A return to normalcy is the last thing Florida needs – Irma a largely man-made disaster for our state

Fallen tree in Boca Raton, By Islanders41 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=62406207

“Things will return to normal next week,” goes the refrain. Most citizens of Florida long for a return to the normalcy we enjoyed before Labor Day Weekend, 2017 when it became clear Irma might impact our state. That normalcy being sold by the politicians among other is exactly what they want because then once again Floridians will take their eyes off the ball. Irma is classified as a natural disaster but the reality is that it was part natural disaster and part man-made disaster. Never in recent memory has Tropical Storm or Category 1 force winds created such havoc among such a large swath of people in our state or quite frankly in the developed world (the type of damage Florida suffered last week including power outages are what you normally see in Central America, Haiti, Bangladesh or the Philippines when natural disasters occur). Never before has a relatively fast moving storm delivered such a punch in terms of water to this state. The cost of over-development in Florida and anti-intellectualism in our state’s political culture have been made very clear in the past seven days.

When I hear “we need to return to normal,”  I interpret it as code from economic elites and the political class to stop Floridians from using our critical thinking skills to demand answers and future changes as to why an event that merely created sustained Tropical Storm force winds for most of us created so much havoc, destruction and death. A “return to normalcy” is the politician’s friend, the power company’s friend, the economic elites friend, the developer’s friend, the climate deniers friend, the large merchant contributor to politicians friend (hello Publix and Home Depot among others) the friend of those who deny science and those who want to take intellectualism out of the public square –  A return to normalcy is ultimately the enemy of Florida itself. A “return to normalcy” will bring back heady care-free days like the United States enjoyed in the 1920’s only to be woken up by Great Depression. Irma should be viewed in a similar light by Floridians. It is critical that Floridians of all stripes hold elected officials and other elites accountable – address Climate Change and Growth Management now – Irma made us pay a steep price for the carefree negligence of the 2006 to 2016 time period  and the next time it might be far worse.

It wasn’t just for the heck of it that I have spent much of this summer researching and writing about Hurricane Andrew’s impact on southern Florida, and writing very little by comparison about other subjects. A feeling had prevailed over me and many others that I talk to that Andrew’s lessons which at one time dominated thinking in the state were now being completely lost as an arrogance once again overtook the class of elites whose decisions we have to live by. Little did I know in the midst of writing about Andrew we would be faced with a challenge perhaps as large (and impacting far more people) as Andrew had provided us – a weaker storm but one that went right up a state which lacked adequate preparation or understanding of the threat – A state led by a Governor who has spent seven years in office denying the very changes to our climate that Floridians feel the impact of every single day. A state led by a class of politicians in both political parties who have time and again approved development after development, high rise building after high rise building without any real thought process as to the environmental impact or how people would evacuate if a large storm came, or how basic infrastructure like drainage and power would handle such a storm. Despite big talk, time and again politicians, including those who call themselves progressives approved development after development in nature’s buffer lands or in areas in susceptible to sea level rise and other elements of the changing climate we are dealing with.

We live in a state whose economy has not been diversified by those in power despite fluffy rhetoric and claims of being “pro-business,” which is simply code for “bought and paid for by certain interests.” Our state’s economy depends on two things – tourism and constant development, both of which require expenditures for rapid building which are not being complimented by similar investments in infrastructure. This is a state whose leaders have largely denied any need to maintain park space, to adequately fund wildlife preservation and who have scoffed at any investment in the type mass transit that reduced CO2 emission AND helps to attract businesses as well as highly professional people to Florida.

While many Floridians might find events like College Football and the Florida Gators heroic last second victory over Tennessee a welcome distraction from the post-Irma discussions, sporting events like this in some ways represent the same sort diversionary tactic the Roman games did in the 200’s CE as the empire’s moral foundation was crumbling and the aristocracy as well as the military was exploiting the population even more blatantly than in the past. Diversions such as sporting events, local festivals and other entertainment might take people’s minds off what is really at stake and give the politicians and elites the upper hand again. It is important our citizens stay vigilant and hold the political classes feet to the fire regardless of what party they are in and what they may say rhetorically about the important environmental and climactic issues that impact this state.

