Dancing in the Light of Florida

Last weekend, the spiritual advisor to the Dalai Lama visited Florida, a state that does not lack for religious affiliations. It’s all here: from Promise Keepers in the Panhandle to voodoo in Little Haiti.

Ven Thupten Ngodup, considered to be an oracle, brought an environmental message with a certain urgency regarding climate change, according to Miami TV reporter Michele Guillen on the local CBS affiliate website.

The Dalai Lama’s Tibetan oracle advises us that humanity is at the verge: “It is what we call in our philosophy the time of the five degenerations. Outwardly you see that manifest in greed.”

“Tibetans rely on oracles for various reasons. The purpose of the oracles is not just to foretell the future. They are called upon as protectors and sometimes used as healers.”


The last bit spurred me to imagine what would happen if Ven Thupten Ngodup met with Florida’s protectors and healers of nature: the state bureaucrats who preside over the commodity essential to life: water.

In subdivision after platted subdivision, what is manifest in the housing boom now in cinders is that every step of the way was over objections by citizens to development that required a consumptive use permit for water.

So many consumptive use permits have been issued by water managers to develop suburban sprawl in Florida’s sandy counties that a whole new industry has sprung up to advise homeowners how to save their homes from sinkholes.

Sinkhole insurance is killing property values in parts of Florida as surely as hurricanes. There is no question which one is man-made.

Typically Tibetan oracles do not concern themselves with permits from government agencies. In Tibet, when the government is coming the best thing for a follower of the Dalai Lama to do is hide.

So here is what is strange about the interconnectedness of the world: while Wall Street financiers and Federal Reserve governors haggle how to keep the disaster in the housing mortgage industry from creating a world-wide credit meltdown—their version of holistic health for the planet—at the same time the creation of financial derivatives Wall Street needs gave birth to ten thousand malls and sprawl, defiling Florida wetlands, draining Florida aquifers, ruining the Everglades and spawning an entrenched class of engineers, technocrats and apologists for unsustainable growth.

In the battle between the River of Grass and the River of Easy Credit, the winner is liar loans and mortgage fraud and backroom deals to make sure the party still goes on, once the dust settles.

Now I might not even care about the River of Grass, or in a Zen-like way be willing to trade it, if there was a shred of a chance that the pattern of development that defines Florida could host a society different from what Robert Putnam railed against in “Bowling Alone”.

I don’t have any idea if the Dalai Lama, who visits New York City regularly, understands that the average cost of a two bedroom apartment in Manhattan, about $1.5 million, is kept aloft by billions of dollars of Wall Street bonuses tied to mortgage backed securities in the chain that turned nature as expressed by Florida’s Everglades into a ghostly shadow of creation.

Ven Thupten Ngodup’s words set me to further thoughts of this imaginary meeting between a Tibetan oracle and water managers in one of the nation’s most politically influential states.

I don’t know about the technical aspects of five degenerations, but greed and hubris are twinned around Florida’s trunk like snakes.

Relative to their infestations in American politics and the environment, it would not take the oracle long to grasp that the water managers’ forty five minute powerpoint presentation, stuffed with graphs of how the state is spending billions to fix the Everglades, noting Congress has failed to live up to its end of the bargain, and repeating that “we’re doing everything we can” is not the whole story.

In floods, where does the water go in Florida, if it is not used by the Everglades or farms or people? Ven Thupten Ngodup asks.

In 2005, the water managers say, we had hurricanes and released many hundreds of billions of gallons of polluted water from Lake Okeechobee into the ocean.

This leads the Tibetan oracle to an understanding. Because of so much pollution, massive algae blooms drape Florida’s coastal waters, killing fish and harming local economies, causing real estate values to decline and common sense to vanish in a swirl of engineering reports and contracts and revolving doors between lobbyists, government agencies and public office holders.

Perhaps the Tibetan oracle would imagine this chain of causality as part of the dark cloud that envelops human desire.

Ven Thupten Ngodup shares, glacial ice melt in the Himalayas is occurring massively. Tibet has grown measurably warmer, four degrees Fahrenheit in only the last two decades. Glacial melt is our bank account. We have to be careful not to spend from our principal.

The oracle adds, knowledge is not the same as wisdom.

When it rains in Florida too much, the water managers admit, we don’t put the water in the Everglades because it would flood sugar, an industry that provides so much sweetness to the American diet.

To which Ven Thupten Ngodup responds, yes but if I have a dollar and go to an American grocery store, I find my dollar buys 875 calories of soda but only 170 calories of orange juice.

Perhaps this is a Buddhist koan, a riddle the water managers have heard of but never experienced first-hand.

To which the district managers might have answered with their own koan: Our water is fishable but not swimable, or, it is swimable but not drinkable.

(Were they to say so, they would be referring to the recent classifications proposed by the State of Florida to redefine pollution of water in generic terms, as opposed to state requirements for numeric standards.)

But this Monday, district officials were not exchanging koans.

They were on helicopters for a VIP tour of the Everglades with Wal-Mart executives.

That would be the same Walmart accounting for $27 billion in U.S. imports from China in 2006 and, in the five years beginning in 2001, for the loss of nearly 200,000 U.S. jobs according to the Economics Policy Institute.

Now I’ve never had a VIP tour through the depleted Everglades, but I do like to fish and finding such plentiful bait in the appearance within a conscribed space of a Tibetan oracle, Walmart and water managers, that I am compelled to a few observations, some of which I’ve gleaned from knowledge and some from wisdom:

The reason the least healthful calories in the supermarket are the cheapest is that those are the ones the Congress encourages farmers to grow.

The reason global warming will cause sea-level rise threatening Florida’s future is that government policy ensures burning carbon is the cheapest source of fuel to power the US economy.

The reason Wal-Mart produces in China is that it is the cheapest source of goods American consumers want.

The reason that billions of gallons of polluted water is dumped into Florida’s estuaries and rivers and bays is because that is the cheapest political alternative.

The reason government bureaucrats need cheap political alternatives is self-evident everywhere.

And murdering followers of the Dalai Lama is what China needs, the nation that supports America’s standard of living through its purchase of hundreds of billions of US debt while supplying such goods as provided by Wal-Mart to US consumers.

Americans neither want nor need the destruction of the Everglades, of the climate, or of human rights in Tibet.

Thank you for visiting Florida, Ven Thupten Ngodup. Come back, soon.

ALAN FARAGO writes about the environment and politics. He can be reached at alanfarago@yahoo.com.


Alan Farago is president of Friends of the Everglades and can be reached at afarago@bellsouth.net