November 19, 2013
By David Helvarg
On a Tuesday in late October I wander alone along the grassy tree-lined bluff, long abandoned railroad track and quarter mile of bay facing crescent strand that make up the Point Molate Beach Park in my hometown of Richmond, California. Offshore pelicans, buzzards and a couple oystercatchers work the shifting tide line. Earlier a few harbor seals were checking out the scene. On Saturday I find a young couple and their baby making use of one of the new picnic tables while an older couple walks the beach and a landscape photographer stakes out the far end of the bluff, the beginnings of popular rediscovery of our city’s finest waterfront. Monday October 14 marked the first time in nine years the beach, with its spectacular views of the Richmond Bridge, Mount Tamalpais and the Marin side of the bay had been open to the public.
For years the local seaweed group Citizens for a Sustainable Point Molate, a project of Blue Frontier, led the fight and successful battle to stop plans for a mega-casino development on this 422-acre site, the last undeveloped coastal headland and offshore eel grass beds on San Francisco Bay. With allies like Green Party Mayor Gail McLaughlin, the Richmond Progressive Alliance and 20 Bay Area blue groups we were able to stop the multi-million dollar plan with a 58-42 percent vote in a 2010 election that both rejected the “destination resort” with its 4,000 slot machines and elected a progressive city council slate that has since helped in the clean-up and restoration of the beach park (See Blue Notes #81). This is the first step in turning Point Molate into a world-class natural destination like San Francisco’s Presidio and Marin’s Fort Baker bayfront parks. Of course the casino developer is now suing the city for millions of dollars not seeming to understand the logic of his own business plan: when you gamble you usually lose. Only this time the seaweed activists of CFSPM and people of Richmond won big by betting on bottom-up citizen action. For a more detailed telling of this coastal tale of restoration and faith read the final chapter of my latest book, ‘The Golden Shore – California’s Love Affair with the Sea.’
The massive devastation of Typhoon Haiyan is just the latest predictable extreme weather disaster linked to warmer rising seas and other aspects of climate change. I witnessed the failure of the Red Cross while covering Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and while I believe they’ve improved their operations since then another sensible option is that donations for Philippine relief be made to the always reliable British relief agency Oxfam.
On the anniversary of another epic disaster, Super-Storm Sandy, Climate Central reports that U.S. public opinion polling on climate change has been little impacted by the devastation wrought domestically last fall. While New York has done some serious work on preparing for sea-level rise and intensified storms linked to warming seas, towns and cities along the exposed New Jersey Shore have been rushing to rebuild in harm’s way. The human desire to restart one’s life after tragedy is natural as is our attraction to the sea, but changing conditions also require new, commonsense approaches. As Thad Allen, the former Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard and 2011 Peter Benchley Ocean Award winner noted at an anniversary conference held at Monmouth University in New Jersey:
“We need to understand that barrier islands were always made to migrate. In fact, in the early days, people were made to migrate. When we started staying in one place, things started changing. We invented these things called “property rights.” Mother nature doesn’t understand property rights. Mother nature doesn’t understand the political boundaries between states. And you can’t take Mother Nature to court and hold her accountable either. But what does that mean? It means we have to think and act smarter. We need to act strategically. We have to think about the long-range.”
To think strategically about the ocean also requires the best available science. Another 2011 Benchley Award winner, Dr. Greg Stone of Conservation International has helped assemble a global team of researchers to do an annual assessment of Ocean Health using ten key science-based criteria. The frustrating thing is that we know what the solutions are to industrial overfishing, pollution, loss of habitat and climate change impacts. What’s lacking is the political will to implement them. That’s why the ocean health index also breaks down the behaviors of the world’s coastal nations so that they can be held individually accountable. The 2013 global Ocean Health Index rates the state of the ocean at a 65 out of 100, less than half a percent improvement from last year when the index was rolled out. If your little sea brought home grades like that you’d ground it.
Thad Allen and Greg Stone are two of 40 solution-oriented ocean leaders from heads of state to a pre-teen anti-oil protest singer who have won Peter Benchley Ocean Awards over the years. In the short time between now and Dec. 31, 2013 you have a chance to nominate your blue hero in one of eight categories for the 7th annual Peter Benchley Ocean Awards that will take place May 30, 2014 at the Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. Make your blue hero a world hero.
