A ‘Blue Revolution’ is in progress, author says

Lake Okeechobee News/Chris Felker
The author’s appearance, where she inscribed copies of her books for people, was co-sponsored by the Florida Humanities Council, Friends of Highlands Hammock State Park and the state park system.

 

SEBRING — Throughout human history, the greatest revolutions have bubbled up from among aggrieved groups incited by some tragedy or exploitation, who eventually make “leaders” follow their lead. Florida author Cynthia Barnett explained why she believes we’re watching another worldwide right now, one she calls “The Blue Revolu-
tion,” during a free lecture at Highlands Hammock State Park on Tuesday night, Feb. 5.

Revolutions regularly bubble up among humans much as the once-famous White Springs in north-central Florida used to burble from underground aquifers; for most of the 20th century there was a famous bathhouse there. Except those springs don’t bubble up anymore, since the 1970s. Neither do the famous Peacock Springs, north of Gainesville, Ms. Barnett noted, bringing up a slide of the algal brown soup that now stagnates where 19th-century American naturalist William Bartram described Florida’s spring waters as “blue ether of another world.”

This state, which is surrounded on three sides by seawater and whose entire history is entwined with managing water, still has the largest concentration of freshwater springs on Earth. They’re drying up at an accelerating rate, however; at last count, Ms. Barnett said, her list of lost springs was at 39. This is due to groundwater depletion through agricultural, industrial, mining and public use, plus saltwater encroachment, of the vast but delicate Floridan Aquifer.

That’s just a single one of the hydrological tragedies, ironies and weird facts that provide mounting incentives for a great Blue Revolution, she explained. She told some history about a previous great revolution, the environmental awakening that took hold among suddenly eco-aware Americans shocked by the Cuyahoga River fire in Ohio in 1969 (she was 3 at the time). Sewage and industrial waste caused the worst fish kills in U.S. history that same year in Escambia Bay at Pensacola, which still holds the record with 21. Other waterbodies in the state were dying: Tampa Bay dredging and pollution had wiped out sea grasses, the shoreline and most of the fish; Biscayne Bay was home to a disgusting pink plume known as the Rose Bowl. Sewage was being pumped directly into those formerly pristine waters with once-teeming fisheries. In the early 1970s, America’s fouled waters and industrial pollution had people up in arms.

The uprising, marked by widespread protests, gave rise to some of the strongest environmental laws ever enacted, including the Environmental Policy Act that created the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and the Clean Water Act of 1972, she noted. President Richard Nixon declared while was running for reelection in 1972 that “it is literally now or never” for “reclaiming the purity of America’s air, waters and our living environment,” and he won in a 49-state landslide.

 

Lake Okeechobee News/Chris Felker
An appreciative audience of about 80 people applauds professor Cynthia Barnett as she concludes her talk Feb. 5 at Highlands Hammock State Park.

Now, though, 50 years later, stated Ms. Barnett, the ecosystems in all of those places have largely recovered through concerted restoration efforts. Such can be the results of a publicly embraced revolution, she stressed. We’re at another “now or never” moment, however, she said — where the public ethos is again changing and prompting leaders to act. Ms. Barnett cited many encouraging signs in the Americas and lessons to be learned from water conservation efforts and experiences the world over.

A fifth-generation Floridian, Ms. Barnett is the Environmental Fellow at the University of Florida’s Bob Graham Center for Public Service. As a journalist who admittedly “became obsessed” with H2O, she has written three books about water issues, is working on a fourth harnessing seashells as a metaphor, and lives in Gainesville. She teaches environmental journalism at UF and also has published a book of poetry.

She was introduced by Park Services Specialist Carla Sherwin, whom Ms. Barnett later complimented on her timing, stating that “somehow she knew to schedule me during what may be the most dynamic moment in Florida’s water history for at least a dozen years.” Ms. Sherwin finished her intro by adding, “And she’s a Florida native from LaBelle!” This seemed to surprise everyone in the room, and the professor took the microphone with a “Wow” of her own, saying, “I have never gotten applause for being from LaBelle!” With that bit of humor, Ms. Barnett thanked the sponsors and then segued right into her talk, citing as evidence of progress new Gov. Ron DeSantis’ sweeping executive order calling for a record state spending level on Everglades restoration ($2.5 billion) and establishing a harmful algae task force, a chief state science officer and an Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection.

She went on for just over an hour, tying in the experiences of many countries in trying to manage water with what’s happening in the United States and Florida particularly. Her topics ranged over water scarcity pressures, water quality concerns and algal blooms such as those that have afflicted both Florida coasts more often in recent years while, in fact, simultaneously multiplying worldwide.

She also weaved in examples of climate change throughout her speech, since that phenomenon is the elephant in the room wherever the health of the Blue Planet’s water is discussed.

Everything Ms. Barnett discussed reinforced her overall point that the shared nature of a new public water ethic, harnessing everyone’s help in preserving the clean water element that all humans share every day, is key to the Blue Revolution. There’s a coalescing of efforts among widely disparate groups of people that is driving a clean-water agenda toward the top levels of institutions and governments. She optimistically hopes this will lead to a new notion of shared responsibility for the planet and its waters that we leave for our progeny.

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.

Facebook Comment