Updated: May 2, 2019
When I was in sixth grade, a group of kids from my school spent a couple nights in Everglades National Park. As Floridians, time spent in the Everglades is precious and deeply connective, rooting us to what is truly unique about our strange peninsula. When the sun was up we schlepped around in ankle deep water looking to collect the strange creatures who inhabited it. After dark we gazed at a light-pollution-less sky. The typical angst of youth joined us on our trip, of course, but it was quelled by the solidarity that formed across cliquey lines as we watched our weird and zealous guide handle gator scat and tell us what it had for dinner.
As with any class of sixth graders, there was one in our number who demanded constant observation. Ours was named Mason. Mason was always a gamble of sorts. He could show sudden and unexpected bursts of genius only to follow them with complete disruption, which in turn preceded varying degrees of sweetness, brutality, and unrepentant stupidity. Mason’s presence in the Everglades is perhaps what stands out most clearly in my memory, or rather one instance of his spotlight-dwelling does.
Our class went out to the Glades’ spectacular Shark Valley, so named because of its expansive prairies of sawgrass. For the uninitiated, sawgrass is a tall variety of sedge which has sharp teeth running up one side. It grows in abundance in the Everglades, sheltering certain species and being consumed by others, deeply enmeshed in its complex and verdant web of relationships. Shark Valley has one path in and one path out, with miles of photosynthetic razor blades on either side. “Who wants to volunteer?” Our bespectacled ranger shouted to our slouching platoon. “How about you?” His finger was drawn to Mason, likely sensing his hungering energy. Our guide made his way just off the path and bent over the murky water. Using a pocket knife, he cut a short strand of sawgrass and brought it to Mason. “Hold this,” he said. Mason held it dutifully, his fingers already active. The guide explained what sawgrass was, how it was a hallmark of this particular ecosystem, how other plants and animals depended on it. “White tailed deer eat this stuff!” he said. “Their tongues are just right and they know which direction to come from. Sawgrass is funny because if you pull your finger one way…” he pulled Mason’s finger along the blade, “it won’t cut you. Don’t go the other way, though. You never want to walk through a field of this stuff or it will cut you to ribbons.” Mason looked up at us, beaming. He held up a finger with a jagged gash in it, blood dripping down his hand. “I went the other way!”
“Motion for rehearing en banc filed by the appellee, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, on February 20, 2019, is denied,” the First District Court of Appeals announced. The court had decided in favor of Kanter Real Estate LLC’s plan to dig an exploratory oil well six miles west of Miramar, FL. The state, the county, and various conservation organizations are still attempting to fight the project, and Kanter still faces significant hurdles before the digging can begin, but the court’s response was demoralizing. One state official decried it as “infuriating,” in a rare case of a Florida elected official opposing “future oil drilling and fossil fuel profiteering.”
Apparently, the state’s downfall was their supposed buzzkill of an argument based on values and reverence for difference, and its cutting in on the fossil fuel industry’s potential profits. The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports: “In rejecting that court’s conclusions and refusing to issue Kanter a drilling permit, the environmental protection department invoked the significance of the Everglades as ‘world renowned for its unique environmental characteristics.’ But the appeals court Tuesday said relying on such a characterization in rejecting the permit would amount to creating a new rule, without legal authority, banning all oil drilling in the Everglades.” And Lord knows we couldn’t have that…
The expansion of human society into the world around it has been driven, in the industrial age at least, entirely by the culturally manufactured urge draw from the earth for material production and consumption. If the idol of consumerism is excess and if corporations are its loyal priests, then the reduction of everything around us to either resource or externality is justified. If this is not the case, then we have egregiously overstepped ourselves. We are creatures, after all, just creatures with cars and planes, and creatures have limits. We have forgotten this in the centuries of rationalization and imperialism and ecological damnation we have wrought. As our urge to consume drives us to infringe more viciously upon the boundaries of our nonhuman neighbors, we neglect that our actions are not only wrong for others but for ourselves, too. Sawgrass cuts when it’s rubbed the wrong way.
Some experts posit that if our current rate of emissions is not drastically and immediately reduced, we could see sea levels rise by three, six, or even fifteen feet. If the second scenario comes to pass, half of Florida vanishes—in the latter case, all of it. To exploit the Everglades for fossil fuel seems not only cruel but self-defeating. The completion of this project would certainly torture the land the other creatures who inhabit it, but it would also poison our drinking water and eventually destroy the physical implements of the human civilization who put it in bondage. We must reorient our role in our ecological society. We Floridians live in a land of dinosaurs, deadly snakes, bushes made of razors, and mighty oceans. To think we are its despots is spectacularly hubristic, so perhaps we should try being good neighbors instead. This starts with having the basic courtesy not to poison it for financial gain. If our smoggy march continues forward, I worry we might be cut to ribbons.