Monday, November 18, 2013

Silence of the Lambs: Florida environmentalism … by Alan Farago

Because revenue is not a factor in what we express on this blog, Eye On Miami takes points of view that advertiser-driven media won't touch. There are exceptions, of course. Some of the stories we have broken -- G.O.D. on absentee ballot fraud and, lately, the Lynda Bell (county commission District 8) scandals have been taken up by newspapers, radio, and television. We are part of the grand experiment in internet-based news. Still, there are distinct limits to civic journalism.

Opinions are another matter. Both my co-blogger, G.O.D., and I have spent many years as a civic activists in Miami-Dade, advocating for sensible growth or against corruption in government and the revolving door with agencies and private industry; places where very few citizens dare to tread because of the high barriers and walls thrown up by powerful special interests. We write from experience.

In the intersection of Florida environmentalism and politics, I've worked as board volunteer (I'm now president of the board of Friends of the Everglades, founded by Marjory Stoneman Douglas in 1969), and as a campaign organizer on controversial environmental issues with complicated strategy, tactics, and investment. As an opinion writer, I started in the late 1980's trying to engage through both mainstream print journalism and public broadcasting.

In 2006, pressure from the Governor's Office forced me off a regular position on the editorial page of the Orlando Sentinel. (Although I live in Miami, The Miami Herald was not similarly amenable to publishing my views.) The Bush administration's complaint? I had charged in an editorial that polluted water directed by the South Florida Water Management District was destroying downstream estuaries in order to benefit Big Sugar. Bush and his lieutenants insisted to the newspaper's publisher and editors: prove it. That sent me on a wild-goose chase through the water management district's Alice-In-Wonderland databases; where information is cordoned off from critical assessment (notwithstanding MILLIONS of dollars investment in marketing and propaganda, otherwise).

Shortly afterwards -- once it became clear the controversy cost the Sentinel more than it was worth, especially at a time the parent newspaper, the Herald Tribune, was under severe financial pressure -- I began writing daily here, at Eye On Miami and the national website, Counterpunch.

So I have a point of view and it has been relentless in attacking the Great Destroyers of Florida; the polluters and development interests who turned the chief assets of the state -- our lakes, bays, estuaries and natural lands like the Everglades -- into personal profit.

I've decided to change focus.

To do that involves breaking one of the first rules of the community to which I've given decades of my life and energy. One of the first rules of environmentalism is never attack your own.

I'm going to break that rule in a way that is going to put me in solitary company in Florida. The failures of environmentalism in Florida and nationally, too, need to be aired even if it means breaking the code of silence. Why I am breaking my silence, now, is complicated. It is also a matter of timing.

Last week, a long-time friend US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse was interviewed in the Washington Post about his quixotic, regular speeches from the floor of the Senate on climate change.

"With little hope of (such) climate legislation moving anytime soon, and few lawmakers paying attention to his weekly floor speeches, I asked Whitehouse whether his addresses were really aimed at his own descendants -- at leaving a record of how he fought against denialists and cowards who refused to protect the one and only planet we have. "I very much want my grandchildren to know that I fought the good fight," he replied. "But much more than that, I want to turn this around."

I also want to "turn this around". Over the years I've migrated from direct action -- for example, as a founder of the effort the stop movement of the Urban Development Boundary and, earlier, as the activist leader who halted the scheme to redevelop the Homestead Air Force Base for the benefit of powerful campaign contributors assembled from the ranks of former board members of the Latin Builders Association.

We are pretending, when we assert we have made substantive progress on environmental issues, despite some victories and despite billions -- literally billions -- invested in the Everglades.

Where we have made progress, through interventions in federal court, these halting steps are obstructed at every turn by the Great Destroyers. In 2013, nearly a decade after the Orlando Sentinel decided it could not afford a guest editorial opinion on the ravages created by water management district policies shoveling polluted water to the estuaries, exactly that problem -- heightened by a very wet rainy season -- wreaked havoc in the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers.

This year, citizens outraged by the destructive practices of water management, ruining quality of life, property values, and the environment -- assembled in Florida in numbers we have never seen before. Where, I would ask, are the environmental groups, hobbled in many cases by charitable organization restrictions, or their leaders in making the politicians "pay" for their outrageous past behavior? Why are Florida's environmental groups politically weak to the point of being neutered? That's what I want to write about.

I am not a reader of crystal balls. There are many others more qualified in the science who understand the connections I've been making. But the special interests have dragged our issues and priorities into the high weeds of complexity, sowing doubt and disinformation with professional skill.

In my view, "turning this around" depends on setting the conditions for a younger generation to become engaged in our politics. My generation still has time to lead by example, like Senator Whitehouse is doing, but more importantly: it is time for a younger generation of activists and political leaders to emerge in Florida.

