Post-Election Special — Riding the Obama Wave, West Coast Plans, Oil’s Well, Bush Legacy, Dead Whales and more
Nov. 15, 2008
By David Helvarg
But was it good for the Fish?
Barack Obama is riding a historic wave just like he rode that shore break at Sandy’s on Oahu (See Blue Notes #49). His election as President is historic at many levels. One that bodes well for the blue movement is the involvement of millions of citizen volunteers who sent money, worked phone banks, knocked on doors and seeing a positive result from their efforts, are likely to stay engaged. Not untypical was the participation at our West Coast Summit Planning Meet (see below) of Madeline Perkins, the 15-year-old daughter of California Coastkeeper Alliance’s Linda Sheehan. Having been a youth volunteer for Obama Madeline wants to continue her activism. I expect the same will apply to millions of others and that the new administration will be responsive to “community organizer,” pressure, including from the marine community.
On the downside neither President-elect Obama nor his opponent seemed to have much sense of Ocean and Coastal issues even though our coastal counties contribute over $6 trillion to our GDP, more than half the total, and healthy seas are essential to healthy economies in good times and in bad.
Still, when the GAO put out a list of 15 issues the new administration needs to address it included national conversion to digital TV but not our public seas. That’s why having a Blue Vision Summit six weeks after the Obama administration and new Congress take power is so important, to have ocean and coastal leaders there to remind them of the blue in our red, white and blue.
To Summit Up
20 people from 15 West Coast organizations met at the new California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco November 10 to work on plans for the March 7-10 Summit in Washington. This was a follow up on the D.C. meeting of 40 people from 25 groups in September (See Blue Notes #51).
Chris Andrews Chief of Public Programs at the Academy welcomed folks, noting that it was time for change but we have to make it happen.
There was general agreement on the Summit’s three aims:
- To influence the Obama Administration and new Congress to take leadership on the Ocean.
- To inform and inspire the Public about Solutions that work.
- To find a common approach on the Ocean and Climate Change.
Some highlights of our hours of good discussion include Zeke Grader (of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations) suggestion that we need to look beyond a proposed Ocean Act (by Rep. Sam Farr and Sen. Barbra Boxer) and become proactive on an Ocean Trust Fund so that the law’s not dependent on annual appropriations during the hard times to come.
There was also discussion on how to frame the current financial crisis as an opportunity for the ocean and how an Ocean Act can also be part of a solution to the recession.
FBF (Friend of Blue Frontier) Buck Bagot, the nation’s leading low-income housing organizer, suggested the need for a “field organizer,” to coordinate ongoing grassroots communications to coordinate our national efforts at the local level.
We got volunteers to work on Trust Fund and Field Organizing workshops, panels on Climate Adaptation and the Greening of Ports and Shipping as well as a Summit press conference on Capitol Hill.
There was a feeling of hope coming out of the meeting but also recognition that we have lots of work yet to do. For more Summit information or registration go towww.bluefront.org/bluevision
Oil’s Well But Not Quite
On the first anniversary of the 53,000 gallon Cosco Busan bunker fuel spill here in the SF Bay (see Blue Notes # 40 & # 43) seven out of ten “spill bills,” to improve emergency response have become law in California (the Governor vetoed the other 3). Federal legislation that came out of the Spill would, among other things, require large cargo ships to double hull their fuel tanks. This legislation still needs to be acted on.
I spent part of the anniversary watching an all-day wildlife rescue training session for 30 volunteers held at the Berkeley Marina by Rebecca, Duane and Mark, the “Wildlife EMT Trauma Team,” of WildRescue. Along with teaching about bird netting, confining and transporting techniques, they also demonstrated the “Martini glass,” or “cigarette” hold used to calm a flustered seabird. Hopefully it’s a skill that won’t have to be used again any time soon.
It didn’t take long for the U.S. Supreme Court to make its decision, splitting 5-4 in favor of allowing the Navy to “incidentally,” kill Whales off California if that’s what it takes to carry out wartime training with active sonar (See Blue Notes #51). All the Court’s really bad decisions seem to split 5-4 if memory serves.
