Making Climate Impacts Real: Obama’s Earth Day Speech From the Everglades
In many ways, Florida is on the front lines of the climate debate. As rising seas are causing flooding in Miami and threatening South Florida’s water supplies, officials at the Department of Environmental protection have reportedly been banned from using the term “climate change.” Senator Marco Rubio, now a presidential contender, has expressed doubt that climate change is caused by humans, while another prominent Florida politician (and likely presidential candidate) Jeb Bush cautiously urged climate action. Florida is also the setting for an unlikely partnership between Tea Party members and environmentalists, who are fighting for decentralized solar energy.
All this makes Florida – and particularly the Everglades – a very appropriate venue for President Obama’s planned Earth Day speech about climate change. As this Washington Post article points out, the Everglades are vitally important to Florida both as a tourist destination and as a source of fresh water. Rising sea levels are causing the intrusion of saltwater into the aquifers that supply the water for southeast Florida residents.
By using the Everglades as a backdrop, Obama can help make the threat of climate change real and relevant – and show how it affects our economy as well as the environment. These impacts are happening on our homefront, rather than the Antarctic seas or Arctic tundra. As Obama said in a speech last Saturday, “The Everglades is one of the most special places in our country, but it’s also one of the most fragile. Rising sea levels are putting a national treasure – and an economic engine for the South Florida tourism industry – at risk.”
Chris Mooney, Contributor to The Washington Post
It may not be as obvious a climate symbol as the rapidly warming Arctic. But with President Obama’s climate-focused visit on Earth Day, Everglades National Park could take on new significance as a politically potent case study of how global warming directly impacts people living in the United States.
The chief reason? In the Everglades, the fate of an ecosystem, and the fate of millions of people, are tightly wrapped together — and both are affected by rising seas.
Everglades National Park is an ecological icon because of its liminal nature — its 1.5 million acres lie perched between fresh and saltier water, between marsh and ocean. The unique region was famously dubbed a “river of grass” and supports vast biological diversity — mangrove forests, sawgrass prairie and much more.
Image credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images