Is 2022 the year we finally get serious about Florida’s environmental crises?

In a Jan. 2 piece, TCPalm’s environmental columnist Ed Killer hit the nail on the head by noting that as bad as 2021 was for Florida’s environment, 2022 could be worse:

The list of assaults on the fragile environment seems endless: biosolidswildfiresinvasive speciescoral bleachingaquatic herbicidesEverglades destruction, oil drilling/fracking, lack of biodiversity, and sea level riseking tides and erosion.

Killer then goes on to cite seven specific threats to watch out for:

  • The continuing saga at Piney Point
  • Manatee deaths
  • Toxic algae
  • Red tide
  • Our threatened springs
  • Hurricanes
  • Unchecked development

It’s important to understand, however, that with the exception of hurricanes, all the rest were preventable.

In other words, as bad as things are and may get – it’s Florida’s fault.

Unchecked development, along with other factors like agricultural runoff, have resulted in elevated nutrient levels in the water.

That’s killed off seagrass, leading directly to the manatee die-off.

And those nutrients, mixed with Florida’s abundant sunlight and heat, gave rise to ever-worsening toxic algae blooms, and intensified the naturally occurring red tide that finally appears to have ebbed off Florida’s west coast.

Piney Point, of course, should have been closed years ago, but state officials never got around to it, and now they’ve no choice; whatever it costs, that cost must be borne by you, the taxpayer.

And even hurricanes, while ubiquitous through the years, have likely been made more intense, more powerful, due to man-made climate change.

Better choices over the years might have prevented some or even many of these dangerous outcomes. But powerful industries wielding massive clout in Tallahassee have managed to stave off real change. And in fact they continue to do so.

There are several legislative proposals on the table in Tallahassee this year which would make it easier to develop projects that could have a detrimental effect on the environment. Meanwhile, we turn to technology; a pair of legislative proposals, for example, would direct the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to procure the best new innovative tech available to physically remove blue-green algae blooms from our waterways.

That’s great. But how about we tackle the pollution that’s causing those algal blooms instead, or first? How about we go after the elephant in the room, rather than merely tinkering around the edges?

This is all too typical of Florida’s approach to our environmental problems: Treating the symptoms rather than the disease. Treating the disease itself would be contentious, expensive, would ruffle quite a few prominent feathers. Problem is, not doing so is only going to make things worse.

So maybe the red tide will stay away; maybe the blue-green algal blooms will be muted this year – though they’re already prompting warnings around Lake Okeechobee. Maybe the manatees will take to being fed and we’ll stop the mass die-off.

But when and how will we grow back the seagrass? When and how will we see major – not token, but massive – reductions in the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus going into our waters?

When will we get serious about any of this?

If 2022 actually is worse than 2021 – we may have no choice.