When white people first "discovered" the Everglades centuries ago, they figured it wasn't good for anything. To them, it was just a swamp full of bugs. But the weather was nice, so they just stomped all over everything, ruined the land, and dropped some roads and strip malls on the area.
But despite all the damage humans have done to the once-pristine Everglades, a peer-reviewed study published this week in the journal Environmental Science and Policy says the Glades' dense thicket of mangroves is responsible for scrubbing billions of dollars' worth of carbon emissions from the air. Without the Everglades, the Earth would warm even faster than it already is, the authors write.
"Based on a scientific cost estimate, the stored carbon is worth between U.S. $2 billion and $3.4 billion," the National Science Foundation (NSF), which funded the study, writes in a release. "The billion-dollar price tag reflects the cost of restoring freshwater flow to areas that need it most, preserving the Everglades' mangroves."
The NSF adds that the billions are a "relatively small price when considering the cost to society if, rather than being stored, the carbon were released into the atmosphere," according to the Florida International University team that worked on the research.
The researchers then include the standard disclaimer whenever anyone writes about the Everglades: The mangroves are great, they write, but a whole host of environmental concerns would wipe them out. Contaminated water could do it. So could sea-level rise or hurricanes.
"While our understanding of the Everglades is strengthened by this study, we need to remember that threats to this valued resource come from both saltwater intrusion and sea-level rise," Tom Torgersen, director of NSF's Water Sustainability and Climate program, says in the release. "Management and policy decisions need to reflect the value of the Everglades, as well as the issues facing Florida."
Despite that warning, we're still somehow debating if it's a good idea to drill for oil in the Glades. Mere months ago, Gov. Rick Scott's administration let a company conduct seismic testing for oil in Big Cypress National Preserve. Multiple county governments — including Miami-Dade and Broward — have banned fracking in their communities for fear that companies will zoom in, find oil under the Glades, and frack the place to death. (Environmentalists have protested the seismic testing as well.)
The study drives home the point that deforestation and climate change go hand-in-hand. But sadly, the study's results likely won't matter too much to the people determined to suck the oil out from under the mangroves: They're the type to either not believe in climate change or simply not care about it. At that point, silly phrases like "carbon emissions" become meaningless.