BLUE NOTES #101: Heat & Climate, Bad Politics, Best Beaches
July 17, 2012
By David Helvarg
One wonders how unusual the nation’s warming winters, record-breaking summer heat waves, tornadoes, droughts, forest fires (Colorado, Utah, New Mexico), extreme weather events (DC, Maryland, Virginia, Florida) and other predicted impacts will have to get before the media use the word ‘climate’ or ‘carbon’ while reporting on the increasing number of weather related disasters. Ice retreat in the Arctic this summer looks to be greater than ever before while a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) report shows that July 2011 – June 2012 were the hottest 12 months in U.S. history, though you probably never saw that unless you’re on their email listserv. There was a blip of recent reporting on projected sea level rise this century that’s expected to be greater on the Eastern seaboard around New York where much of the national news media is based. And there are a handful of mainstream reporters like Anne Thompson of NBC who understand and try and report the science linking climate and weather. Still a fairer indicator of media coverage was provided when the group Media Matters put out a study in late June showing that the Kardashians received 40 times the coverage over the last 18 months as ocean acidification, one of the major impacts of fossil-fuel fired climate disruption. Newspapers had 41 stories and editorials and television 4 news stories on how the oceans have become 30 percent more acidic since the industrial revolution as a result of added carbon dioxide from anthropogenic (human sourced) deposition in the sea and how this is slowing the ability of shell forming marine life from certain plankton to clams to corals to grow their protective surfaces. The head of NOAA, Dr. Jane Lubchenco calls this “the osteoporosis of the sea.” (Watch the short video “Polyps in Peril” illustrated by our board member Jim Toomey.) At the same time there were 1053 newspaper reports and 1080 television stories on the reality-show celebrity family famous for being famous.
In his classic 1979 study of modern media, ‘Deciding What’s News’ sociology professor Herb Gans wrote that American media share a number of common though unstated values including maintaining the social order and maintaining a strong national leadership.
That would explain why network television producers kept cutting away from shots of protestors lining the route of George W. Bush’s January 2001 inaugural parade after the Supreme Court mandated his presidential victory over Al Gore. Crowds carrying signs reading “Hail to the Thief” and “Illegitimate” would not have helped restore faith in the established leadership after the long voter recount and controversial 5-4 court decision.
This media deference to power also reflects the failure of today’s political leaders to engage on an issue that is arguably one of the greatest threats to global security and stability. (Just ask the Pentagon.) Neither President Barak Obama who gave up on climate legislation in his first term and dumped his White House climate advisor, nor former Governor Mitt Romney, who having accepted the established science on climate recently flip flopped joining his party’s climate science deniers, seem willing to engage each other on the issue, uncertain how it will play with the public. And if neither party in power says this is an issue then the corporate media seems more than willing to give itself a pass to keep running BP ads on the Gulf of Mexico’s alleged revival, American Petroleum Institute ads for ‘Energy Voters’ who look like no one I ever met on an offshore rig and coal industry promos for ‘Clean Coal,’ between their ongoing coverage of wild fires, beetle infestations, dying crops, arctic drilling and coastal flooding, all reported and presented without any larger context of a changing climate or commitment to the public’s right to know. The solution? San Francisco Bay Area DJ Scoop Nisker used to say, “If you don’t like the news go out and make some of your own!” Occupy the Weather Channel!
Other bad news this summer: Ocean legend Sylvia Earle got it right when she called the recent international environmental Summit in Brazil “Rio +20 minus 40.” Hailed as a silver lining among the failures to advance serious and enforceable environmental treaties was a new commitment to study ocean acidification rather than to address its cause – fossil fuel fired climate change. So bad has it gotten that some marine conservationists now advocate educating the public on ocean acidification without reference to its cause.
European Union ministers meeting this summer also punted on their time commitments for dealing with overfishing. They extended an earlier pledge to restore overfished species – including the 80 percent that are overexploited in the Mediterranean – pushing their theoretical recovery date back from 2015 to 2020 despite efforts by Oceana and other blue groups to get them to keep their promise.
And on the home front the passage of the $105 billion dollar Transportation/Highway Bill saw the RESTORE Act survive as an amendment. This will direct most of the expected multi-billion dollar Clean Water Act fines against BP for its 2010 Gulf oil blowout go to Gulf states for ecosystem restoration.
