"Please, don't be offended, Jessica, but I just don't see why it's so important to preserve the Everglades over other things," my canoe partner comments as again our watery path becomes skewed.
"It's important," I say while pushing a mangrove branch out of my way, "because it's about understanding how all things with or without life are interconnected and that includes us as human beings. It's about realizing and honoring those relationships; how the things we do reverberate out into nature and then, first, seeing how nature responds, and second, taking responsibility for our actions. It's like the stork and sparrow story we read."
"I understand that and I also understand how our changing of the water levels in the Everglades affects the birds, but I don't see how saving birds or the Everglades can be more important than saving the lives of children," a frustrated Jennifer responds.
What can I say? How can I convince Jen that the lives of birds, of all living things, are just as important as our own, if not for the simple fact that in effect the fate of those birds in the end can come back and impact the lives of children? I can't readily grasp an example that will drive my point home and silence comes in and settles down between us.
In the absence of conversation, I look around at the continuous expanse of mangroves, their adventitious roots arching over into the water impeding our progress, and am ashamed to come to the conclusion that the Everglades surely appears to be one boring place; monotonous miles of either mangroves, pine trees, or sawgrass sparsely peppered here and there with a hardwood hammock or cypress dome. Yet underneath this deceiving façade, I am comforted by my growing knowledge of the dynamic relationships and processes that are happening ever so slowly between the biotic and the abiotic elements present. Prior to eating lunch, I pondered what environmental variables might determine whether the aquatic environment below the canoe is dominated by periphyton or bladderwort. From what I can see there appears to be a difference in the depth of the water between the areas where one supercedes the other while the variation in the colors between the plant and algae bodies seems to indicate different ratios of chlorophyll a to chlorophyll b. Hence, perhaps photosynthetic efficiency plays a part in determining the areas where one species is seen over the other. Such questions provide entertainment to the scientifically inclined, yet even I find the scenery a bit tiresome as Jennifer and I steadily navigate towards land. And if I find the surroundings a bit lackluster, what about Jennifer or the general public for that matter? How am I going to sell this seemingly vapid Everglades to them?
To answer this question I found it necessary to consult with the not-so-environmentally-concerned faction of the population, my parents. To them, I related my jejune experience in the Everglades last Friday and asked them, "What would I need to do to get people concerned about the fate of the Everglades?" My mom's immediate answer was I needed to get a celebrity to speak for the Everglades or even better yet, get a celebrity to go and volunteer in the Everglades. My dad, having gotten his degree in economics, said, "You gotta hit'em in the pockets. Go for the water bill." Not really believing that people merely threatened by an increase in their water bill would get them concerned about the Everglades, I asked him to explain further. To this query he went on to explain the impact that a high water bill could have on employment by saying, "If we take an expensive hotel, let's say the Fountainbleu, a place where on the average let's say 700 rooms are occupied per night with each of their occupants using God knows how many gallons of water to brush their teeth, shave, shower, etc. Now, imagine we have a shortage of water that drives the price of water way up. When this happens, two things will most likely occur: first, the price of the rooms will go up resulting in a decrease in the number of guests while second, in an effort to keep the rates from going through the roof, service personnel will have to be laid off."
"Of course, the water bill of the Fountainbleu will not be the only hotel whose pocketbook gets pinched by the increasing cost of water," he continues, "Other hotels and motels will feel it too, resulting in more unemployment and decreased tourist attendance. Thus, the cumulative effect is that the whole service economy goes to hell."
"Then, after the whole service economy goes to hell, the unemployed will move out of town in search of work which means fewer people buying gas, groceries, and the like. Thus, the South Florida economy takes a second blow and probably goes to hell too!"
Keeping these two suggestions put forth by my parents in mind
I believe that the following public service announcement should be sufficient
in generating significant concern for the plight of the Everglades:
(Shot overlooking an expanse of sawgrass then pan left onto boardwalk and Gloria
Estefan looking out at the sawgrass with her hair blowing in the wind. Slow
zoom onto Gloria)
Gloria: A River of Grass. That's what Marjory Stoneman Douglas called
(Gloria turns and faces camera)
Gloria: But most of us know it as the Everglades. Yet, how many of us who live in South Florida have ever really seen the Everglades?
(Zoom out showing Emilio standing next to Gloria. The couple begins to walk down the boardwalk)
Gloria: Surely, Emilio and I never had in all the 28 years we've known each other until a "friend of the Everglades" played a joke on us by mailing a very official looking $3000 water bill to our home.
Emilio: As you can imagine, this was a shocking surprise and a cause for great concern. I'm sure you can also imagine the great sense of relief Gloria and I felt when we called the City of Miami and found out that the bill was not real. But Gloria and I had become curious and asked if one day such a reality could come to pass.
Gloria: The answer was yes and that's when the relationship between Emilio and I and the Everglades began. We became educated on the role that the Everglades plays in every South Floridian's life and learned how our actions negatively impacted the environment threatening our future water supply.
Emilio: We've also volunteered with our kids to help remove invasive exotic plants that undermine the integrity of the Everglades system and learned how we could modify our water use behaviors to ensure a stable water supply for us and South Floridians to come.
Gloria: We encourage you to do the same. Educate yourself at the Everglades National Park website (ENP website appears on screen) about the role of water in the Everglades and our lives. Don't wait until you receive a $3000 water bill to act. Start doing your part today.
(Gloria makes sweeping motion with her hand across the sawgrass expanse)
This is your Florida, South Florida and our water supply is not a joke. Let's take good care of it.
Of course, the preceding mock public service announcement is blended with a pinch of sarcasm and a dash of idealism but is such an "advertisement" really unreasonable? Would it be such a bad career move for a celebrity to make?
Still troubling though is Jennifer's question, "How is saving the Everglades more important than saving the lives of children? How is the life of a bird equivalent to the life of a human being?" Pondering over these ethical questions again, I realize that I could call on the sentience arguments of Peter Singer, the animal rights philosopher to explain broadly how all creatures that can feel pleasure and pain are equal, or perhaps she would be more responsive to an ecofeminist point of view where the "logic of domination" provides an explanation for both man's subjugation of women and nature. Also incorporated into the ecofeminist's point of view is a stress on relationships and an "ethics of care" rather than an ethics based on abstract principles and generalities. This "ethics of care" has a basis in the relationship of mother to child and strives to extend caring about the natural world in much the same manner. Perhaps if explained in this way the equality of a bird to a child would be easier to see. Yet, given the choice of saving one's child or a bird, I believe most women would opt for the child, so the question is not sufficiently answered indeed! But consider the situation where a family's house is on fire; the first priority would be to get the children out but would one not also be concerned about the fate of the family cat or dog? My point being: we try to save things that we have built relationships with. The Everglades is a very inhospitable place where one must look patiently and scrupulously for its subtle majesty, something that most Americans are no longer trained to do in this hi-tech world that keeps one's senses saturated. Thus, perhaps asking people to build a relationship with the Everglades is too much to ask. So, does anyone have Gloria Estefan's phone number?