Jack Davis: Treat the Gulf Right and It Will Return the Favor

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Jack Davis is a professor of history at the University of Florida and author of An Everglades Provenance: Marjory Stoneman Douglas and the American Environmental Century.]

Somewhere beneath Gulf of Mexico waters lies the archive of Spanish West Florida. When Americans invaded Pensacola in 1818, Spanish officials fled for Cuba. Intercepted en route by pirates, they heaved the colony’s records overboard.

The watery resting palce is fitting. Much of the history of five U.S. states is entombed in the Gulf of Mexico. And every so often, a major event involving that extraordinary ocean basin reminds us that we are not the sole animating force in our history.

Nature is an equal, sometime greater, influence (something history books fail to teach), and from Texas to Florida, the Gulf is nature supreme.

Before the Houdini spin on disappearing oil leads us to minimize, even forget, the Deep Horizon tragedy, we should pause to understand that for the past 150 years our behavior has been on a collision course with the Gulf and its enriching presence. Whenever we have tried to get the upperhand on nature–believing we can rewrite its laws with the pen of scientific knowledge, engineering and technology–we have diminished the value of that presence and steered ourselves into disastrous waters....

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