“The woods are hopeless. Don’t waste your time, they will be destroyed. So will the marsh. It is a losing game mankind has played for more than a century. Sadness is what you are, do not deny it. The universe is a lonely place, a painful place. This is what we can share between us, period.”
“Before this century is done, there will be an evolution in our values and the values of human society, not because man has become more civilized but because, on a blighted earth, he will have no choice. This evolution—actually a revolution whose violence will depend on the violence with which it is met—must aim at an order of things that treat man and his habitat with respect.”
—Peter Mattiessen, The Everglades, published by the Sierra Club, 1970
If you like to watch gratuitous back patting, if you enjoy the warm sensation of smoke blown up your ass, this conference is the place for you. Glossy pamphlets galore, fancy finger foods and exclusive meal sessions, they have it all.
If I didn’t know better, I’d think everything was just dandy in the Everglades. Or maybe if I’d been here for all 27 years of this annual conference, I’d be ready to start kissing asses, shaking hands and deluding myself that the region’s hydrological and biological integrity was on the upswing, just to retain my sanity. But I doubt it.
The conference is a strange mix: many lifelong fighters for this watershed and their bureaucrat arch-nemeses, as well as a fresh bunch of faces. By fresh, I mostly mean naïve, and I definitely do not mean young. Out of the 200+ attendees, I think I see one or two younger than me (at 31, I’m no spring chicken). It’s a reminder that youth is not a requirement for naïveté—not that I needed to be reminded of that.
The overwhelming feeling here, though, is one of being surrounded by the slime off the reservoirs of the environmental-industrial complex. The Everglades is a cash cow for government agencies, consultants, attorneys, engineering firms, lobbyists and for well-paid environmental NGO staff. I’m in a vast minority who don’t look dressed for a long, boring church service (with the exception of Army Corps of Engineers staff, dressed in uniform of course).
When I started coming to this conference 5 years ago, it was for the explicit purpose of confronting Eric Draper, the motherfucker who sold out the Loxahatchee Refuge to FPL and the rock mining mafia. At the time, Draper was the lobbyist for Florida Audubon Society. Today he’s the Executive Director and President of the group. (For shits and giggles, check out this article about Draper flying around in FPL’s private jets with other lobbyists and politicians.)
Today, I pick up the latest Florida Audubon newsletter. They have no shame. A list of their donors is printed right on the back pages of the newsletter as if they are bragging about selling out wildlands of Florida to every greedy bastard that throws money their way: FPL, Progress Energy, Mosaic Phosphate mines, Plum Creek land grabbers, Lykes Brothers cattle barons and aspiring developers, the rats at Disney World… Over $200,000 of identifiable donations from corporate interests using Audubon’s image to greenwash themselves.
Most of the other $2 million in listed donations are from sources unknown to me, but I see no reason to assume they are not a similar caliber of greedy scum. Who in good conscience could list themselves among these donors? What conclusions are to be drawn about the other NGOs, like the Everglades Foundation, who donated $100,000, or Ocean Reef Conservation Association, at $9,999. Who would list themselves among such company?
[If you haven't shat or giggled yet, peruse the back pages of any Winter edition of the Florida Audubon Naturalist magazine and match the giant corporate donations to concurrent permit applications for evil industrial projects across the state.]
This year, as in most years, Florida Audubon was a major sponsoring organization of the conference, with Draper opening the conference with a bland, mundane back-slapping panel of ass-kissing bureaucrats. I poise myself close enough to ask the first question following the panel’s closing comments… But the chance doesn’t arise. Perhaps its because Draper and his entourage noticed Everglades Earth First! outside of the conference center during registration yesterday flying a banner that read “Honor Ellen Peterson’s Last Wish: Fire Eric Draper”
No matter. Perhaps better then asking a question, I quietly hand out flyers to nearly all the several hundred people present. The flyer contains a message from Everglades Earth First! along with a final editorial that activist Ellen Peterson wrote from her deathbed in the fall of 2011. The crowd of conference-goers read the call for Draper’s resignation from an elder of the real movement for Everglades restoration as he made his final hollow comments.
Some people ask me who I’m at the conference with. I started out that weekend as a rep for our local Sierra Club group. While EF! is my primary affinity, I can rock several hats (all of them camo, of course). And it seemed particularly appropriate in this case.
