Editor’s Letter: February 2019

My daughter, who’s 8, was sitting with me at the breakfast table one recent morning when she announced what was on her mind. She was thinking about, as she put it, “the time when you and Mommy are dead and Florida’s underwater so I can’t live here.”

It’s a cheerful place, our breakfast table. Halfway through my oatmeal, I did what I usually do in these situations. I rubbed my temples and asked if she’d been talking to her mother.

Thing is though, our small human observes things. Ours is a house with newspapers and magazines lying around and news radio on in the morning. I think that’s a healthy thing for a child – it helps instill an understanding of the importance of being an informed citizen. (And yes, I’ve mastered the art of the dive-towards-the-radio change if an NPR story is too grisly or adult-oriented.) But man, the whole informed citizenry thing can get rough when you’re hearing about what’s happening to Florida.

In this magazine, as at the Petersen family breakfast table, we don’t shy away from what Florida faces. We’ve written before about climate change and the threat posed to Florida by sea-level rise or more powerful storms. In this month’s issue, we look at another phenomenon that’s ravaged parts of Florida recently: red tides.

Historically, our neighbors on the Gulf Coast are more susceptible to red tides and this latest trouble has been no different, although the tides have made their way to our coast as well.

As anybody who taught science at Cardinal Gibbons High School in the mid-1990s can tell you, I’m not the guy to explain the specifics of scientific phenomena. Check out the story for that; writer Jess Swanson spoke to experts and offers a concise explanation that even I and my hard-fought C in Bio could understand. One of the key points in the story answers those who would tell you nothing unusual or unnatural is happening here. As with many similar phenomena, red tides occur naturally – but are now being supercharged by our changing climate. As such, they get added to the list of things we need to worry about but that can also make us feel helpless because the needed changes are so massive and systemic.

Add the fact that our home in the sun is on the frontline of so many of these problems. On climate change, ours is the place that gets talked about when people need an example of somewhere that’s doomed to go first unless the world acts, and maybe even if it does. The canary in everybody else’s coal mine is our actual home.

Red tides do differ from other problems in one way: they offer Florida some fairly clear solutions. Again, read Jess’ story for the specifics but much of it comes down to this – we will either prioritize saving the Everglades and making natural Florida work the way it’s supposed to, or we won’t. And if we don’t, good luck to us.

At the breakfast table, I tried to answer honestly. Yes, maybe there will be a day when you can’t live here. And maybe before that, there will be days when the beaches aren’t safe or the drinking water isn’t drinkable. But this is our home and right now, we can still change things.

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