Monday, January 24, 2011

Saving Our Springs by Asking the Right Questions

I’ve been thinking about Florida’s water issues again and, in particular, the fate of those springs that are our own unique, sparkling jewels—Silver, Ichetucknee, Manatee, Wekiva, and so many more, over 900 in all, the largest concentration of freshwater springs in the world.

Put that much crystal-clear water together in one place, and the springs long ago would have been named a World Heritage Site or at the very least, a National Park. But because they are scattered, held by a mix of public and private owners, and because the State of Florida is reluctant to enforce or even enact regulations that would help preserve these gems, it seems that task falls to all the rest of us.

As I’ve watched and welcomed the expanding dialogue about Florida’s water issues, I’ve realized something else.

Just as we can’t expect the government to step in and prevent the springs from being loved to death, polluted, or pumped dry, so we cannot expect science to provide all the answers to our water problems.

I’m not saying we don’t need science; we do. It’s just that I think the kind of effort that is going to be required to save our springs can only be successful if we advance the dialogue beyond the seemingly endless scientific arguments that surface at every public meeting, and start asking some of the bigger moral and ethical questions that this issue demands.

Science, after all, was not developed to solve every human dilemma—only to explain the workings of the natural world. To solve the really big problems, I am convinced that we need to bring into play ethics, morality, empathy, and compassion.

If we first recognize that each of us needs clean water to survive, and that each of us is capable of contributing to the fouling and diminishment of that water, then I think we can begin to ask some of the bigger questions that might be helpful.

What are our responsibilities as individuals, neighbors, communities, and businesses with regard to keeping our water free of pollutants? Conserving water when we can? Keeping our septic tanks in good working order? Changing the way we fertilize our plants? Making the switch from manicured lawns that need lots of water to alternatives such as native plant gardens that need less? Buying sturdy water bottles and getting our drinking water from the tap? Speaking out about our role in saving our water and our springs to family, friends, and acquaintances in our neighborhoods, churches, workplaces, and schools?

And can we even come to collective agreement about the answers to these questions in an environment that seems to polarize us at every turn?

Florida’s new governor seems intent on relegating a lot of the state’s “anti-business” regulations to the dustbin; I worry about how this will affect our water quality, and how it will affect all those businesses that depend on water-based recreational tourism, all those other businesses that use Florida’s natural environment as a recruiting tool for their employees, and all the rest of us who can’t think of anything better than a cool dip in the springs on a hot summer day.

For quite a while now, I’ve felt alone in wondering if we should be asking these ethical questions, so I was delighted recently to discover that I’m not alone. For people who are interested, I recommend the new book Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril edited by Kathleen Dean Moore and Michael P. Nelson.

I think the sooner we start asking the big questions, the closer we may come to saving our springs. I offer these thoughts in the hope that they may start a ripple effect.

Note: The Gainesville Sun was kind enough to publish this as an opinion piece on January 24, 2010.

No comments:

Post a Comment