Returning to normal is the last thing we need – Irma should if anything create a “new normal,” where the partisan political games and the elite driven conversations about things less important than climate and growth management laws are rejected and this state’s fragile environment and being are finally protected after two decades of sliding into a huckster-driven fantasy world which has left Florida more vulnerable than ever.

13 comments

  1. Great take on the reality of Florida, it’s services and it’s politicians….we live in a bubble where the retirement heaven is no longer a heaven and IRMA decided to do a job on us from cat 4 to cat 1 and affected every level of life we have and we weren.t ready and the politicians were inept and incompetent to handle such destruction, misery and death.

  2. Well said Kartik, the status quo constantly works to distract us of the progressivism needed to handle climate change and our infrastructure. Time to clean house in Tallahassee and D.C. We need new leaders with the will to move forward.

  3. Well said and thoughtful, but on deaf ears. Those who care already know these things and those who dont are happy in their lies. Goodluck to Florida, I loved Tampa and spear fishing and the wildlife and outdoors of that state but well I hope that we just end up killing us instead of the entire planet.

  4. So well said. We are on day 13 in coconut grove with no power. I just got back from goodland by Marco island and what a disaster there. We don’t have even the basics of infrastructure at this point. Not to mention they have a toxic film of dust tjere from the bottom of the sea covering everything. Thanks for this article.

  5. Herb Shelton · · Reply

    The criminal thugs called the Florida legislature are bribed by corporate pigs to the degree that they can’t even ban fracking! These traitors to their representative office cannot be trusted to protect safe drinking water. Greg Evers reigned over Pensacola as a Fl senator and has done nothing to rectify the notorious unsafe drinking wager there. Ray Rodrigues persuaded the House to deny a fracking ban, paid by big oil. There is no hope until voters listen up to the real issues and stop voting for anti abortion and anti gay ‘values’ manipulated by the GOP upon a dumb public!

  6. Alicia Bravo · · Reply

    Thank you very well said and absolutely true, Its time for responsible Politics in Florida and to preserve our state. Enough is Enough !

  7. I dont know where you were but when Irma hit us in Key West she was a Cat 4 hurricane!

    You should, also, watch the interview with the founder of the Weather Channel aired on CNN. He pretty much debunked everything you just said.

    1. It was a Cat 1 or TS for more people in Florida. Yes I clearly state it was a Cat 4 for the Keys and a Cat 3 for SW Florida. But for the rest of us it was a weak storm nowhere near the strongest storms that the state has experienced.

      1. You forgot a very important fact. ‘Never before’ have we seen a storm that hit the entire length of the state from the keys to the GA line. THAT is a very big omission. It was the biggest reason for the extent of the damage.

      2. True with the exception of Donna this was a first. But still it was a weak storm for folks outside of seven counties (Monroe, Collier, Lee, Charlotte, Hendry and Highlands). I totally get the level of damage in those seven counties and quite frankly having surveyed damage in Collier was surprised it wasn’t worse. But in places like Broward, Orange, Duval the level of damage and slow recovery have been quite frankly unacceptable given the scope of the storm. But you are right. It was a nearly unprecedented storm in the scope of how it impacted the whole peninsula.

  8. Brian lansford · · Reply

    The earth’s climate has always been changing and forever will long after our time on this earth.
    Countless studies and calculations have cited that we are well over do for storms ,such as Irma.
    And as devastating as it has been for most Floridians, we are far better off than all of the other 3rd world islands and countries getting hammered by mother nature right now and I think that most of us can agree that there are far more important things to care about and focus on, rather than turning it into a political issue or blaming politicians for an act of nature.

    1. Climate Change is just one small piece of the man made part of this disaster. It’s more over-development, lack of park space, no buffer lands being preserved,etc, etc. It’s political but in a way not because the Democrats, the part of the left is as responsible if not more so than the GOP. The most overrun areas with little regard for environmental considerations in the state have tended to be governed by Democrats. Republicans in places like Martin and Indian River County have done a much better job of keeping a sustainable community than most other coastal areas in the peninsular portion of the state.

  9. […] editorialized repeatedly about infrastructure issues in this state that were tested and exposed by Irma’s wrath. Now we’re finding the utilities companies […]

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