SSBG PRESIDENT SPEAKS AT UF ENVIRONMENTAL CONFERENCE
In his capacity as author and nonfiction writer, SSBG president Jeff VanderMeer gave a keynote along with former agricultural commissioner Nikki Fried at the 29th Public Interest Environmental Conference (PIEC) at the University of Florida on February 2. With climate resilience framing the future of a peninsula uniquely affected by weather and water issues, the conference's theme could not have been more timely: "Facing Florida's Future: Promoting Environmental Sustainability."
Fried spotlighted her efforts to build coalitions during her tenure as ag commissioner and pointed out that environmental issues are quality of life issues, further noting that without buy-in from stakeholders across the spectrum, progress in some areas may be difficult.
VanderMeer stressed his deep connection to Florida wilderness, having lived in Gainesville and Tallahassee since the early 1980s. This meant a lot of great hiking memories, but also that he, like a lot of Floridians, had “internalized a lot of painful things about ‘how it is’ here.” For example, not just amazing natural beauty, but also polluted waters and precious ecosystems snuffed out. He noted that if Florida doesn’t change course, wildlife may not be able to afford to live in the state.
“Where do we go from here?” VanderMeer asked the audience of environmental lawyers, law students, and officers from environmental nonprofits across the state. “I don’t know, exactly, but I do know that this conference will help—that new thinking about old ideas and new ideas, creativity and imagination, are important. It is also increasingly important to ...hold fast to knowledge…Now, more than ever science matters. Facts matter.”
In making the case for the facts of biodiversity and sustainability, VanderMeer pointed to his own personal rewilding efforts, in the ravine behind his house in Tallahassee, which have resulted in a burgeoning of wildlife. “Nature isn’t fragile if you give it half a chance,” he said.
Environmental journalist and National Book Award finalist Cynthia Barrnett posted on social media in response to the keynote, calling it “the most genuine, powerful call to save wild Florida I have heard in a very long time."
Moderated presentations during the conference included "The Future Legal and Moral Status of Florida's Wildlife," "Florida's Coastal Response to Climate Change," and "Liquid Gold: From Supply and Quality of Drinking Water to Flood Management," for which Barrett was a panelist.