Remembering Marjory Stoneman Douglas and Her Rich Sustainability Legacy

by Hank Boerner – Chairman and Chief Strategist, G&A Institute

As we watched the news of the tragic events at the high school in Broward County in South Florida, I wondered how many of us connected the oft-mentioned name of the high school with the woman – and her legacy – behind the institution’s name.

It’s a wonderful story to share with you: Marjory Stoneman Douglas was a valiant and heroic pioneer in so many ways on so many environmental and social issues.

She moved to Florida in 1915 from her early roots in Minnesota and New England (she was a Wellesley College grad) when the Sunshine State was in so many ways actually really a very new state. (Miami on her arrival had but several thousand residents and was a pioneer settlement).

Shortly after WW I ended there was a land boom in South Florida, with the Miami area coming alive with entrepreneurial and land and community development activity.

Some pieces of Miami land changed hands 10 times with the owner not even seeing the property “they owned.” The Miami Herald –her father was the founder and publisher — carried more classified advertising (buy my real estate!) than any other American newspaper at that time.

Marjory was born in 1890 and died in 1998 – her life spanned almost all of the 20th Century. She was an accomplished newspaper and magazine journalist, a tireless author and playwright and inspiration for female writers; an advocate for women, for civil rights, for human rights, for public health; a fighters for social justice; and a conservation leader who defended the previous Everglades eco-system for much of her life.

She moved to Miami – the new frontier of the American Atlantic coast in the early years of the 20th Century – and wrote for the city’s signature newspaper. She also wrote many short stories about this and that, for national magazines, and a run of good books. And then, in a defining moment in her life, she was invited by the Rinehart & Co. book publishing firm to contribute to the landmark series, “Rivers in America.”

(The 65 books in the series began appearing in 1937 and continued to 1974, with three publishers helming the efforts of local writers providing essays about their local rivers and the communities surrounding them.)

The editors asked her to write about the Miami River, which was not really a river at all, she cheerfully responded.

But then she began to research the ‘Glades” and there focused on the broad “wet” plains and the Biscayne Aquifer, giant Lake Okeechobee, and the role of the Kissimmee River in the fabled Everglades. The water was of the great stretch of wetlands was…well… moving…like a river.

The ‘Glades — not quite a river there, she explained to her readers, at least not like the Rio Grande or the Hudson or the Missouri and Mississippi – but it could be seen as a river of grass.

The result of her years of extensive exploration and research and working with naturalists and conservationists was her 1947 work, “The Everglades: River of Grass”.

She observed that the water did move, ever so slowly, shaping everything around it. That work awakened her interest in things conservation and environmental.

The Everglades was not just some, well, “swamp” – but a very important and vast and vital eco-system.

The Rivers series was very successful for the publishing house. I have copies of some of the book here on my bookshelf. Including River of Grass. Which has sold more than a half-million copies in the 70 years since first appearing in book stores. It is often compared to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in terms of impact and influence and awakening of the public conscience.

Marjory fought for many years to preserve and protect that eco-system and much of South Florida. Woe be to the “official” who stood in her way! She became known in the state as the “Grande Dame of the Everglades,” and a string of governors and other elected officials came into her crosshairs — and eventually under her sway.

I had the privilege to see Ms. Stoneman Douglas in action in Florida on several occasions. She appeared quite tiny and frail in her later days. But then she began to speak…and the sparks would fly! Her tiny voice was a megaphone for protection of the environment in Florida!

When I was an editor and publisher of Florida newsletters, magazines and management briefs, I constantly monitored the activities of the great lady, and came to appreciate the many achievements of her lifetime and way beyond (in the beneficial impacts on society today).

Today, thanks to her efforts, the Everglades National Park is a reality, saved from the relentless expansion and growth of developed areas for which Florida is nationally-known. Open space? Pave it over!

The area is also designated as a Wetland of International Significance and an International Biosphere Preserve.

We can all enjoy the Big Cypress area of the ‘Glades thanks to Marjory. Lake Okeechobee is still threatened by industrial activities but it is in much better shape than it would have been had she not joined the battle to push back on the flow of fertilizers, wastes into the lake, and other impacts that threatened this precious natural resource that helps to define Florida.

Well-Intended But In Turns Out, Boneheaded

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the late-1930s and into the 1940s made a number of bone-headed decisions for “improving” the Kissimmee River flow and the effects on the Everglades. A series of floods had caused damage to newly-developed and agricultural areas, and the rising complaints by the increasing population moved government officials to “action”.