Ellen Peterson passed away last fall, at 87 years old. While she was an avid supporter of Earth First!, Ellen was also the long-standing head of the Calusa Sierra Club group of southwest Florida.
While Sierra has had a tumultuous past in the Florida, namely being the first state chapter in 116 years of the organizations to have its democratic board elections suspended over internal disputes between local groups and the national Club. Many of the Florida chapter’s most active members walked away after the national Club executed a coup, replacing the elected volunteer board with hand picked staff.
But Ellen stuck with it, and so did I. And with our help she kept stirring shit up, even from the grave. Her last activist endeavor before passing on was to skewer Draper in a published editorial for his sell-out position on turning the Nicodemus Slough—a wetland once connected the beloved Fisheating Creek, which she fought tooth and nail to protect—into an industrial reservoir. Ellen’s archenemies, the Lykes Brothers, had partnered up with Draper and Florida Audubon over a deal crafted by developers, big agribusiness and their lackeys in the Water Management District.
Along with the flyers and banner out front, I was also able to make a formal proposal to the Everglades Coalition’s quarterly board meeting, as a Sierra rep, for a new award category honoring Ellen, “The Ellen Peterson Snake-in-the-Grass Award”
The proposal went something like this: “This award would give recognition to people who have repeatedly done the Everglades wrong, especially the ones who claim to be friends of this watershed. One of the biggest threats to the Everglades and its multi-billion dollars restoration is corruption. This award would highlight the people manipulating ecological efforts for industrial interests and/or their own personal gain. Ellen was someone who didn’t beat around the bush. Those of us advocating for this watershed can’t afford to do so either. This award is a tongue-in-cheek way to say that some people just really don’t deserve to be rewarded, they deserve a kick in the ass.”
I didn’t propose Draper, but its implication was clear. The board chose not to vote on it, but it was a step in turning the tide against him and his kind.
In the end, several Sierra folks were uncomfortable with the effort to amplify Ellen’s message, and in the end I was asked to swap out my name tag and step away from the Loxahatchee Sierra table for the weekend. That was fine by me. I wasn’t there out of loyalty for the Sierra Club (which hadn’t yet been disgraced by the expose of Carl Pope’s love affair with Chesapeake Gas). I was there to help push the movement for Everglades restoration out of the cesspool of political corruption. Mission accomplished. Sadly, its only one small mission in a long and arduous war.
So, what’s up with the Everglades anyway?
I suppose its strange that after the last several years of intensive research and direct engagement with the greater Everglades watershed and its pending demise, I have even less to say now than I did when I started. Will it be nutrient loads, drought, or salinization from sea level rise that put a final end to this ecosystem as we know it? What does it matter?
The fact that scientists, engineers, contractors and politicians have agreed to prioritize billions towards geo-engineering the region to “replumb” it has largely lost my interest. I have a few good friends in the thick of it, researching, writing, lobbying… For what? One of the region’s most prominent, and baddass scientists (even in my cynical opinion), Dr. Hal Wanless, gave a presentation to the Everglades Coalition two years back on how restoring flow to the Everglades will be helpful avert saltwater seepage into South Florida drinking wells for a few extra years… Jesus fucking Christ! Can we arrange the deck chairs any prettier on the Titanic?!
Y’all know those assholes in the Florida legislature are still allocating millions every year towards dumping extra sand along the beaches—sea turtles be damned—to try and keep condos from falling into the damn ocean! Ha!
In this bioregion, as in many others, it is only a matter of time. In the words of Frodo: “I wish none of this had happened.” Yeah, no shit Frodo. So then Gandalf is all like: “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” Word.
My take-home lesson from the conference is this: the options for where my motivation to continue fighting will come from are between delusion and revenge. I’m thinking I’ll choose the latter. Or maybe I want a fusion of the two. I probably sound a bit unstable here. And maybe that’s fine. Maybe what I’m talking about is best described as harnessing the passion and rage of the Ghost Dancers in the resistance against the American Indian holocaust. Except for this time we’ll have to harness all the rage of suburbia, video games and lolcatz, I guess.
What I’m getting at is that while I may have seriously lost my fucking mind at that conference this year, I know this one thing: Eric Draper is going down.