“The human race is challenged more than ever before to demonstrate our mastery, not over nature but of ourselves.”—Rachel Carson (1907–1964)
Paving Paradise: Florida’s Vanishing Wetlands and the Failure of No Net Loss, by Craig Pittman and Matthew Waite, is the latest volume in the Florida History and Culture Series. During the past half-century, the burgeoning population and increased national and international visibility of Florida have sparked a great deal of popular interest in the state’s past, present, and future. As a favorite destination of countless tourists and as the new home for millions of retirees and transplants, modern Florida has become a demographic, political, and cultural bellwether.
In recent years, readers of the St. Petersburg Times have become familiar with the probing environmental journalism of Pittman and Waite. Combining careful research, solid writing, and investigative flair, they have addressed the challenges and dilemmas of environmental policy in the Sunshine State. Now, with the publication of Paving Paradise, a major element of their important work will reach a broader audience of scholars, policy makers, and concerned citizens.
The subject at hand is the state’s vanishing wetlands—and the policy of “no net loss” that was established in 1989 to resolve the wetlands crisis. That policy, the authors maintain, has been a dismal failure, despite seventeen years of broad popular support and political hype. “The result,” they conclude, “is a taxpayer-funded program that creates the illusion of environmental protection while doing little to stem the destruction of precious natural resources.”
Year after year, the wetlands slip away, yet few politicians or bureaucrats have been willing to acknowledge this troubling reality. Many readers will find Paving Paradise a profoundly disturbing book. But, like several environmental books previously published in the Florida History and Culture Series—including The Everglades: An Environmental History (1999) by David McCally; The Mosquito Wars: A History of Mosquito Control in Florida (2004) by Gordon Patterson; Paradise Lost? The Environmental History of Florida (2005), edited by Jack E. Davis and Raymond Arsenault; and Losing It All to Sprawl: How Progress Ate My Cracker Landscape (due in paperback in spring 2010), by Bill Belleville—Pittman and Waite’s timely study offers information and insights that no civic-minded Floridian can afford to ignore.
—Gary Mormino and Raymond Arsenault: University of South Florida, St. Petersburg (excerpted from the preface)
*This article originally appeared in the print version of The Florida Current.