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This past December, I read about an impending ecological catastrophe at the Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica. Scientists found evidence that Thwaites is melting much faster than previously anticipated. Without the glacier, which acts much like a cork in a bottle, the Antarctic ice shelf would be free to slide into the sea, potentially raising global sea levels more than 10 feet over the next century. That means no more New York City, no more New Orleans and, you guessed it – no more Miami Beach.
Both Miami Beach and our local Hiawatha Golf Course were heavily engineered during their creation. Miami Beach is built on a narrow strip of land, separated from the city of Miami by Biscayne Bay. In the 1920s, developers built up Miami Beach by dredging the bay, putting landfill on top of the Swiss cheese-like geology of the low-lying island.
Exhibiting the same hubris of that era, Theodore Wirth dredged Rice Lake in Minneapolis and dumped the extra soil into a marsh, creating what we now know as the Hiawatha Golf Course.
When Thwaites melts, Miami Beach will be floating in a watery grave. Similarly, a look in the climate crystal ball shows that Hiawatha Golf Course as it exists today will not be resilient.
We know that Minnesota can expect heavier rainfalls with more intense swings between periods of drought and excessive precipitation. We already saw a once-in-10-year flood at Hiawatha in 2014 that completely derailed a year and a half of golf and sent the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board begging for help from FEMA. We cannot expect to get another million-dollar federal bailout for the next Hiawatha flood (perhaps as soon as two years from now). The odds of receiving that kind of aid in the future are next to zero.
Miami Beach climate denialists and Hiawatha 18-hole delusionists ignore the inevitable – that our earth is changing in a way that makes it less hospitable to people, and frankly, to golf. Without significant expenditures, extensive damage to the environment and surrounding neighborhood, and massive amounts of human intervention, we are unfortunately not going to engineer our way to an 18-hole solution at Hiawatha.
To do nothing today is to abdicate responsibility for future generations, the majority of them nonwhite. Indeed, global warming, be it through melting of the Thwaites Glacier, intensified heat waves or stronger storms, is more likely to be felt by people who are already the least well off, who tend to be brown and Black and who, by and large , have fewer options.
Where golf at its heart is a sport of privilege, global warming is an issue of environmental justice. We are doing a disservice to the Black and brown children of Minneapolis today – the vast majority of whom do not play golf – by not working harder to leave them a world with clean water, with recreation activities they can access and with an urban ecology free of pollutants.
Miami Beach and Hiawatha 18-hole golf course salesmen have brazen disregard for nature and airs of superiority – that the ingenuity of man will win over the billions of years of complex ecological and natural history of our planet.
As key leaders at the Park Board twiddle their thumbs and act as if we are not up against a clock, Thwaites quietly continues to slip away, waiting for no one. Where is the honor and respect for our Black and brown children, and for the generations of climate refugees who will flock to the relative climate haven of Minneapolis?
It’s time to face reality in both Miami Beach and at the Hiawatha Golf Course. We have water coming from above and below due to the unique geologies of each location. We have people crying out for our leaders to do something. And Mother Nature always wins in the end.
Becky Alper is District 3 commissioner on the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.