Our Climate Change Future Looks Like the Everglades

Whet Moser
6 min readMay 29, 2021

We are all Florida man.

Everglades drainage canal circa 1910 / Detroit Publishing Company via the Library of Congress

Not to be presumptuous, but if you think of the Everglades — the beautiful, foreboding wetlands that make up most of the southern tip of Florida — you might think of it as a swamp. Lots of swamp grass and swamp trees, alligators and wading birds. It’s a lot like a swamp. But what it actually is, is a river. A “river of grass” is how the conservationist Marjorie Stoneman Douglas termed it. A piquant phrase, but it’s also a river of water, that moves very, very slowly.

Or it was. It doesn’t really function as a river anymore. What had been a wide, shallow, imperceptively flowing river from Lake Okeechobee south to the ocean has been divided by roads, canals, levees, pumps, and farmland. But as you’ve probably noticed, the Everglades is still there. There’s a national park; you can canoe in it and see wildlife and enjoy silence. It has some of the most awesome sunsets and night skies I’ve ever seen.

It’s only there, though, because we fake the river now.

The reversal of the Chicago River is a famously metaphoric moment in the control of nature. The capture of the Mississippi River, so perfectly captured in John McPhee’s long piece “Atchafalaya” in his book The Control of Nature, may be the most physically ambitious. But for my money, no effort…

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Whet Moser

Freelance writer/editor in Chicago. Words in Marker, The Atlantic, COVID Tracking Project, elsewhere. Author of ‘Chicago: From Vision to Metropolis.’