The river was “straightened out” in the 1940s and 1950s for much of it meandering course – with disastrous results. The little river flows from Lake Kissimmee, from close by to the well-visited Orlando area resorts, 100 miles south to the expanses of the Lake Okeechobee area through a wide and very flat floodplain.

This is home to a rich and wide variety of natural fauna and flora. In 1948, the Corps began building the “Central and South Florida Project” to move the river to a ditch, the C-38 Canal and installed water control facilities that…destroyed the natural river.

In 1992, the “reversal” began, restoring parts of the old natural river. The US Army Corps of Engineers splits the cost with the South Florida Water Management District – which Marjory helped to organize. (Known locally to some as “swiff-mud”.)

Marjory had strenuously pushed back on such modernization and “progress” — and won support for the restoration of the river; the project is still underway.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School:  The high school being named after her was in honor, we could say, of her quest for learning throughout all of her life. The Marjory Stoneman Douglas Building in the state capital (Tallahassee) is home to the offices of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

In her lifetime she was awarded the nation’s highest civilian honor – the Presidential Medal of Freedom – by President Bill Clinton (1993). England’s Queen Elizabeth paid her a visit. The National Wildlife Federation Hall of Fame inducted her, as did the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2000.

When she passed in 1998 – 20 years ago at the age of 108! – President Clinton said: “Long before there was an Earth Day, Mrs. Douglas was a passionate steward or our nation’s natural resources and particularly her Florida Everglades.”

The Hall of Fame said of her book: “Her best-seller raised America’s consciousness and transformed the Florida Everglades from an area that was looked upon as a useless swamp – to be drained and developed commercially – to a national park that is seen as a valuable resource to be protected and preserved.”

And as we all know now, the scene of the February 2018 Parkland high school shooting tragedy took place at the high school named after her in 1990, during her lifetime.

Upon her passing her ashes were made part of the land – dust-returning-to-dust, to become part of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Wilderness Area of the Everglades National Park.

And now you know more about the great lady of that name, who was a powerful voice that would very much at home in today’s sustainability movement!

She would be railing (I could picture her doing so) about global warming and the rising seas. She experienced the devastation hurricanes that ripped through South Florida in the 1920s and worried about her little house in Coconut Grove – that might be underwater at some point in the 21st Century (the restored house is a National Historic Landmark).

Her advice (according to a biographer, Mary Jo Breton in 1998): “Be a nuisance where it counts, but don’t be a bore at any time. Do your part to inform and stimulate the public to join your action. Be depressed (and she was at times in her life), discouraged and disappointed at failure but the disheartening effects of ignorance, greed, corruption and bad politics – but never give up.”

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Graphic:  Wikipedia Commons

To learn more about this extraordinary woman and fighter for our environment, see the well done profile on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marjory_Stoneman_Douglas

About her work, “The Everglades: River of Grass”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Everglades:_River_of_Grass

About The Kissimmee River restoration project: http://www.ces.fau.edu/riverwoods/kissimmee.php

“Wolf” Now at the Head of EPA – No Disguises Needed to Fool the Sheep (er, We-the-People)

Is the Wolf disguised in sheep’s clothing? Nah — not to worry about any disguising — the wolf’s intentions were well signaled to us — the Denier/Destroyer-in-Chief at U.S. EPA is doing exactly what we expected him to do….

Remember from childhood days when our parent or caregiver told us the story of the “wolf in sheep’s clothing…” We were being cautioned, in one of the many of our early “life’s lessons,” to be careful about the advice we received, to look beyond the words, to watch people’s actions as well as hearing their words.

Because — often the legendary “wolf” would don sheep’s clothing (hey, that’s a great disguise) to mingle with the innocent flock of sheep (that the ravenous wolf really wanted to feed on). Watch out, sheep — and people!

This tale comes down to us in various forms came from different sources, including the Holy Bible, New Testament, with Jesus warning about false prophets. We’re reminded of this brief moral tale (a perennial fable of sorts that developed over the centuries) as we watched the nominees of the Trump Administration.

What do they have to say to pass muster at the U.S. Senate nominations hearing — and what are their real intentions — what will they in fact do while in office to harm our society?

Well, we don’t have to watch the top wolf there at 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. — just down the road from the White House. The new EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt let us know with both his past performance and his clearly-stated words his intentions now that he is at the helm of the US EPA ship: he is not a believer that climate change has any relationship to human activities. Like carbon emissions – GhGs to be more accurate.

