High tides, dry grass

“Oh, of course I’ll keep it to myself. Until the water reaches my lower lip, and then I’m going to mention it to somebody!” Professor Fate in “The Great Race,” 1965.

Shortly after I went to work at The Sun, in 1976, fellow reporter Carl Crawford and I embarked on a two day canoe trip down the Santa Fe and Suwannee rivers so we could write a feature piece for our Sunday magazine.

Yes, we had a Sunday magazine. Those were the days my friend.

Anyway, it was a great trip. We came upon a wild boar soaking himself in the Santa Fe’s cool water. We camped on a sand bank with an ex con who told us about the best juke joint in Dixie County. And we met a developer from Miami who was building his dream retirement house on the river because “I love trees.”

I was cool with the boar and the ex con. But Carl and I had to urge to toss the guy who got rich cutting down trees and planting subdivisions into the river.

Turns out he was just an advance scout.

I thought about that long-ago encounter the other day after reading an on-line Miami New Times column reporting that in the face of rising sea levels Miami stands to “lose 2.5 million residents to other cities in Florida” by 2100.

“Now that Cuban migration into Miami has slowed, the city’s Republican legislators have pretty much decided that they hate refugees,” New Times columnist Jerry Lannelli wrote. “But as long as those same GOP legislators continue to deny that climate change is real, they’re all but guaranteeing that the U.S. locks itself into a refugee crisis of its own.”

Lannelli cited a recent study by University of Georgia population analysis Matthew E. Hauer, to wit, “unmitigated SLR (sea-level rise) is expected to reshape the U.S. population distribution, potentially stressing landlocked areas unprepared to accommodate this wave of coastal migrants.”

Holy refugee crisis! Is Gainesville destined to become a sanctuary city for tree-razing developers, fast-buck time share tycoons, condo cowboys and mega-mall magnets? 

Look, I’ve always been skeptical about the “we don’t want to turn into another Miami” rhetoric that has dominated anti-growth debates around here for decades. I used to argue that we could gut all our zoning codes and comp plan restrictions and still not turn into Miami because, heck, we don’t even have a beach. 

Who knew that beaches would one day become a liability?

 Of course, most coastal refugees in coming decades are more likely to gravitate to places like Orlando and Atlanta than Gainesville. Still the attraction of a trendy college town and football Mecca located smack dab in the middle of high and dry north Florida might well prove irresistible to many SLR refugees.

But the joke will be on them. By the time they get here, Gainesville will likely be unbearably hot and smoky as well as high and dry. 

Climate change plays no favorites. 

But of course, this is all about the politics of denial and the inevitable consequences of willful ignorance on the part of our elected officials and policy makers. Politicos like Donald Trump and Rick Scott are the Professor Fates of our time. Their stubborn insistence that everything is fine and there’s no cause for alarm flies in the face of both the best available evidence and reality itself.

Lower lip still dry? No crisis yet.

Listen, the current national hostility toward refugees is largely being directed towards people who are coming her to escape persecution or poverty back home. But if scientists like Hauer are right, if America is even now planting the seeds of its own domestic refugee crises, it is taking root in the fertile ground of studied indifference and partisan ideology. 

And who are we going to hate then? When “those people” are fleeing, not from Syria and Mexico, but Miami and New Orleans?

I dunno, maybe Trump is right about that wall. I’m thinking just south of Paynes Prairie is a good place for it. 

Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun. This column was originally published in The Sun in May, 2017.)

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