Monday, May 18, 2009

Florida's vulnerabilities

Herald Tribune (Sarasota, Florida): In 2007, the National Academy of Sciences identified six critical environmental-science issues that will drive 21st-century America. These topics impact local and national economies, as well as ecology, and their solutions will significantly enhance our quality of life. The six issues are: biodiversity, climate change, biogeochemistry (meaning the biological, geological and chemical cycles regulating our ecosystems, which include water), land use, infectious diseases and invasive species. The last issue alone is estimated to cost America more than $150 billion per year, and most current invasive-species control efforts are akin to the proverbial needle in a haystack.

Florida has the dubious distinction of boasting all six of the National Academy's grand science challenges. In Florida -- with our subtropical climate, location in Hurricane Alley, and high density of coastal populations -- we have created a crossroads for these ecological bottlenecks. North Dakota, for example, does not suffer the immediate threats of land use, invasive species, or biodiversity loss; and subsequently, its regional governments do not have the financial burden of paying for their solutions.

Predictions indicate that issues such as tropical infectious diseases will hit Florida before they threaten North Dakota. So does that mean we should move to North Dakota? With all due respect to North Dakota, the answer is "no." But it certainly means that Floridians need to be vigilant about environmental issues, and to prioritize them for long-range planning and policy solutions.

The importance of investing in research and of integrating ecological science with policymaking cannot be understated for Florida in the next few decades. It is sometimes easy to overlook the direct links between quality of environment and human health.

The beach in Fort Myers, Florida, shot by Euku, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0Attribution ShareAlike 2.5Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 and Attribution ShareAlike 1.0 License

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