Drain the Swamp

“I know more about ISIS than the generals do” Donald Trump advocates “draining the swamp” in Washington.  This statement is personal to me.  After spending the past 6 years studying swamps, I can say in no uncertain terms that draining swamps is bad. Swamps and other wetlands provide habitat to over half of the species deemed threatened or endangered in the US, filter our water, store more carbon than any other ecosystem, protect us from flooding and much more, making wetlands our most valuable ecosystems, thus their protection under the Clean Water Act.

FCE researchers wading through the swamp 
Suggesting that draining swamps is a way to fix America’s problems is to reject science.  We have destroyed over half of our wetlands in this country to devastating effect.  The Everglades provides a great example.  The largest ecological restoration effort in the history of the world revolves around undraining the swamp.  We reduced the Everglades to half of its historical extent for development, but now realize that we made a mistake. We have lost water quality, fisheries productivity, bird usage, carbon storage and seagrass health all because of draining the swamp.  Each of these things is important to the ecosystem, but also to our economy, as The Everglades fill our drinking water aquifers, provide nursery for economically important fisheries, bring tourists from across the world and protect us from storm surge.  Wetlands  also take  CO2  from the atmosphere and store it more efficiently than any other ecosystem (this seems particularly important adjacent Miami, the city at the highest economic risk from sea level rise in the world).  Moreover, swamps can be destroyed in hours, but take centuries to restore.   If the Donald would have looked this phrase up, he would realize that it is now currently illegal without mitigation under the Clean Water Act, that it is widely criticized and is in direct opposition to our national environmental and economic interest… Sound familiar?

I just heard a discussion on the radio that demands comment.  A caller on a radio program called in to suggest that climate change is a false liberal construct aimed at ushering in a new world order.  The idea that every university across the world is conspiring to keep dissenting views of climate change out of publication is absurd to anyone that has ever stepped foot in academia.  First, we argue about everything, that is how universities work.  Second, we overemphasize novelty in research.  If someone could publish a paper disproving climate change their career would be made.  However, the drumbeat of climate change science is accelerating while nothing has comprehensively disproved it.

Sean Charles exploring the Everglades
Truth has come to the fore in this election.  Science is our most systematic way to help understand truth.  In the political realm, politicians that support action on science are pitted against politicians bankrolled by fossil fuels, yet public opinion is still strongly polarized.  Scientists and one of our largest industries would benefit if they could disprove climate change, yet no one has published dissent in a respected journal.

By constantly denying scientific understanding and taking a catch phrase “drain the swamp” that metaphorically praises the act of destroying some of our most valuable ecosystems, Trump has shown that he is uniquely unfit to preserve our environment.  I hope my students, regardless of their political views can see past this ridiculous discussion.  Climate change is real.  Swamps are great.  Vote swamp!

*These views are attributed to the author, and while FCE supports the science, they don’t necessarily reflect his political opinions  

Sean Charles
PhD Candidate
Florida International University


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