Administrator Pruitt told his CNBC interviewer on a popular cable program that many investors tune in to: “I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so … I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.  (Emphasis ours.)

Pruitt:  “We need to continue the debate…and the review…and the analysis.” CO2 emissions are not the primary cause, the Administrator mused.

Past Actions – Prelude to Future Actions?

Keep in mind here that this is the former Oklahoma Attorney General who sued the EPA some 13 times.

As Huffington Post’s Dominique Mosbergen put it in January 2017: “It’s a safe assumption that Pruitt could be the most hostile EPA Administrator toward clean air and safe drinking water in history.”

Oh, and on his Linked In page, pre-EPA AG Pruitt noted he was “…the leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda…”

Commented writer Mosbergen about EPA’s role in our society (and that agenda):

“The EPA’s mission is to protect human health and the environment by issuing regulations and enforcing the nation’s environmental laws. Under President Barack Obama, the EPA created the Clean Power Plan, which aims to cut carbon pollution from power plants. It also issued new guidance for the Clean Water Act to protect thousands of waterways and wetlands, and introduced measures to limit emissions from heavy-duty trucks and reduce smog and mercury emissions from industrial sources.”

Yes, We Can Expect Changes — Dramatic at That

Now that Administrator Scott Pruit is firmly installed by fellow Senate Republicans at the EPA — we can expect these positive, fact-based actions to rapidly change. For example, here is what his own EPA (the Agency’s official web site) says about this (today):

“Recent climate changes, however, cannot be explained by natural causes alone. Research indicates that natural causes do not explain most observed warming, especially warming since the mid-20th century. Rather, it is extremely likely that human activities have been the dominant cause of that warming…”

And as posted before Election Day in October 2016: “…greenhouse gas emissions have increased the greenhouse effect and caused Earth’s surface temperature to rise. The primary human activity affecting the amount and rate of climate change is greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels.”

Question: Will these posts be up there next Monday morning?

These EPA positions are based in part on the National Research Council work — “Advancing the Science of Climate Warming,” published by National Academies Press.

We should keep watch on all of the EPA information channels to see the interference of the new leadership in the good work of the Agency.  Watch for fake news, of course, and counter that with FACTS.  Science is cool as reference point.

Watch for missing news — up there today – gone in the morning — too much information for the sheep.

Other Governments on the Move

Beyond the EPA Washington DC offices, of course other governments believe in environmental protection — and climate change measures!  (Think”  Paris Accord, COP 21 – now in danger in the Administrator’s hand.)

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in February 2017 the above after the COP 21 Paris gathering of the world’s government leaders: “The selection of the authors for the IPCC’s 1.5oC report is the first step in the critical journey started at COP 21. This special report will facilitate this important journey by assessing the available science and highlighting the policy options available to support the achievement of a climate safe, equitable and sustainable world,” said Debra Roberts, Co-Chair of Working Group II.”

Assessments of climate change by the IPCC, drawing on the work of hundreds of scientists from all over the world, enable policymakers at all levels of government in many nationsto take sound, evidence-based decisions.

They represent extraordinary value as the authors volunteer their time and expertise. The running costs of the Secretariat, including the organization of meetings and travel costs of delegates from developing countries and countries with economies in transition, are covered through the IPCC Trust Fund…”

Can we now expect that the U.S.A. — with EPA in the lead — will be absent from study and deliberations? Withdraw financial and other support from the IPCC organization?  Deny the outcomes of any research?  (Hmmm….we have to have more studies…”)

That’s what classic deniers/destroyers do in public policy circles — create & sow doubt, deny agencies their funding, change staff to hire more kool-aid drinkers, destroy enforcement capabilities  — and remove “climate change” or “global warming”references  from official web sites.

As the Republican Governor of Florida recently did — the state agencies can’t use such references (climate change?  what’s that?).

Never mind that parts of his state will be underwater with seas rising — including Mar-a-Lago, the “other” White House sitting quite near the beautiful ocean’s edge!.  Much of the Florida expensive waterfronts will move considerably far inland toward Disney World and the I-4 corridor as the oceans warm, ice shelfs recede and glaciers in Antarctica melt…and…and…

OK — we were and are warned — the dangerous wolf is in the head office and not in disguise at the EPA and the sheep (we, The People) will surely be the victims of his wrongheaded and dangerous strategies and tactics as long as he is in control.

We hear you, former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy:  “When it comes to climate change, the evidence is robust and overwhelmingly clear that the cost of inaction is unacceptably high.”   We miss you, for sure!