One planet, one child

JOE WALLES   |   Times (2005)
Grayton Beach State Park in the Panhandle is pristine, a situation rarer and rarer in Florida now.

JOE WALLES | Times (2005) Grayton Beach State Park in the Panhandle is pristine, a situation rarer and rarer in Florida now.

They took all the trees

Put 'em in a tree museum

And they charged the people

A dollar and a half just

to see 'em

Don't it always seem to go

That you don't know what you've got

Till it's gone

They paved paradise

And put up a parking lot



Joni Mitchell's

'Big Yellow Taxi'

After you've spent a day hiking through Florida's preserves along its Nature Coast, you just might find yourself on the back deck of the Rusty Rim Pub on Cedar Key near about sundown. There, along with your $3 bottled brew and a view of the gulf that won't quit, you'll hear the local men who make their living out of the surrounding waters debrief the day.

Between pulls on their longnecks and cigarettes, the talk meanders from whether Honda outboards are worth their salt to where one goes these days to "start over."

I would have thought Cedar Key, population under 1,000, was that kind of place. But they were dreaming of packing up and living onboard in Costa Rica — though one gravelly voiced gent thought Costa Rica was already "discovered" and that Cuba was your best bet.

Newcomers are moving to Florida's Big Bend. With them comes a more complicated life, a lot more concrete and the buying up of all the million-dollar views that used to be the birthright of anyone here.

Despite Florida's sharp housing market downturn, people are still coming to the tune of about 500 a day (down from upward of 1,000 a day). It doesn't take long, traveling south along U.S. 19, to see the inexorable march of the invading population. The highway goes from tree-lined and lightly traveled to strip-mall-lined and clogged in shockingly short order.

A place as seemingly remote as tiny Steinhatchee offers newly built riverfront condos for half a million dollars just down the road from the smoked mullet stand. They're for the bourgeoisie who enjoy scalloping. Work for a local wage and you can't touch one.

It's a starkly beautiful hike through the nature trails of the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge and the Cedar Key Scrub State Reserve. The topography is so sensitive to any shift in moisture that inclines of mere inches can almost completely change the flora and fauna.

The government's brochures on these places discuss the "indiscriminate logging" that once wiped out species that are finally coming back thanks to successful "major habitat management."

As hopeful as the pamphlets try to be, everyone knows that these land banks are a last gasp at preserving something about to be lost. The reserves are historical museums of the environment, as much a collection of artifacts of yore as are the Indian midden mounds at the Crystal River Archaeological State Park. They are tree museums.

And as full as Florida seems to be getting, it's nothing compared with the rest of our home planet.

The United Nations says the human species is on track to surpass 9-billion by 2050, from the current 6.7-billion. This increase of 2.5-billion is as much as the entire population of the world in 1950. Every fourth day we add a million people.

Thomas Malthus was right about the coming population bomb. Technology has staved off the day of reckoning, but it's coming. Already, we are starting to experience the breakdown of the systems that support human life — never mind any other kind of complex organism. And global climate change will accelerate matters.

We're eating our seed corn and don't seem to care.

Humans can either survive this the hard way or the easy way. The hard way is to do virtually nothing and come to equilibrium through massive population devastation. The easy way is to return to sustainability through planned parenthood — making one-child households a cultural imperative everywhere, with birth control universally accessible.

But, as we all know, religious extremism and its followers in officialdom stand in the way of such rational public policy. The world's major religions continue to encourage reckless reproduction levels with many condemning birth control and abortion. So, instead, we're on track for the hard way.

When you're squinting into a glowing sunset on the deck of the Rusty Rim with the natural beauty of the gulf to the horizon, it's hard to fathom that this dismal future is only decades away. You want to believe that the way of life here — where you get out the fishing pole to catch dinner — is locked in time. But nothing is. Florida's countless square miles of paved-over paradise can attest to that.

One planet, one child 03/01/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 28, 2010 9:19am]

    

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