Earth Day 2017: the bad, the good and the beautiful

Hope flourishes, just as the wildflowers do

Gypstacks — hills of radioactive waste products from phosphate mining — are visible for miles in parts of Manatee, Hillsborough, Hardee and Polk counties. Photo by Fran Palmeri

In the 1960s, when we had to navigate a mammoth snowstorm to get to work, we at the Washington Star joked that the “other paper” would never cover weather unless the world was coming to an end. Today, weather — and climate change — regularly makes the front page of The Washington Post.

The changes are upon us in Florida: sunny day flooding; warming (more 100-degree days, with heat lasting longer and starting earlier); intense storms; copious rainfall one year, extreme lack of it the next. But we suffer hardly at all compared to those in the world who struggle to feed themselves in the face of continuing drought or those who have lost their homes in floods.

Phosphate mining requires millions of gallons of water per day, depriving local residents of water for home and agricultural use. Photo by Fran Palmeri

There are hopeful signs. Activism at the grassroots level is growing. In January, millions marching on all seven continents inspired hundreds of thousands to take action afterwards. One count says 6,000 groups have formed since the Women’s March. The nucleus of this phenomenon? Thoughtful men, women and children no longer willing to sit back and let others take care of things. They are doing research, teaching, litigating, demonstrating, speaking out, preserving habitats, conserving resources, living sustainably. Many young people are waking up to the fact that they will inherit this beautiful blue planet and want to start now to save it. Acting in concert with others makes us resilient, enhances our lives and benefits our fellow species, which are dying off at alarming rates.

Hungry cattle filch grain on a Manatee County parcel. Photo by Fran Palmeri

We who live here are gifted with the beautiful every day. No need to visit the Grand Canyon if we just take time to notice what is laid out in front of us: a wildflower by the roadside, the sound of wind through the trees, the trill of birdsong. I often walk in the pinewoods to lift my spirits. Others find solace at the beach. “Bad news” recedes and, despite the changes, nature continues to delight.

Herps (frogs, toads, snakes, lizards) are disappearing. One reason is their sensitivity to pesticides and other pollutants in the environment. Photo by Fran Palmeri
Children: the hope of the future. Photo by Fran Palmeri
Under the leadership of Dr. Theresa Cooper, efforts to save the Giant Wild Pine — Florida’s iconic epiphyte — from the Mexican weevil are underway in the Fakahatchee Strand and other places. Photo by Fran Palmeri
Sarasota County Land Manager Diana Donaghy takes a break after Fire Fest’s burn demonstration at T. Mabry Carlton Reserve in January. Photo by Fran Palmeri
At a time when lawns are browned out, Yellow Bachelor Buttons and Bantam-Buttons blanket the Green Trail at Carlton Reserve in Venice. Photo by Fran Palmeri
Elderberry flourishes along a roadside in Manatee County. Photo by Fran Palmeri
Blanket flower adapts beautifully to drought, attracting butterflies and other pollinators. Photo by Fran Palmeri
Lupine thrives after a prescribed burn at Oscar Scherer State Park. Photo by Fran Palmeri
Birds — including goldfinches — hang out in native landscapes. Photo by Fran Palmeri