So I’ve been back home in South Jersey for three months now and am only finally posting a blog…only now! Holy Cow! It’s taken me pathetically long to get these words on the screen, and even longer to do the many, many thank you notes to all the amazing people who helped along the way during this past summer’s paddle from NYC to Chicago. I started this particular post prior to a lively (hey, any event where water folk are involved is gonna be lively) event hosted by NY/NJ Baykeeper and figured I couldn’t just post the depressing stuff below without first mentioning the positive stuff, which to me revolves around the folks and organizations who work tirelessly on the issues concerning our waterways. It is these folks in the trenches, who never seem to stop, sleep, or take a break from these endless battles to protect our water, waterways, and ocean who give me hope for our future. If we can get folks to care, that is more than half the battle.We are all connected by water, after all, so there is a TON of potential to connect the folks that care and who want to do something to help with the groups that have been in the trenches for the long haul.
NY/NJ Baykeeper’s annual shindig and award ceremony attracted many of the local water folks- Bill Schultz and Lorraine, the ever present and dogged water warriors fighting for the ailing Raritan River. Capt. Bill Sheehan, the Hackensack Riverkeeper, and Cindy Zipf, of Clean Ocean Action also managed to come out on that rainy Wednesday night for the event, along with Lauren Townsend who is working with Blue Frontier and their Sea Party 2016 project, because, you know, we don’t want to see drilling off our shores that would further threaten an economy that depends on an already vulnerable, sinking coastal plain here in NJ exacerbated by sea level rise. The last thing we need is more fossil fuel infrastructure, especially in our ocean. And we for sure don’t want to see that horrible Port Ambrose at the entrance of busy NY/NJ harbor area, either. We need to be investing in renewable sources of energy, throwing everything we have at it, sparking a monumental change in how energy is done, and we need to be doing this, like, uh yesterday.
The Baykeeper event provided a welcome respite from the usual depressing thoughts that tend to pop up in my head this time of year. It’s hard not to feel like we are hurtling toward an edge of a ledge, threatening to race right off, to a point of no return, with the way we abuse our natural resources, particularly our fresh water resources and our ocean. I wonder, did other civilizations in the past, those whose anthropological records showed a collapse, from the Mayans, to Easter Island (and really, lotta theories on this one), to the Roman Empire, etc, etc, did their citizens not see it coming, whether it was environmental or not? Or were there some who saw it coming but were ignored? The “nervous Nellies” and “Debbie downers?” Were they written off as nuts, marginalized, crucified? Can we save ourselves from mass collapse and the concomitant human suffering that would result? I ask this, because it’s looking, globally speaking, pretty grim. While here at home folks debate what a woman does with her body, immigration, cutting food program for poor kids, and how best to water our agriculture in areas of constant or near constant drought that compete with water-intensive fracking. And we’ve got utter catastrophe in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq and Syria and what seems like constant strife and unhappiness in too many countries on the African continent, due in large part to colonialism and missionaries (who by the nature of their “mission” assume they have a “better” way of doing things), never mind the precipitous decline of endangered species and continued poaching of elephants, lions, and rhinos.
**oh–quick word about the links I’ve used–there is a lotta info out there to look at. the links used here appeared, at a glance, to be fairly decent and were at the top of the searches. it sure doesn’t hurt, if you’re curious, to do some research on your own. have at it!
That’s a lot to chew on, and I’m sorry. But it’s stuff we need to try to understand and be sensitive to in order to change things, because the status quo is failing on so many levels. Sure, we need to celebrate the often times tiny steps being taken to “make things better,” but we also need to make sure we demand we don’t go backwards or make our demands so incremental that they do nothing but appease the “other” side, the polluting side, the side doing the damage. Hey, it doesn’t really take that much to get a full blown movement going that will benefit everyone, and that means we should not be happy to take the crumbs at the negotiating table. We need the whole damn slice of pie. But in order to get what we need to protect our ocean and keep our world habitable for humanity, we need a real movement that isn’t happy with incremental gains that satisfy big corporate bottom lines and do nothing to protect our resources or us.
