Friday, January 30, 2015

A few notes from India and thoughts about Florida … by gimleteye

It took nine hours to drive the hill country from Tamil Nadu on the east coast of India to the edge of Kerala on the west. The hills are the landscape of tea and rubber plantations, groves of spices -- pepper, cardamon, cinnamon and nutmeg -- once worth their weight in gold in European capitals. The opening of trade between India and the West was an epochal economic event, like the advent of the internet.

It is difficult to feel -- driving along crowded roadways and chaotic village life -- the colonial past or wealth that slipped through India, so vast that only one hundred years ago young princes and princesses played in chests loaded with sapphires, rubies and emeralds. For the poor, then, there was no concept of earning wages. Just the exchange of labor for daily meals.

Although I am at the end of my third visit to India, this is still a place that seems more remote from my experiences than any other. It is only a nation in principle. With so many unique languages, and nearly thirty strong and independent states, each ruled by their own congress, a stronger case can be made for India as a state of mind than a sovereign state. When President Obama on his visit to India said, this week, there is no fixing climate change without success here, I wondered: "how? who? where?"

This morning, however, I woke at the edge of the largest freshwater lake system in Kerala, called Vembanadu. It is shallow, not quite as shallow as Inle Lake in Myanmar, but home to fishermen and wading birds scouring lotus mats for food in the quiet dawn. It's a completely managed water system: saline in the dry season and fresh water during the monsoon months. The lake is connected by a river to the Arabian Sea and the water shifts from salt water to fresh through operation of a lock.

The temperature here is very similar to the Florida Keys. Village life, at the edge of the lake on the horizon, seems too far to make an impact here. The sounds and flocks of cormorants, herons, and egrets reminded me of dawn on Florida Bay in the early 1970's when -- miles from the nearest marina -- you would wheel the skiff around a small island and cut the engine just to feel the world come alive at daybreak. I miss those days with my father and Harry Spear, a fishing guide so in tune with the air and water he seemed inseparable from either. We were extremely fortunate to share those moments because today, when the light rises over Florida Bay, it is mostly silent.

We took a treasure -- the Everglades -- and turned it to something that holds life only in the hidden corners, unaffected by pollution or water management extremes. Unless one experienced the Everglades back then, the real value of what has been lost is for the imagination: sapphires and rubies and emeralds we let slip through our hands. Can the remnant Everglades be recovered before the baselines of fixing the Everglades becomes worn-out talking points for politicians?

Unlike India, the "who, what, where" of Everglades restoration is clear. The government agencies and farmers and land speculators and conservationists are identifiable. It's one of the reasons I am so adamant about seeing the Everglades in Florida returned so other generations can witness the ephemeral beauty of the world.

To those who say, what happens in the Everglades is God's will and besides, nature will adapt, I have three words: you are wrong. At the end of the day, when the diversity of species is crushed, what survives are species and organisms that thrive on waste caused by decay. That's the story of the Everglades.

What is obvious in the Everglades' decline can be seen across the planet, too. The survivors of climate change will look very much like today's scavenger species that survived the last great age of extinction.

What is on the climate change horizon is not a world you or I would want to live in -- a desecration of creation or a fulfillment of destruction theology -- , so why aren't we changing our behaviors and beliefs to avoid that outcome? I may have a better chance understanding India that the answer to that question.


Hank Resnik said...

A beautiful and moving piece. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

The love of money "greed" is the root of all evil what do we hear "drill baby drill' & BUILD, BUILD AND THEY WILL COME ----FROM HERE ON WE NEED TO HEAR, "DADE COUNTY IS NOW A NO GROWTH COUNTY"
& the state of Florida's motto,
'Come visit, spend your money but don't stay'