“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.