But let’s look at one cool development in part of the world that has had more than its fair share of heartache and tragedy. This little glimmer hope that involves local East Coast folks (from Annapolis!) is Peter’s Surfing School in Liberia. If there’s surfing there’s at least some hope that eventually things will turn around. That’s my totally non-scientific belief based on nothing but good vibes and how folks who surf come together to protect their favorite spot. And it’s contagious, you know? And it’s not really completely without anecdotal evidence. It seems, from my various paddle journeys, as if creating a vibrant, accessible waterfront is an easy way to energize a previously fading downtown area. You want to be there; it’s welcoming and energizing. At least in the towns I paddled through it seemed that way! Anyway, I actually found out about Peter’s Surfing School because of a post on East of Maui (Annapolis) FB page. Somehow they connected with and donated a board to Peter Swen’s surf school all the way out in Liberia! Maybe Liberia will become a surfing destination.
So there are good things going on in pockets of this blue watery planet (the good thing is if I name them all it would be a volume, not a one page blog), but we gotta do it faster, grow these “pockets” way way faster-especially in this country, where we waste more of our natural resources than most. Just take a look at how we use energy compared to the rest of the world. It’s NUTS! It seems that here in this country we’ve gotten overly complacent and seem blind to the future we create for our children and their children who will be impacted (even more than we are now) by climate change and the subsequent battles over diminishing global resources. Despite what we know, we go on as if nothing is very pressing, as is evident by the mad rush to place pipelines everywhere as well as the push to export our fossil fuels, especially gas and oil. On a happy note, exports of coal seem to be declining. So yay for that.
Meanwhile, water insecurity impacts countries that are already suffering tremendous unrest do to the geopolitical cost of fossil fuel based economy and the unsavory relationships that this reliance has created as well as plain old colonialism. We know this will get worse, and yet we trash our water and land resources as if one day we won’t find ourselves in that very same situation. If our current dichotomy between the very rich and the rest of us keeps growing, the scarcity of water within our own country could seriously threaten stability within our own borders.
It’s hopeful to see Governor Cuomo embrace solar, although personally I think while we need more solar and wind, I’d rather see it on individual homes whenever possible rather than on large tracts of land. But we need to make sure that EVERYONE benefits from developments such as this. The #blacklivesmatter movement and the showcasing of police brutality pulls the wool from our eyes to the fact that, yes, racism is STILL here. Many of us, particularly those of us who are white and live in mostly white communities have for too long been blissfully ignorant of the racism that too many still harbor in their hearts.
Many folks think racism is a thing of the past. Well, sad to say, it’s still here. And we DO need to do something about it. We can do little things like smack down racist talk the minute we hear it, like a back-hand verbal slap, we can make sure that organizations and groups within which we work and volunteer have a plan, and are working to implement it, to increase the diversity within their own ranks, we can sign every petition we can find where voter registration is at risk, we can demand justice, march for the victims of the many cases of inexcusable police violence that keep “popping up,” the list goes on, because there is a lot to be done. (And my pointing out police brutality is meant as no disrespect to the institution–I see the horrible mistreatment of people of color at the hands of the cops as the pimple on the top of the festering wound of racism-the police need to examine their own policies and what for too long has been “accepted behavior” just as our society as a whole needs to examine ways we have permitted, aided and abetted racism). The police brutality cases are symptoms of the problem of inherent racism that has been internalized and institutionalized and still exists even today, in 2015. We simply cannot tolerate this as a nation, as human beings. I’ve been guilty of being shocked into silence by unbelievable racist spew from folks in what started out as completely innocuous conversation. That’s the very least we should do-not be silent in front of racist ugliness. Hey, I don’t have all the answers, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t out there and that we shouldn’t try everything in our power to fix this problem. One thing is for sure, tho, like the problems of our ocean, this inherent racism, and the problems of institutionalized racism are issues that need to be solved and worked on-so these issues need to be in a state of constant focus. The first step to fixing any problem is to make sure that all those who need to be engaged to fix it, are aware of it, aware of the racism, and aware of the white privilege that keeps the status quo the status quo. That means constant education and advocacy. And yea, we gotta keep talking about racism and white privilege. Like the adage adopted by the AIDS-HIV activists, “silence=death.”
My biggest pet peeve with the ocean movement that I know and love is its lack of diversity, or rather, its failure to include more than its present demographic. The ocean groups, when compared to other environmental organizations, are the whitest of the white and made up mostly of folks from rather comfy–certainly not struggling-economic situations. How do we protect the wild diversity of the ocean when we don’t engage, invite, and represent the wide variety of the people, with their varied backgrounds, experiences, and complexions, on this big blue marble? The ocean is for everyone, and it will take everyone to protect it. Ocean pollution, ocean acidification, and rising tides will impact everyone, and not in a good way, either.