The Miami Herald raised an important question regarding Florida's high rates of population growth and development, taking a reflective look at the state's recent evacuation experience as a result of Hurricane Irma:
“We have to stop and take a deep breath and ask, ‘What are we doing?’ ” said David Paulison, a former Miami-Dade County fire chief brought in to run the Federal Emergency Management Agency by President George W. Bush after the agency’s response to Hurricane Katrina was harshly criticized. “The more people we put here, the worse it’s going to be for evacuation.”
As the third-largest and fourth-fastest growing U.S. state in terms of population, Florida faces many challenges when it comes to emergency planning.
Significant challenges also arise in regards to land-use planning and protecting local ecosystems and wildlife, including prevention of habitat loss and fragmentation that often result from continued urban sprawl and increased urban densification. When wildlife habitat is fragmented or destroyed, wild animals and plants are robbed of their homes and sources of food and/or water. Wildlife populations will invariably and inevitably decline, sometimes to the point of endangerment, extirpation (localized extinction) or extinction in the wild altogether.
Urban sprawl and urban densification are predominantly driven by population growth with a lesser contribution from increased per-capita land use, while population growth is mostly fueled by net migration into the United States (and as it relates to this article, into the state of Florida specifically). If current demographic trends continue, future immigrants and their descendants are projected to account for 88% of the U.S. population increase, or 103 million people, from 2015 to 2065, according to the Pew Research Center. For Floridians reflecting on the state's rapid development and contemplating where things might be headed, NumbersUSA's recent Florida sprawl study provides an in-depth assessment of its past, present, and projected future effects.
Such projected growth appears to be in direct conflict with continued environmental and wildlife conservation efforts, not only in Florida but across the United States, and it's for this reason that I'd like to reuse the comment David Paulison shared for this article: "We have to stop and take a deep breath and ask, 'What are we doing?'".
It's high time to reconsider our federal, state, and local policies that are facilitating this growth and its resultant harm to the environments upon which our lives (and quality of lives) depend. By prudently limiting future population growth through permanent reductions in legal immigration levels that currently exceed 1 million a year, emergency planning for future evacuations will also have a more realistic chance of minimizing accidents, injuries, and deaths while having the bandwidth and budget to prioritize more resilient infrastructure enhancements.
ROB HARDING is the Sustainability Communications Manager for NumbersUSA
Updated: Mon, Oct 9th 2017 @ 8:55am EDT