Thursday, July 21, 2011

Author hopes nature stories will turn around Florida politics

The environment didn't cause the recession so it shouldn't become victim of the current political climate.

So says Florida nature writer Bill Belleville, author of "Salvaging the Real Florida: Lost and Found in the State of Dreams."

He hopes his new book will help people develop their own environmental ethic that may turn the political situation around for Florida environment.

Belleville, who lives in Sanford along the St. Johns River, has established himself as one of Florida's best modern nature writers, which is saying a lot. His previous books include "Deep Cuba," "Losing it all to Sprawl" and "River of Lakes: A Journey on Florida's St. Johns River."

The state has a great history of nature writers extending from William Bartram, Archie Carr and Marjory Stoneman Douglas to modern day novelist Carl Hiaasen and journalists Craig Pittman and Cynthia Barnett, a friend and former coworker.

But all the books in a library don't seem to make a dent on environmental issues as they're now being played out in the state Capitol.

Gov. Rick Scott says he is focused on boosting the economy and eliminating "job-killing regulations."

He also vetoed funding for the Florida Forever land acquisition program and signed bills eliminating the Florida Department of Community Affairs and making it more difficult for those who would challenge pollution permits.

This past legislative session was the worst in memory for most environmentalists as industry groups used the stalled economy to push through law changes.

"Nature didn't cause the recession," Belleville said, echoing former Department of Community Affairs Secretary Tom Pelham and a few in the Legislature who point to the thousands of vacant condo units as evidence that regulations didn't burst the housing bubble.

Belleville hopes his book can make a difference, on the personal level and the political level. But he doesn't wade deeply into politics, other than to take an occasional shot at developers and their "shills" in the Legislature.

Instead, he takes us to Florida's beautiful places, such as Key Largo's colorful coral reefs and a sunset at Cedar Key to explain the history and natural riches that surround us.

Sometimes he holds up a mirror to reflect our society's reflexive response to something like the annoying midges in Sanford along the St. Johns River. The solution: Spray pesticides on the insects, as well as people enjoying an outdoor dining experience.

"Salvaging the Real Florida" is a grab bag of fascinating short chapters for easy bedside reading. And the introduction may be the strongest portion, for it lays out the threats to Florida and the need for people to connect to nature.

"I deeply respect those who get off their butts and take a stand without worrying about how it affects their job security, their perceived social standing or public image," Belleville writes. "The pervasive corporate mentality can breed a dangerous sort of toadyness in human nature that will sooner or later dissolve all that is righteous or fair."

But Belleville doesn't use "Salvaging the Real Florida" as a soapbox. In an interview, he explains that he uses the power of the narrative with the aim of changing people's lives.

"I'd really hope someone would read that book and say, 'I'd like to have a closer relationship with what is left with the natural heart of Florida," he said. "Maybe from that connection will come an ethic. Maybe next time when our current leadership comes up (for re-election), people will be more motivated" to take a stand.

(Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained from

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