusion of federal taxpayer moneys, through TARP, among all Florida banks. Read the rest of this entry »