Unfortunately the National Endowment for the Oceans (NEO) proposed by 2012 Peter Benchley Ocean Award winner Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island was stripped out of the bill. NEO would have used a small part of the monies generated by the fine to create a permanent grant program for coastal and Great Lakes states to help them better understand, restore and explore our public waters, something House republicans opposed.
While Senator Barbara Boxer negotiated the deal for Senate democrats it was the House and Senate leadership that ultimately agreed to drop a number of provisions – including NEO – to get the bill passed. More bad news is the Land and Water Conservation Fund that is supposed to direct offshore drilling royalty payments into coastal protection was again denied its due. For years Congress has diverted billions of dollars away from coastal and urban parks and playgrounds that the original 1965 Land and Water Act intended it to pay for. Benchley Award winner Representative Sam Farr of Monterey once told me that in California you can get elected or lose your seat based on your stance on issues like coastal protection and offshore drilling. Our job as a blue movement is to create the constituency that makes that true for every member of Congress so that in the future the state of our public seas will mean something more than just collateral damage in the cause of expanded highway construction.
A regular feature of Blue Notes where we shine the light on a group from the Blue Movement Directory in order to create a more self-aware and collaborative movement. This month we feature Ocean Champions.
Given the political nature of this month’s Blue Notes it seems right to profile Ocean Champions, an organization that bills itself as, “the only ocean group that helps elect the Members of Congress who fight for our oceans.” As a 501(c)(4) social welfare organization that can lobby for legislation with an affiliated Political Action Committee (PAC), Ocean Champions raises non-tax deductable monies to promote candidates for elected office who support marine conservation and can make the link between healthy oceans and a healthy economy. Since 2004 Ocean Champions has helped elect over 50 Congressmembers, both democrats and republicans. 80 percent of their candidates have won their elections. They’ve also worked to defeat anti-environmental politicians like Rep. Richard Pombo (R, CA) the former Chair of the House Resource Committee who lost his 2006 re-election bid.
Longtime marine advocates David Wilmot and Jack Sterne were the lead authors of a 2003 foundation-sponsored report, Turning the Tide. In it they argued that electoral politics is a fundamental aspect of our nation’s political process and for the ocean conservation community full participation had to mean working directly to elect good candidates and defeat bad ones. Based on this logic they went on to found Ocean Champions the following year. Today Wilmot remains the organization’s president based in California. Mike Dunmyer, its Executive Director works out of the Washington, D.C. area.
“When we’re talking about the health of the oceans, we need communications and the grassroots element is essential but part of our spending has to be electoral,” Wilmot explains. “We’re just passing the million dollar mark for our direct contributions to candidates or to defeat ocean enemies and our impact has been disproportionate. Modest amounts of money can go a long way but we need to do more. We’re trying to elect 40 champions in the House and Senate in this  election. We just held an event for Representative Lois Capps (D, CA) and dozens of members of the ocean community wrote checks. We raised almost $20,000 for her campaign. We’re seeing the community coming together. We’re seeing a wave of political engagement like we’ve never seen before on oceans. We know what it takes to win. We’re on the right path but it’s not going to be an easy fight.”
And certainly not during summer vacation. On the bright side Dr. Steven Leatherwood (Dr. Beach) has just released his annual list of 10 Best Beaches (U.S. edition). They are:
1. Coronado Beach, San Diego, California
2. Kahanamoku Beach Waikiki, Oahu, Hawaii
3. Main Beach, East Hampton, New York
4. St. George Island State Park, Florida panhandle
5. Hamoa Beach, Maui, Hawaii
6. Coast Guard Beach Cape Cod, Massachsetts
7. Waimanalo Bay Beach Park, Oahu, Hawaii
8. Cape Florida State Park Key Biscayne, Florida
9. Beachwalker Park Kiawah Island, South Carolina
10. Cape Hatteras, Outer Banks of North Carolina
For more detail visit Dr. Beach’s website. If you’re looking for some good reading while visiting one of these beaches, we recommend 50 Ways to Save the Ocean.
If you can’t make it to the beach on Thursday, July 26 Blue Frontier welcomes Ocean Frontiers to our D.C. home, the Carnegie Institution for Science at 1530 P St., NW. Join us from 6-9 PM for a reception, screening of the documentary and panel discussion with filmmaker Karen Meyer and some of the problem-solving folks from her film. The panel will be led by 2011 Peter Benchley Ocean Award winner and Washington Post reporter Juliet Eilperin. RSVP at tinyurl.com/dcrsvp.
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