When a lady from the audience asked me how I was affiliated with the Quaker community in St. Petersburg, I couldn’t resist saying, “I’m a friend of Friend.”
David Hastings, who is an outstanding scientist, teacher and community activist, a Friend and a dear friend, asked me to introduce and help discuss a film from the series “Water’s Journey” with the congregation and community. It was a pleasure and an honor, and I was impressed to see a much bigger crowd than expected. There were some familiar faces, including a few long-serving community activists and a handful of classmates, and it was uplifting to meet so many others who care enough to devote a Saturday evening to the subject of Florida’s water woes.
I came back to Florida on a mission, the direction and details of which are still unfolding. Volunteering with Expedition Florida 500 is currently a big part of it, something I see as a natural extension of a project that began (for me) with coordinating a forum at USFSP entitled, “Water in Florida: Environmental Humanities Meet Public Policy.” I hope you will take time to explore and share both links, and find ways to engage your own communities in this endeavor. I don’t believe it’s an exaggeration to say that Florida’s future depends on it.
Water is at the core of what makes our state special. Gin-clear springs and blackwater sloughs, coral reefs, brackish estuaries, and salty folk whose actual ways of life are richer than bumper sticker slogans amid a sea of sprawl. Water is literally and figuratively Florida’s bedrock. When sinkholes swallow houses and people, maybe it’s a sign that we ought to leave a fair bit more water in the aquifers than we are currently taking. Likewise for disappearing springs and waterways overloaded with nutrients and pollutants.
State “leadership” in Tallahassee appears to be an oxymoron in recent years, particularly with regard to environmental protection. I’m heartened by a new generation of local leaders who understand this, and who have chosen a different path than Tea Partying while the ship is sinking. Yet they cannot bail us out alone. Nor can we hope for a more sustainable Florida without addressing state-level policies.
Each of us has a role to play, perhaps several roles. You can start by educating yourself and others around you. Taking individual steps are wonderful, too – rain catchment and permaculture were popular topics during Saturday night’s discussion – but, alone, they will not be enough. We need to cultivate what Cynthia Barnett calls a “water ethic” in our communities and, importantly, in our politics.
Nor will preaching to the choir do the trick. We must find ways to get the rest of Florida talking about water quality and how if affects our lives, our economy and our future. Not just students and professors of environmental studies; we need bankers and realtors and business-men and -women of all kinds to wake up and smell the red tide. Florida’s economy is seriously screwed without environmental quality.
I do believe the pendulum is beginning to swing in a positive direction, as far as perception is concerned. Current adventures like XF500 and the recent Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition have gained quite a following. Like Wes Skyles and his crew from “Water’s Journey” 10 years ago, they speak to our inner child that retains the spirit of youthful curiosity and awe about this amazing place that we barely know. But we also have to grow up and take responsibility for its protection, and that includes the unpleasantness of politics.
Quakers and other faith communities have much to teach us about persistence in the face of massive and institutionalized resistance to moral progress. We can be inspired by the personal sacrifices made and risks taken in the struggle for Civil Rights long before it became a national movement, as well as their continued engagement long after its popular appeal came and went. I hope we can learn from them and foster a resurgence of human ecology, and I believe it begins with water.
For those ready to “dive in” to water policy in Florida, here are a few resources to help get started. If you know of updates and other materials, please include references and links in your comments.
“Creating a Water Ethic at Your Place of Worship.” (Cynthia Barnett, author of Blue Revolution): http://www.nccecojustice.org/water/WaterEthicForCongregationsFinal.pdf
“Public Policy and Water in Florida.” (UF/IFAS Extension, 2009): http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/fe799
“Reforming the Florida Water Resources Act of 1972: Beyond the First 35 Years.” (UF Levin College of Law, 2008): http://www.law.ufl.edu/news/pdf/WaterLawBooklet.pdf