During the Government shutdown (see blue notes #116) the right-wing blogosphere lit up with reports that President Obama had shut down the ocean. This was based on the micro-kernel of truth that the Everglades National Park was closed and so restrictions on fishing were placed in the Florida Bay section of the Park where furloughed park rangers where unable to patrol. Now Representative Bill Flores of Waco, Texas, back at work in the government he shut down to oppose the President’s health care law, has placed a rider on the Water Resources Reform and Development Act that funds the Army Corps’ harbor and river dredging, beach sand replenishment and other activities. The rider would ban any of these funds from being used to support the president’s National Ocean Policy designed to coordinate just those kinds of actions with other ocean uses to achieve a coordinated approach to managing our public seas in an ecological and economically sustainable manner.
But according to Flores under National Ocean Policy every drop of water landing on his drought-ridden inland constituents homes would empower the EPA to control their property. We’re not saying Rep. Flores is prone to fantastical embellishments, all we’re saying is every one of his utterances could irreparably poison the minds of America’s schoolchildren, or then again, maybe we’re embellishing.
The real problem is a rider like his attached to a much larger funding measure could sneak through a House/Senate committee conference unless the negotiators from the House and Senate hear from a lot of concerned ocean folk. To learn how you can have your voice heard contact the Healthy Ocean Coalition.
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 the Arctic 30.
Along with being an internationally respected advocacy organization involved in global negotiations and treaties, Greenpeace also has a well-earned reputation for taking non-violent but dramatic actions on behalf of the environment. Historically this includes using Zodiac inflatables to block Russian harpoon boats from killing whales, showing up at government events dressed as endangered critters (is that salmon shaped like Phil Kline?) and hanging banners from buildings, smokestacks and oil drilling platforms.
On a related note, today there’s a global “Cold Rush” to claim sovereignty over Arctic waters that are becoming ice-free as a result of fossil fuel fired climate change and to exploit these emerging waters for oil, minerals and as trade routes.
In September Russia charged 28 Greenpeace activists, a freelance photographer and cameraperson with piracy for staging and recording a protest at the Russian state oil company Gazprom’s first offshore Arctic drilling platform. They then downgraded the charges to hooliganism (so they’re facing 7 instead of 30 years in jail), and then on November 7 charged several of the detainees from the ship Arctic Sunrise with ramming a Coast Guard vessel (another 5 years) during a confrontation that included Russia’s Federal Security Services firing warning shots and staging a vertical helicopter assault to seize the Greenpeace ship and crew. Interestingly the Arctic Sunrise’s Captain, the U.S. citizen Peter Willcox, was also the master of the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior when French commandos blew it up in Auckland harbor, New Zealand in 1985, killing a photographer onboard (Greenpeace was protesting French Nuclear Testing in the South Pacific at the time).
A year before the latest incident Greenpeace staged a similar banner hanging protest on the same Russian oilrig without any arrests. But this year’s protests had the bad timing to take place while Russia was deploying nuclear warships as a show of force in the north and a warning to the other Arctic powers including the United States, Denmark, Finland, Norway and Canada. “This is our territory and we shall defend it,” proclaimed the bellicose Admiral Vladimir Korolyov, commander of the Northern Fleet. President Vladimir Putin, who can see Russia’s national security threatened by girl bands like Pussy Riot, has said that while the Greenpeace activists were not pirates they were clearly trying to “seize the platform.”
At the request of the Netherlands, where the Greenpeace ship is registered, a UN Law of the Seas Tribunal is reviewing the conflict and may soon rule against Russia and order it to release the ship and its crew. Even though it’s a signatory to the Law of the Seas Treaty (the U.S. is not) Russia is refusing to participate in the tribunal.
“Our colleagues who have stood up for protecting the Arctic and the planet have been in prison for over 6 weeks now and they need our support,” says John Hocevar, Greenpeace USA’s Oceans Campaign Director. “There are no signs yet that they’re about to be released or that charges will be reduced. We have no indications that things are going well. We do have a list of 30 things people can do for the Arctic 30.” For information on how you can help visit GreenPeace.
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