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Last December I read about an impending ecological catastrophe at Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica. Scientists found evidence that Thwaites is melting much faster than previously thought. Without the glacier, which acts like a cork in a bottle, the Antarctic Ice Shelf could slide freely out to sea, potentially raising global sea levels by more than 10 feet in 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 located on a narrow strip of land separated from the city of Miami by Biscayne Bay. In the 1920s, developers built Miami Beach by dredging the bay and placing a landfill on the low-lying island’s Swiss cheese-like geology.
Theodore Wirth displayed the same hubris he did when he dredged Minneapolis’ Rice Lake and dumped the excess soil into a swamp, creating what we know today as the Hiawatha Golf Course.
When Thwaites melts, Miami Beach will be awash in a watery grave. Likewise, looking into the climate crystal ball shows that the Hiawatha Golf Course as it exists today will not be resilient.
We know that Minnesota can expect heavier rainfall with more intense swings between drought and excess precipitation. We saw a 10-year flood in Hiawatha back in 2014 that completely shut down a year and a half of golf and prompted the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board to turn to FEMA for help. We can’t expect to get another million dollar federal bailout for the next Hiawatha flood (maybe as little as two years from now). The chances of getting this kind of help in the future are close to zero.
Miami Beach’s climate deniers and Hiawatha’s 18-hole delusions are ignoring the inevitable — that our earth is changing in ways that make it less hospitable to humans and frankly golf. Unfortunately, without significant expense, extensive damage to the environment and surrounding neighborhood, and massive human intervention, we will not embark on an 18-hole solution at Hiawatha.
Doing nothing today means relinquishing responsibility for future generations, most of whom are unwhite. In fact, global warming, whether it’s from the melting of Thwaites Glacier, increased heat waves, or stronger storms, is more likely to be felt by people who are already the least wealthy, who are more likely to be brown and black, and, by and large, have fewer Possibilities.
While golf is at its core a sport of privilege, global warming is an issue of environmental justice. We’re doing the black and brown kids of Minneapolis today—the vast majority of whom don’t play golf—a disservice by not working harder to give them a world with clean water, fun activities they can access, and a free one urban ecology leave behind by pollutants.
The vendors of Miami Beach and Hiawatha’s 18-hole golf courses have shamelessly disregarded nature and demonstrated superiority—that human ingenuity will overwhelm billions of years of our planet’s complex ecological and natural history.
While key leaders twiddle their thumbs at the Park Board and pretend we’re not running against a clock, Thwaites quietly slinks on, 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 oasis of Minneapolis?
It’s time to face reality on both Miami Beach and the Hiawatha Golf Course. Due to the unique geology of each site, water comes from above and below. We have people screaming 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.