Saturday, January 2, 2010

What Is Happening to Our Springs, and What Can We Do About It?

Florida's priceless jewels—the freshwater springs that exist here in one of the largest concentrations if not THE largest concentration in the world—are in trouble.

Springs that I remember being crystalline blue are now tinged with green, victims of rising pollution levels. Springs that used to draw tourists and swimmers have quit flowing and dried up entirely, victims of increased withdrawal of water from the aquifer by water bottling companies, agriculture, and an increasing human population.

What's worse is that there doesn't appear to be any kind of coherent statewide agreement that the degradation of our springs is a huge problem that needs to be fixed.

Our legislators are too afraid of angering business, agribusiness, and private citizens to put in place any new protections that might save our springs.

Most of our water management districts view their roles as being limited to issuing permits to whoever wants our water, never mind the effects on the environment.

Bureaucratic territorialism rears its ugly head whenever federal involvement or help is mentioned.

For all their good intentions, local environmental groups are limited in their abilities to influence collective vision and/or legislation.

Probably the worst part of the whole situation is that any kind of protective action that might do some good gets bogged down in arguments about scientific data.

Now, before you jump to conclusions, let me assure you that I am not anti-science. As someone who struggled for the first 18 years of her life with recurrent tonsil infections, I would never have made it to ripe old age if it hadn't been for the scientific advancements that brought us antibiotics. Science is a wonderful system for investigating the natural world, but we have been sold a bill of goods if we have come to believe that science has all the answers—it doesn't.

For every piece of data that "proves" a water permit will not adversely affect a local river or spring, there exists another piece of data that "proves" said permit will do damage.

So since it's the new year—traditionally a time for looking forward as well as backward—I will make a prediction:

The fate of Florida's springs, and the solution to Florida's potential water wars, hangs in the balance of spirit, not science.

The questions of who owns the water, who can have access to it, who can charge for it, whether or not it should be moved or removed, and whether or not our springs are worth preserving for future generations, are not questions that can be answered by science. These are ethical, moral, and even spiritual questions at their cores, and the only way I think we can come to agreement about what we need to do is to elevate the dialogue to include the ethical, moral, and spiritual considerations that surround our use of natural resources and stewardship of the planet.

Luckily, some of our best-known religious leaders are beginning to speak out about such problems. Just this past week the Pope gave an address titled, "If You Want to Cultivate Peace, Protect Creation," in which he made the following points:

"Can we remain impassive in the face of actual and potential conflicts involving access to natural resources?" the pope asked Friday. "All these are issues with a profound impact on the exercise of human rights, such as the right to life, food, health and development."

"Technologically advanced societies must be prepared to encourage more sober lifestyles, while reducing their energy consumption and improving its efficiency," while preparing "sustainable strategies to satisfy the energy needs of the present and future generations," he said.

While researching Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life and popular pastor of a huge megachurch in California, who has acknowledged that environmental stewardship is an important issue for Christians, I discovered the Evangelical Environmental Network's web site. The organization aims to "educate, inspire, and mobilize Christians in their effort to care for God's creation, to be faithful stewards of God's provision, and to advocate for actions and policies that honor God and protect the environment."

His Holiness Urgyen Trinley Dorje, the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa, recently launched a web site dedicated to the environment and what we can do to help it. Karmapa is providing leadership through publications, conferences—and even graphic design and jewelry design—to encourage people to become more aware of the environment and more active in protecting it.

So I remain hopeful—even in the face of multiple reasons to doubt!—that Floridians can agree that our springs are worth saving, even though that will mean some very fundamental changes in the lifestyles to which we have all become accustomed.

If we can't preserve the best our environment has to offer us here, where can we expect it to be preserved? If we can't do it now, then when?

And, isn't it really true that the way we treat the environment reflects the way we treat ourselves?

P.S. Here's another blog entry that deals with these questions, from the Ecological Buddhism blog.

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