Pensacola, Florida
Tuesday July 23rd 2019


The Shape of Water

By Sydney Robinson

In 1972, a photo of Earth taken from the window of Apollo 17 was dubbed “The Blue Marble.” In 1990, Cosmologist Carl Sagan called our planet the “pale blue dot” after a similar photo was taken from Voyager 1. Both described the utterly unique quality of our planet which, among a short list of other conditions, means that life as we know it could exist here where it didn’t elsewhere.


We consume it, swim in it, water our crops with it, use it for industry and so much more. Here in Florida, water is at the center of our tourism industry, and countless residents feed their families on the bounty our water system provides.

But on a planet like ours—and in a state like Florida—it seems almost absurd to consider how rarely we ever, well, consider it.

Our neglect has its price, too, and it can be seen in the changing climate we face.  The dire lack of or the tragic excess of water is always looming, and things like hurricanes, floods, landslides, tsunamis and droughts prove it.

It is all these things and more that professor, journalist and author Cynthia Barnett will explore in her program as part of the WSRE Speaker Series.

In “Blue Revolution: A Water Ethic for Florida,” Barnett will explore the key focus of her life’s study—what are the environmental implications of our changing water table, and how can individuals take action to use water ethically?

“I got started as a garden variety newspaper reporter, and over time, I started to write a lot about water, and it was as if every story comes back to that,” said Barnett. “I kind of got obsessed with the topic—the Everglades, wetlands, desalination plants. In my first book, I set out to tell the deeper story.”

So far, Barnett has written three books on the topic of water—“Mirage: Florida and the Vanishing Water of the Eastern U.S.,” “Blue Revolution: Unmaking America’s Water Crisis” and her most recent, “Rain: A Natural and Cultural History.”

Barnett feels her speaking program is a summation of what she has learned so far.

“What stands out to me after these years of reporting on [this subject] is that the most important thing to solving our water challenges really will be a widespread public ethic for water,” Barnett told Inweekly.

Barnett’s talk is a part of the WSRE Spring Speaker series, the last of three presentations from notable Florida residents.

“All events are free and offer an excellent opportunity for anyone interested in expanding their knowledge and particularly for local teachers and students,” said Mary Riker, WSRE marketing and communications director. “Cynthia Barnett will be sharing her vision for solving our water quality issues during Earth Day week.”

The Florida Public Service Commission also recognizes April as Water Conservation Month throughout the state.

Barnett, who lived in Pensacola briefly when she was a child, will discuss the valuable water lessons we have already learned here in the Panhandle and how those lessons can be used in the future.

“Even in my talks in other parts of the state, I discuss the turnaround story of Escambia Bay,” Barnett shared. “We need these stories from the past to feel inspired about what we can do now.”

In 2019, it’s impossible to talk about things like the changes in the environment without getting bogged down in politics. Still, Barnett says water quality is a gateway topic anyone can and should get behind.

“Climate change has been politicized, so one good way of communicating about climate change and working on climate change is to work on it through water,” explained Barnett. “Whether it is rising sea or more extreme rainfall or increasingly intense hurricanes or extended droughts, water is a way of talking about climate change that draws people in instead of shutting them down.”

Politicians and pundits in Washington can debate all the scientific evidence they want, but residents in coastal areas like ours know how much harder it is to ignore when it’s flooding the floor of your family home.

“People are moved to action when they have direct experience. Once people have to deal up close with these issues, it becomes easier to talk about. We roll up our sleeves instead of being divided.”

Barnett says her talk is a mix of reality check and hopeful optimism and is aimed at a group of citizens she calls the “caring middle.”

“These are people who care a lot, and they may not know all the ins and outs of water policy and science and law, but the more they know, the more they want to be involved.”

This caring middle, Barnett hopes, will leave the program with knowledge on how to use water less and more efficiently.

“There are all these things debated about water and what the solutions are, but they come down to us coming together and using water in an ethical way,” Barnett said.

“Blue Revolution: A Water Ethic for Florida”
WHAT: WSRE Public Square event and book signing with Cynthia Barnett
WHEN: 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 23 (doors open at 6:30 p.m.)
WHERE: WSRE Jean & Paul Amos Performance Studio, 1000 College Blvd.

COST: Free