The Fragile Outdoors

January was cold, bitterly so. The polar vortex brought blinding blizzards and Arctic temperatures — even the First Coast dipped into the mid-20s — all along the eastern United States, bringing major cities to their knees. To climate-change deniers, those who would bury their heads in the sand as the glaciers melt and oceans rise rather than impede Big Oil in any way, this was proof that global warming is a lie cooked up by socialists and academics and the Illuminati and probably the Devil himself.

They were wrong. They’re always wrong.

Worldwide, last month was the fourth-hottest January since at least 1880 (when we started keeping these kinds of records), and the warmest since 2007. Alaska, western Canada, northern China, Australia, Mongolia, Greenland and southern Russia all saw average temperatures 5 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. Much of the Southern Hemisphere, particularly in Africa and South America, saw record highs. Arctic sea ice was 5 percent below average. (Antarctic sea ice, meanwhile, was well above average during a season in which it normally shrinks, which the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration links to climate change as well.)

The climate is changing. The world is warming. Disruption and destruction and chaos and catastrophe — floods, droughts, hurricanes, wars over dwindling resources — loom on the horizon.

This is a fact. We deny it at our own peril — especially in Florida, whose coastlines are endangered by sea-level changes. “The question for Floridians is not whether they will be affected, but how much — that is, to what degree sea-level rise will continue, how rapidly, what other climate changes will accompany sea-level rise, and what the long-term effects of those changes will be,” the Florida Oceans and Coastal Council warned in a 2010 report.

Our planet isn’t fragile — it will be around for several billion years more. Life on it, and our way of life, is.

I was thinking about this as we put together this Outdoors Issue. We live in a spectacularly beautiful place, near the ocean and magnificent rivers and lakes, surrounded by lush and vibrant scenery

How much of it will be here for our children and grandchildren? What legacy are we leaving to posterity?

It’s not just climate change. It’s also the toxins and pollutants we dump into our waterways; the wetlands we bulldoze in the name of sprawl; the rampant and unfettered growth that taxes our drinking water supply; the 2030 Mobility Plan, which seeks to direct development toward the urban core while encouraging bicycle and pedestrian traffic, that we neuter at every possible opportunity; the plans to dredge the St. Johns River in the name of commerce.

Nature is not ours to do with as we please. Nature is a gift to be treasured and respected.

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The good man is the friend of all living things.”

The question I pose to you, Jacksonville, is this: Are we good men (and women)? Or is that too damn inconvenient?