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Can’t Deal with Climate Change? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Blanca Mesa, BT Contributor   
May 2016

Wait till you meet its evil twin

LPix_GoingGreen_5-16ike some old-time Florida roadside attraction, a giant sloth once stood along U.S. 1, near the entrance to the old Miami Museum of Science to lure in visitors.

The weird bear-like thing was a replica of a 21-foot sloth that lived in Florida some 12,000 years ago, consuming its way through 300 pounds of plants every day until it succumbed. Into extinction.

I was thinking about that sloth on a visit to the venerable Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh. The attraction at the Carnegie is the hall of fossils of life-size dinosaurs. But it was the Bird Hallway of endangered and extinct species that stopped me in my tracks.

Behind the glass displays in the hallway are embalmed and serene creatures like the Dodo, long gone. And Florida’s dusky seaside sparrow, felled first by DDT, then development. And the Cuban parrot, threatened from loss of habitat and the pet trade.

Each extinct bird is a representative of a species that soared or swam or waddled upon the Earth until only one remained. And then, too, its life was snuffed out.

Although many Miami residents don’t even realize we have a history -- much less a prehistory with extinct animals -- there was a time when lower sea levels meant Florida had vast prairies, where species of mammoths and saber-toothed tigers roamed.

Remains of the giant extinct animals from the Pleistocene Epoch -- including the American mastodon, bison, and dire wolf -- were discovered at the Cutler Fossil site, a ten-meter-wide solution hole on the grounds of the Charles Deering Estate at Cutler.

Probably because extinction issues can’t be readily monetized -- saving a habitat means not developing it -- the climate change forums and chamber of commerce meetings haven’t taken up extinction. The talk tends to focus on sea level rise and how Miami will rise above it. That seems like a prudent course, given that the seas are rising faster than we can build walls or install pumps.

But they’re missing the big picture.

The loss of biodiversity, with its attendant loss of habitat, rampant pollution, and the displacement of species, is climate change’s “evil twin.”

“As sea level rise increasingly inundates coastal areas, there is the potential for degradation of natural resources and loss of their services to the surrounding environment,” reads the most recent report on climate change from the Southeast Florida Regional Compact.

The report documents the demise of ecosystems that will either retreat, migrate, adapt, or perish. Into extinction.

This is something we shouldn’t let happen, and for our own good. As the report states, “Natural infrastructure is critical to the resilience of the urban environment.” And here’s why: The benefits include storm protection, water and air purification, reduction of heat effects, and, of course, tourism.

Which makes it surprising and frustrating that government officials and chambers of commerce are not paying more attention to the people in the trenches of environmental activism, trying to save natural areas.

“The Richmond Pinelands could be the only lifeboat habitat for pinelands animals and plants if the Everglades is flooded,” says Al Sunshine, president of the Miami Pine Rocklands Coalition, which is trying to save a remnant of a critically imperiled rock pineland habitat in South Dade. The pinelands are targeted for retail and housing development, and a county-sponsored private theme park, “Miami Wilds.”

“We are losing our coral reefs faster than we can study them,” says Rachel Silverstein of the Miami Waterkeeper, which is fighting to protect what is left of Miami’s coral reefs in the wake of the PortMiami Deep Dredge project. A similar dredging project in Port Everglades would put at risk hundreds of acres of coral reefs.

Clearly, it’s time to start arguing for the value of “green” infrastructure -- restoring the living shorelines of dunes and tropical hammocks that create habitat. It also means protecting and preserving the remnants of habitats that are the Noah’s Ark for endangered and threatened species like the Miami Tiger beetle, the Miami Blue butterfly, and the corals that thrive right off our beaches, part of North America’s only coral reef track.

Climate change is one of the reasons Miami-Dade County commissioners gave for authorizing a $49 million cash infusion for the new $350 million Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science.

And what a shame if the giant sloth were not at the entrance on opening day -- because while the fancy new three-level aquarium can teach us about Florida ecosystems, from the Everglades to coral reefs, there’s nothing like an extinct species to show us why it’s important.

E.O. Wilson, the noted biologist, is calling for humans to set aside half the Earth for nature. How would that look in Miami? No theme park on the pinelands? No megaships cruising through crushed coral reefs? Would that seem too radical? Too unreasonable?

Try extinction.

 

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