There are lots of mechanics involved in creating opportunities for new candidates for public office to emerge.

The small place where I want to fit in, has to do with telling the truth how environmental leadership failed in Florida to begin the reconstruction of a movement that began, here, in more innocent times with the first awakening of federal laws and state initiatives to protect the environment. That happened four decades ago. In contrast, consider what happened only two years ago on the other side of the Everglades from Miami. In Lee County, Big Sugar and a PAC operating in the shadows eliminated a twenty year career civil servant from the county commission with a late night investment of nearly one million dollars. Ray Judah, a Republican, had served on the county commission with distinction. His political assassination was carried out by forces -- Big Sugar -- that had never so blatantly drilled down to electoral politics at the county level.

Which environmental groups raced to Judah's defense? None. Name the environmental groups who even knew or were poised to respond? Judah's offense is that he had supported the massive purchases by the state of lands used in sugar production south of Lake Okeechobee. He had supported then Governor Charlie Crist's purchase of US Sugar lands with more than one billion dollars of state funds. For the offense of stating the obvious, Ray Judah was lifted off the political page in Florida.

As environmentalists, we are way off course and it is time to say, how it happened. That's what I'm going to be thinking and writing about. The only way to evaluate the state of Florida's environmental movement is to judge by the results; the results on the ground and in the waters. Those results are dismal. Tampa Bay Times writer Craig Pittman, this past weekend, wrote about one of those results, "Dolphins dying in droves and scientists can't stop it." It will be liberating to write about the failures of Florida's environmental movement, even if there are many who are not going to like what I have to say.


Geniusofdespair said...

Environmentalists eat their own.

Anonymous said...

Yes they do and then wonder why we have zero or such bad environmental policy.

Anonymous said...

501(c)(3) organizations may not support or oppose a particular individual political candidate like Ray Judah and still comply with their not-for-profit status. It's not fair to criticize the environmental community for not supporting Judah when doing so would have violated the IRS' rules.

Anonymous said...

off topic but environmentally important:

I have noticed that the grass and greenery along the City of Miami Sewell Park (17 ave and NW North River Drive)which has a few hundred feet of Miami Riverfront property as well as a couple hundred more on Wagner Creek is all brown and dead and it appears to be a long standing practice of spraying herbicide around the base of all trees and on the growth along the waterfront or the riverfront.

I wonder if this is being done in other sensitive areas under city of miami "care" ???

I do not think the maintenance employee actually intends the harm of flushing herbicides out into the river and bay but is uninformed of the consequences.

If anyone can please reply with a place and contact info to make a complaint about it please reply and I will report it.

I just do not call the City to deal with it as I am a city resident and know that all communication to them, either to a department or even elected officials is never acknowledged and I guess no one reads anything. I think the entire admin is pretty much worthless.

County 311 is a great service but they are very constricted by their computer program as to the type of complaint they can take and this is not one of them..

This might be the type herbicide that contributes to those horrible growths on sea turtles and fish and other marine life

thank you and thank you to the people behind EOM and Farago for all you do for this community through activism, edication, communication and advocacy

Anonymous said...

The ability and willingness to speak one's true opinion to the public is a brave and commendable action.
Congratulations and good luck!

Anonymous said...

Individually, members of charitable environmental groups, on their own can certainly support political candidates and they don't or support the wrong ones. At least not the majority of them. Great blog today. Exactly how I feel, especially when there's a UDB Hearing coming up to pave in the footprint of our NW well field. The BCC meeting is on the 20th. I guess Soffer (Turnberry) needs to spend the cash they lost in the Vegas deal.

Anonymous said...

I have to think it helps to have a path suggested for younger activists to follow. It's easy to get lost or turned around, and wise old activists sometimes know where to aim the guns.

Anonymous said...

someone (or some organization) needs to step up for sure. and it's been legal advocacy that has carried the ball so far. no need now to back away from that as an option.

Marshmaid said...

Alan, I fear you may be doing exactly what industry loves best, turning us against each other. On the positive side, maybe you are trying to re-ignite the fire under us all. Hmmm.

Anonymous said...

It's high time environmentalists gave up on the Democrats who have been complicit in Florida's deterioration. There is a political party here in Florida that makes the environment its priority. Unfortunately, the Ecology Party of Florida's founders are so exhausted from having fought against the 2 proposed Levy nukes for 5 years that they ned to take a break. Others who want to work on a party that is an alternative to the corporate shill parties might consider getting involved & running on the EPF ballot line (if you;re a hard core environmentalist. Accommodationists need not apply.

Anonymous said...

The silence has been deafening and going on for quite some time now. I've wondered if anyone has noticed...thanks for writing that!