Discover more from Laura Erickson's For the Birds
Florida in Crisis
The state's biodiversity and human diversity are in peril, and attention must be paid
(Listen to the radio version here.)
In 1967 or so, my high school American history teacher told us that slavery was not as black-and-white as many people thought. He argued that slaves benefitted from free housing, clothing, food, and medical care, and that some slaves even received an education from their “masters.” I regret that I didn’t blurt out a loud “Bullshit!”—I was much too shy and conformist for that. But my 15-year-old self couldn’t help but raise my hand and ask, in a very polite and hesitant way, “Isn’t that sort of—well, isn’t that bullshit?”
That was the only time in my entire scholastic career, from first grade through graduate school, that I ever said a swear word to any teacher, in or out of class. Maybe because I was so polite about it, Mr. Whalen didn’t get mad or send me to the office—he simply asked me why I thought that. I’d learned in debate that my own opinions and gut feelings were never enough to win a point—I’d have to quote authorities. So I quoted someone we’d talked about in that same American history class, someone who wrote that it was a self-evident truth that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights that included liberty and the pursuit of happiness, neither compatible with slavery. He argued that the man who penned those words was himself a slave holder, but I argued that just because Jefferson was a flawed human being who couldn’t live up to his own ideal hardly made the ideal flawed. For good measure, I threw in some words I’d been required to recite every school morning since I was 5 years old, about this nation’s “liberty and justice for all.”
To this day, I’m not sure if Mr. Whalen was trying to challenge us in some sort of Socratic teaching method to articulate why slavery was evil or if he really thought it wasn’t so bad. But right this very moment, half a century later, one state is suddenly requiring teachers to present the “good” side of slavery in an absolutely non-Socratic way.
Florida is also, right this very moment, suffering mightily from the impacts of climate change. Its coasts are eroding, salt water is intruding into the Everglades, record ocean temperatures have sparked widespread coral bleaching in the Florida Keys, several major insurers no longer offer homeowner’s insurance over much of the state, and at least seven cases of malaria have turned up in Sarasota County. That’s not even considering the increasing number of days each year when temperatures are reaching oppressive heights above 90º and even 95º.
Both political parties have assiduously avoided dealing with climate change, some politicians even outright denying its existence, but in Florida, this sudden focus on forcing teachers, librarians, and the medical community to accept a racist, sexist, anti-LGBQT agenda has been directing everyone’s focus away from the climate crisis. The Florida governor ridicules the people who care about the environment or other human beings as “woke” even as he drives his state directly toward the precipice, proud to be sound asleep at the wheel.
I support everyone who is boycotting Florida right now—often the best way to effect political change is via the pocketbook. But I also want to keep pressure on Florida’s moneyed interests to protect the people and wild birds who live there. The little girl who half a century ago couldn’t let an evil idea stand without rebuttal still cannot let uneducated, misguided, and downright bullshit arguments win the day.
So I’m going to focus this week’s posts on some wonderful birds and places in the Orlando/Kissimmee area, the center of much of Florida’s tourism industry. I love this beautiful state where my firstborn son lives and where I saw the milestone 600th bird on my life list, the Florida Scrub-Jay, found nowhere else on the planet except this one state. Florida’s human and biological diversity deserve protection and support regardless of, or in spite of, the state’s politicians. Until they wake up, they’re holding the rest of us in a national nightmare.