South Florida can, and must, do its part to confront global biodiversity decline | Editorial

Peter Moodley wades through floodwater caused by the storm surge to assess the damage from Hurricane Irma in Miami.
Peter Moodley wades through floodwater caused by the storm surge to assess the damage from Hurricane Irma in Miami. LA Times via Getty Images

As Pogo famously said a generation ago, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

The cartoon opossum’s once-arresting observation almost pales in the face of the crisis we face today: One million species on the brink of extinction, according to a United Nations report released this month. More than at any other time in human history.

More than a third of marine mammals and more than 40 percent of amphibian species face serious threats of extinction, thanks to explosive human population growth, loss of natural habitats, overfishing and ongoing use of environmentally destructive pesticides.

The resulting global decline in biodiversity is already affecting us and will continue to do so in devastating ways if the problem isn’t addressed, and soon.

The value of many agricultural products, for example, rests on the work of pollinators like bees. Pesticides have contributed to severe declines in bee populations, directly threatening the estimated $15 billion worth of value bees contribute to the U.S. economy. The same math applies to humans’ impact on oceans, coastlines, waterways and wetlands. The conclusion is inescapable: We cannot continue to treat our ecosystems as we have.

Even current measures to slow the decline in global biodiversity, the report concludes, will only delay the widescale collapse of entire ecosystems and, with them, the foundations of our economy and the presumptions on which we base our society. We must do more. We will change, or we will be changed. There is no other possibility.

The report offers solutions as sweeping as the problem itself. It calls on governments to slow global warming, halt overfishing, eliminate the use of environmentally destructive pesticides and stop the encroachment of urban areas into the wild. These are sane, reasonable policy goals, and deserve Americans’ support.

Yet they are goals of national and international scope. Our ability as South Floridians to enact them on a truly meaningful level is limited.

We can and should demand commitments from elected officials at all levels. Gov. Ron DeSantis, for example, appears to be on board, but we must keep the pressure on his administration to take climate change seriously.

Meanwhile, if Greater Miami alone cannot accomplish what needs to be done, it can serve as a model for other regions. We’ve shown in the past that we can develop innovative, effective solutions to problems like these.

When we needed more dry land, we devised a massive feat of engineering to drain the Everglades.

When we wanted to stabilize low-lying areas for development, we created an elaborate flood-control system.

Following the 1926 hurricane that nearly destroyed Miami, we bolstered our building code and began enforcing tough standards. Ditto after Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

Those efforts are no longer enough. Sea levels are rising steadily and will gain at least two feet in the next 40 years. No flood-control system — not our current 50-year-old model nor the one supported by DeSantis — will match that encroachment. No building code will answer it.

If our problems are different now than they were 100 years ago, we can take comfort in knowing that the answers can come from the same source: South Floridians’ proven ability to look a problem in the eye, come up with a solution and make it work.