Editor’s Desk: Florida man

Photo of Thomas Van Lent by Alicia Osborne for The New Republic/FERN.

By Brent Cunningham

FERN’s latest article, produced with The New Republic, distills some of the more ominous aspects of our current moment: environmental mayhem; a “solution” that is little more than greenwashing; the elevation of industry over the public good; and silencing science for political and economic ends. 

In Secrets of the Swamp, reporter Boyce Upholt tells the story of Thomas Van Lent, a conservation scientist who was sued by his former employer, The Everglades Foundation, for allegedly stealing trade secrets after he raised questions about a project designed to clean the water flowing into Florida’s vast wetland. In the process, Upholt illustrates how the political power of Big Sugar trumps environmental health in the Sunshine State:   

The Everglades Foundation’s case against Van Lent … reveals the extent to which money and power can influence decision-making in the world of conservation. The idea that a science-focused nonprofit might possess trade secrets presents a particular stumbling block to some conservationists. “You cannot have trade secrets and call it science,” Stuart Pimm, one of the world’s foremost conservation ecologists, told me. He thinks that with this lawsuit, the Everglades Foundation has crossed a threshold, undermining its credibility as a research institution by smothering its own research. “For somebody to try and shut up the scientists,” he said, “that is very, very worrying business.”

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