When a beach re-nourishment plan was announced for the anemic beaches of posh Naples, Florida, an article in the local paper asked bravely: What do you think about all the dump trucks that will pass through our beachfront neighborhoods?
Hard-hitting journalism indeed. That the plan does nothing to address what’s actually causing the beach erosion was strangely absent from the conversation.
I know the journalist that wrote the piece; he’s a colleague of mine, and I generally respect his work. I also know why he chose to focus on the dump trucks, but I think it was foolish.
Two years ago I moved to southwest Florida. The spouse of a National Park Ranger, our family is in perpetual migration. I’ve loved every place we’ve stopped over—except Florida. Here, I miss the mountains, the smell before it snows, the soft snuffling of wind tickling aspen. But mostly, I miss being among people who believe in climate change.
As a freelance journalist I write about a lot of things: Obamacare, local government, schools; every day it’s something different. But I get more hate mail about my reporting on climate change than on the rest of my work combined. My favorite note, handwritten and full of pungent language, called me a “cog in the government propaganda machine.”
According to the government propaganda machine, Florida is in deep, deep trouble. If things continue in the way we predict them to, everything that lives here now will someday be gone: suffocated by saltwater.
Beach erosion just happens to be one of our first warning signs. Astonishingly, many Naples residents remain willfully ignorant. They are like ostriches with their heads stuck in dump-truck-hauled-in sand.
As a journalist it makes me weary. The line between self-satisfaction from courageous reporting and exhaustion from playing the whipping boy is thinner than you might think. I suspect my colleague had received one too many lashes.
But it’s actually changed how I think about my home. I may not feel like this place suits me, but it does suit my work. If I can open just a few minds to the idea that this—this land, these waters, that beach—are important, that the threats are real, my time here will have been well spent. And when it’s over and we flutter off to our next destination, I may leave licking my wounds, but those wounds—unlike the land—will eventually heal.