Climate change activists might want to pay attention to this cautionary tale out of Florida. The failure of Everglades restoration, with its many false starts, but especially the story of the latest failed attempt to overcome entrenched economic interests, has parallels to the two train wrecks that derailed action on climate change--last December in Copenhagen and more recently in the U.S. Congress. The contemporary politics of Everglades restoration is a tortured story of compromise that can be summed up in the classic political axiom: Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. (Hmm, where have climate activists heard that before?) Mainstream Florida greens operate by this maxim, which is understandable, given the multiple stake holders involved and the economic interests arrayed against them. (Hmm, where have climate activists seen this dynamic before?) At some point, however, this strategy has to be evaluated for performance. Which begs the question: Is meaningful Everglades restoration underway? Hardly. Will it happen anytime soon? That was the hope and expectation after the state of Florida in 2008 agreed to buy huge tracts of land totaling 187,000 acres from the United States Sugar Corporation and convert it back to marshland. A year later, amid a deepening recession, the deal was scaled back to 79,000 acres, and according to this NYT investigation, the terms were not exactly favorable to the Everglades. By this month, as the Times reports, the land purchase has shrunk to 27,000 acres, a fraction of what was promised in 2008. You might think this would give long-time Everglades environmentalists pause. Here's what Eric Draper from Audubon of Florida had to say:
I like this deal because it's doable.
(Where have climate activists heard rationales like that before?) So why do mainstream Florida greens still cling to the illusion of progress? And why are they still championing a watered down land deal that is widely believed to have scarce ecological value to the Everglades? On his NYT post, Damian Cave provides some instructive responses:
"It's insecurity," said Alan Farago, the conservation chairman at Friends of the Everglades. He said that Florida's environmentalists would take whatever they could get because they felt so defeated after so many failed attempts to save the Everglades, after seeing algae blooms on their shores, after seeing developers given carte blanche while endangered species suffered.
"The environmentalists have been sitting on the floor under the table waiting for crumbs to fall on them for years," said Sydney Bacchus, a hydro-ecologist and frequent expert witness in Everglades cases. "I don't blame them for cheering about these lands being purchased "” it's a crumb they've been tossed off the table and they're grabbing at it frantically because they haven't even gotten crumbs for years."
(Hmm, where have climate activists seen mainstream enviros settling for similar "crumbs"?) Despite the River of Grass being an iconic national landscape, despite a multi-billion-dollar plan to revive it, despite the many years a broad coalition has championed its cause, the Everglades ecosystem remains at death's door. And greens wonder why they can't get any traction on climate change.