This photo of a Burmese girl at the head of a long line on her daily water-collecting chore went viral last year; the girl became a new poster child for injustice, incompetence and greed in Burma. Involuntary child labor is rare in our part of the world, and a chore like this the stuff of weather-related emergencies, unless you happen to live in Detroit. Retrieving the photo was no more difficult than turning on a tap to fill my kettle or wash my hands. In a well-functioning society, we take water — and electricity, and until recently, the Internet — for granted, squandering them as if there was no tomorrow.
If you’ve been following social media, you may have noticed that water is on the brink of becoming a marketable commodity, like fossil fuels. Maybe you thought that just because water makes up between 50-75% of our bodies, it is a human right. Corporations like Nestlé beg to differ. Nestlé has been bottling water from aquifers in Palm Springs, California, and selling it to drought-stricken Los Angeles. Maybe we should have seen it coming when we gave in to the whole bottled water craze like our European neighbors, without cause. New York tap water is wonderful. But there’s no stuffing that genie back into the bottle, recyclable or otherwise. I’m not generally an alarmist, but this latest corporate move does seem like a strike against basic human rights on a whole new order of magnitude. Water: Next Capitalist Tool.
As a coastal Florida resident, I think a lot about water, maybe more than most of my neighbors. We prefer our water where it ‘belongs’: at the beach where we can use it for recreation, and flowing from our taps for all the things we must do with water … and then some. But too much water or the wrong kind can change that in a flash, as neighborhoods in Miami, Delray Beach and Loxahatchee know too well every time there is heavy rain, high tides and/or a full moon.
Last week, at the Second Annual Sea Level Rise Symposium, I got a refresher course in just how important water is to my adopted state, delivered by a group of smart, dedicated people — scientists, elected officials, activists and philanthropists. Attendance this year was roughly double, filling up the auditorium of Oxbridge Academy. In sum, according to keynote speaker, Kristin Jacobs, Broward County Commissioner and Co-Chair of the President’s Subgroup of the Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience and others, unless we can respond appropriately and very soon, climate change will deliver two distinct threats to a state that is essentially entirely coastal: 1. the risk to real estate and tourism in the billions due to storm damage and flooding, and 2. saltwater contamination of drinking water wells, due to sea level rise and a compromised water table. The maps made by Jayantha Obeysekera, aka “Obey”, chief modeler, South Florida Water Management District were, in a word, scary. There are, he said, no wells that will not be affected. Who should care? All of us. And yet, according to Keren Bolter, FAU Geosciences PhD candidate, there is a chasm in public awareness between those who get it and those who haven’t … yet. Even EPA operatives are behind the curve on climate science, noted Bryan Myers, Energy and Climate Change Coordinator, EPA Region 4. Don’t look for much help from our current state administration. Commented Bobby Powell Jr., Florida State Representative, District 88, salt water would have to flow from our taps before there would be any action. Just remember that come election time. So, where to turn?
Go local (where have I heard that before?). Said West Palm Beach Major, Jeri Muoio, in any emergency, the buck stops at the mayor’s office. In Miami, considered the most vulnerable city in the world for storm surge and sea level rise, 87% of residents approved higher taxes to address impacts, and agreed to an 84% increase in their storm sewer fees. We, the people.
Jan Booher, South Florida Climate Action Partners, and Barbara Eriv, League of Women Voters of PBC (one of the Symposium sponsors), running a breakout session on Community Outreach, would agree. The two are members of the Climate Change Working Group which is designed to enable climate activist groups to share information, plans and results. They intend to use citizen muscle — that would be us — to get more municipalities to sign on to the Mayors’ Climate Action Pledge. As of this writing, only two out of 38 municipalities in Palm Beach County have done so: Boynton Beach and Delray Beach.
According to attorneys Mitchell Chester, SLRAmerica.org and Richard Grosso, Nova Southeastern University, Director of Environmental and Land Use Law Clinic, (Breakout: Legal Wars and Economics) the existing environmental laws are ‘more than sufficient to protect health, business, property.’ However, our justice and financial systems have yet to understand that climate change and sea level rise (SLR) represent a “global phenomenon that are a major challenge to our way of governance,” or to prepare for it. We need a financial system for SLR because it is a monetary problem for individuals, and ‘there is money to be made’ in addressing it. “If you deny climate science,” said Grosso, “you can still value the health of your children, the economic value of our coastlines, the need for clean air and water.” How to communicate better with skeptics? We could all use some help with that. Until someone designs such a course, consider these.
The Everglades supply 66% of all the water used in South Florida. Check out Love The Everglades. Support this and other eco-organizations with your time and money
Read John Englander’s High Tide on Main Street
Write/call your state representatives, and VOTE.