As a lifelong Florida scientist and environmentalist, I am dismayed by the governor’s boast in his inaugural address that he has ushered in a “new era of stewardship of Florida’s natural resources” when we face many serious unresolved problems harming Floridians and our economy.
In 2022, Florida topped the list of the most polluted lakes (900,000 acres) in the United States according to a study by the Environmental Integrity Project using data from the Environmental Protection Agency. We are ranked second in the number of acres of polluted estuaries. In 2019, Florida ranked second nationally in the number of people affected by violations under the Safe Drinking Water Act according to a study by the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Manatees are starving in India River Lake because the state has not seriously addressed water quality problems, which the governor’s blue-green algae task force highlighted in 2019. Drainage of nitrogen-laden water is killing seaweeds that manatees depend on for food.
Florida’s geyser flows back because we’re withdrawing so much water. The withdrawals must be bad, because six years ago, the conservative Florida legislature passed a law requiring the Conservative Department of Environmental Protection to revise its rules to prevent groundwater withdrawals that harm spring flows in Florida’s privileged waterways. Withdrawals are ongoing and a rule has yet to be adopted.
The failed portfolio response to the climate crisis has been well noted. Florida is considered by many to be ground zero for the effects of climate change from rising sea levels, sweltering heat to brutal storms. However, it has done absolutely zero to address the root cause of these problems, which is our growing carbon emissions. In fact, he supports the rogue industry causing the climate crisis through his staunch opposition to ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) investing. It is part of a nationwide organized backlash on behalf of the fossil fuel industry to invest in ESG. This is one of the most dangerous delaying tactics by the fossil fuel industry to prevent us from solving the climate crisis.
Florida is one of the fastest growing states in the country. Governor Rick Scott repealed laws and programs to manage this growth and Governor Ron DeSantis failed to replace them. Growth exhausts our resources and destroys natural areas. His approval of $738 million to plan 300 miles of new, non-essential roads that would promote unsustainable sprawl in Important Natural Areas makes me wonder if he cares what happens to Florida’s natural resources. In response to fierce opposition, most plans are scrapped, but don’t be surprised if they come back.
Then there are the air quality emissions from burning sugarcane fields. It is well known that fires are a source of particulate matter (PM2.5) associated with lung and other types of cancer, heart and lung disease, and premature death. Researchers at Florida State University recently published in a peer-reviewed journal that seasonal burning contributes to mortality rates within this region. Last year, our governor signed a bill limiting lawsuits related to the health effects of air emissions from burning sugarcane.
Finally, there is a brag about his work to restore the Florida Everglades. Don’t get me started. Working to restore the Everglades does not mean protecting Florida’s environment. It’s only one part of Florida, and the last time I checked the restoration was so focused on providing drinking water and cleaning up Lake Okeechobee drains that have been polluted by agriculture. However, I’m not sure it did much to slow the amount of phosphorus flowing into Lake Okeechobee, which is a first class drinking water category. Also, because of his and others’ failure to reduce carbon emissions, the Everglades will be flooded by sea level rise.
There’s more, but you get to drift. He does not take seriously Florida’s many environmental problems. He must stop focusing on ridding us of “catastrophic ideology” and start working on protecting us from real-world problems.
Governor, you have to “wake up” to Florida’s many environmental problems. If you want to brag about what Florida is first in, unfortunately, it’s uncontrolled growth, the effects of climate change, and poor water quality. Please work on these, and then perhaps you can claim that you have created a new environmental era.
Pam McVitie is a climate activist and retired scientist who lives in Tallahassee.
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