Florida Project Redux: Redemption

In 2020 I wrote The Florida Project has Failed. I still dislike and am bearish (more later), but a visit last year was a redemption for the state which President Zachary Taylor said he wouldn’t accept a square mile of in exchange for a square foot of Michigan or Ohio.

Before describing this redemption, I had to publish my attitude on suburban ARSE hellscapes. Because Florida is the worst. It’s sub-suburban, anti-urbanist. Even in the big cities, the street corners are a quarter mile apart. And the suburban strip malls are set 200 yards back from the avenue where cars are flying along at highway speeds. So whenever I gripe about Florida, keep in mind the issue is aggravated by 30-minute drives to buy sunblock, where trying to spot the Walmart at 35 miles an hour is almost unsafe with Florida drivers zipping in and out of traffic like it’s a video game.

Once upon a time, before the rise of American and European fascism, my political rants were aimed at left-wing socialists during golden years of Latin America’s 21st-century socialism. There was an article here titled “The Boycott America Challenge,” in which I challenged the anti-American posers to try and boycott American products for a month (you can’t). In that spirit, the fact that I can’t go two years without setting foot in Florida underscores its value. I may hate it, but I can’t stay away.

Miami is the capital of Latin America. If I ever opt to change careers and leverage my experience in South America, most of the Hispanic scene in the United States is Central American or Caribbean. The opportunity for us repats with Andean experience is in centered in South Florida. Miami’s business-friendly mayor is turning it into a tech hub, and it has the closest airports to Peru. It’s important.

The Naturalist Case for Florida

The real redemption came via my first experience with wild Florida, on my first visit there since converting to naturalism. In studying how to fish and hunt, I watched videos of the best. There are excellent outdoorsmen everywhere, but the best are in Alaska or Florida. If they aren’t gaming in one of those two, they’re not in contention.

Obvious to a Floridian, but outsiders may only think of Florida as affluent Hispanics, suburban ARSEs, retirees and beach bums. Consider this: every body of water in every subdivision has gators coming and going. And when those gators get too big (I heard six-inch eyes), somebody has to remove them. When anacondas get stuck in swimming pools, it’s the same guys who remove them. They are usually rural natives. For fishermen, check out Zak Catchem.

On the family vacation last year, we hiked Myakka River State Park, which was surreal.

We saw two alligators hunting in a pond with no fencing between us and them. I learned this park has a swimming hole that attracts hundreds at a time.

This beach bills itself as America’s best beach. With fine white sand and calm waves of cool water, it may be. We met a boy scout who was throwing nets out in the tide and catching eight-inch fish just for fun before throwing them back.

A sign at the entrance to Myakka River state park read, “Welcome to the REAL Florida!” Knowing more of its history, I had to agree. Before Disneyworld and South Beach, Americans flocked to the Everglades to view the exotic flora and fauna.

Redemption … but Still Bears in Florida

Living in Lima, Bogota and Arequipa, I developed a loving respect for naturally habitable climates. All the greatest Spanish colonial capitals were in moderate temperatures. BOG and AQP sit at 8,000 feet in altitude, as does Mexico City, which make them cool to cold. Never hot. Lima’s summer humidity is something else, but the temperature never surpasses 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Buenos Aires is located outside the tropics.

The modern cities known for beach vacations were almost exclusively slave ports: Bahia de Salvador, Cartagena, Havana and Port au Prince. You can’t do deep mental work in that heat. Like the southern colonies of the future United States, life revolved around managing slaves working the fields. Without slaves, few would have lived there. The big English cities were also in moderate climates: Philadelphia and Boston. Military assignments in the south were considered hardship posts.

Before European settlement, the largest city was the Mississippian Culture’s Cahokia, just outside St. Louis. The Pueblo Culture maintained cities at high altitude around New Mexico and southern Colorado.

Technological advances have made hot climates tolerable, but it’s probably unsustainable. Climate change is not a hoax. Some parts of the world, even parts that were previously habitable, will slowly empty out over the next 100 years, or until humanity can harness cheap energy without warming the planet. And topping the list of doomed regions are vast swathes of Florida.

My 2020 article quoted a passage in A Requiem for Florida, the Paradise That Should Never Have Been. I’ve since gone deeper into Florida’s unsuitability. Here’s an excellent documentary on how modern Americans settled Florida by draining the Everglades.

An impressive feat for humanity, but a naturalist sees it as doomed. Humans can’t continue living on that much air conditioning and gasoline. I may be dead before it happens, but Florida will probably go back to being the lightly populated backwater it was in the 19th century, with small numbers living in the old cities of Jacksonville, Tallahassee and Pensacola. Maybe Tampa.

Rising oceans are what most people assume are Florida’s existential risk. They are, but they aren’t Florida’s most acute threat.

Thirty percent of Florida homes have septic tanks, not modern sewage. These tanks sit a few feet above the groundwater. From tank deterioration and heavy rains, untreated fecal matter seeps into local rivers, lakes and sea, creating algal blooms and killing wildlife. The groundwater is rising with sea levels. It’s not hard to imagine a perfect storm of hurricanes or heavy rains unleashing floods of sewage and cholera outbreaks, if not reductive water shortages.

Further reading:

Sea level rise threatens to flood 20% of Florida’s property over the next few decades, but before that happens the state government may see a financial crisis from repairing hurricane damage. Climate change is intensifying hurricanes in a state where there is a property insurance crisis. Insuring homes became so unprofitable that entire companies are abandoning the market, so Florida’s taxpayers have stepped in to fill the void. Forty percent of South Florida homes are insured by Citizens Property Insurance Company, a state agency (!!!).

Imagine a Category 5 hitting Miami. By being on the hook for those repairs, the state of Florida could have a fiscal crisis like that of Illinois overnight. Massive taxes will be levied, or the state will need an unprecedented bailout from Washington. Most likely, a hybrid of those combined with abandoning vast swathes of real estate. It’s an American curiosity, but as a native of the Rust Belt, it’s normal to see abandoned real estate. No squatters. Just empty buildings. In parts of Michigan, it goes on for miles. Some parts of St. Louis and Detroit have become urban prairies. That’s in the cards for South Florida.

Further reading:

If I were a real writer, I’d write a sequel to Kurt Russell’s old flicks titled “Escape from Miami.”

The hero would have to navigate via kayak streets flooded in toxic wastewater, eluding apocalyptic street gangs including Proud Boys, Latin Kings and Haitian drug traffickers. And gators, anacondas and panthers on golf courses.

The real reckoning won’t be dystopia, but I’d bet dollars to donuts that Florida is in for an epic bust. How long for it to materialize? Five, 10, 50 years? Maybe I’ll be dead and never know I was right. But it’s coming. The River of Grass will reclaim land. And when it happens, it will return to Wild Florida, a destination for naturalists like us.

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