Renewable Ocean Energy advanced this month with the announcement that Ocean Power Technologies has signed a $3 million contract with the Navy for a system of buoys that will use the motion of the ocean to power sensors down below.
The sensors I’m guessing will allow the Navy to listen to the pained cries of whales and dolphins. These types of wave buoys could, of course, also be used as offshore power generators to meet our energy needs.
And now there’s one
Jacque Piccard passed away at his home in Geneva Switzerland November First at the age of 86. He and then Navy Lt. Don Walsh were the only people ever to touch down on the lowest point of our planet, 35,800 feet, almost seven miles below the surface in the Challenger Deep of the Mariana Trench. They were aboard the Kerosene filled (for buoyancy) deep-diving submersible Trieste. It was 1960, the height of the Cold War. “If I’d seen a Russian footprint down there instead of a fish, we’d probably still be down there,” Walsh, who now lives in Oregon, told me. Don Walsh has been invited to be part of the Blue Vision Summit’s “Lessons from Explorers,” Opening Event on March 7, 2009.
And Now there’s 83
Seven Orcas have gone missing and are presumed dead in Puget Sound leaving only 83 in several surviving (and presumed grieving) matrilineal family pods. Whale experts suspect starvation may have played a role as a result of declining wild salmon runs in the region. “It was a bad salmon year, and that’s not good for the whales,” notes Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research.
Check out the ‘Whale Wars’ series on Animal Planet if you haven’t caught it yet. It follows Capt. Paul Watson and his Sea Shepherd pirat…er, citizen law enforcers as they take on Japanese whalers in the Southern Ocean off Antarctica. “Whale Wars,” is kind of a Seaweed Rebel version of the Discovery channel’s “Most Dangerous Catch,” though I always thought it wasn’t crab, but man that was the most dangerous catch.
Bush’s Ocean Legacy
As I reported for Waterkeeper — While President Bush won one blue asterisk for establishing the Papahanaumokakea Marine National Monument in Northwest Hawaii (see Blue Notes # 27), his administration more typically supported offshore oil drilling. His strong support of the coal industry meant more mercury up power plant smokestacks, with that neurotoxin than raining down into the sea and back up the food web into our Tuna fish sandwiches. He also gutted Clean Water Act provisions, enforcement and funding that increased polluted runoff into U.S. coastal waters. His appointees made sure no good science went unpunished, suppressing findings on the catastrophic impacts of fossil fuel fired climate change, including the censoring of scientists at NOAA. And of course they sued whale advocates on behalf of the Navy (see above). Dick Cheney seems to have an Ahab thing, because he also personally intervened on behalf of the shipping industry to make sure cargo ships aren’t required to slow down in Northern Right Whale feeding and breeding areas just so the last few hundred of these endangered creatures can avoid being struck and killed. According to the Washington Post Cheney is now fighting with First Lady Laura Bush over whether the President should establish another Marine National Monument around the Mariana Trench that Don Walsh dove into. We’re hoping she prevails so that the arguably worst environmental administration in history will have at least two blue asterisks.
A final Post-Election Reflection
I remember once asking a ranger in Florida’s Crocodile Lake Wildlife Refuge if he was involved with any environmental groups. “No,” he said unsmiling, “but when people ask me what environmental group they should join I say, “Planned Parenthood.”
While I admire that kind of bold misanthropic sentiment I also recognize we can’t save the American crocodile, coral reefs or other wild critters and habitat without also saving ourselves. People, as an expression of evolutionary nature made self-conscious, are both the problem and the solution. Twice in the last century we’ve muddled through potential civilization-ending problems, the rise of Fascism that led to World War Two and the Nuclear Balance of Terror that ended with the fall of the Soviet Union. At a more modest scale, 40 years after police attacked 10,000 of us in Chicago’s Grant Park for protesting the Vietnam War 200,000 people jammed into Grant Park to celebrate the election of Barack Obama, America’s first African-American president and heir to generations of civil-rights and other protests that expanded our freedoms. We’ve seen how inspired leadership and principled politics by people such as South Africa’s Nelson Mandela have rescued entire nations from racism and civil war. We’ve seen how a marine biologist named Rachel Carson, even as she fought a personal battle against breast cancer, could spark a new social movement against pollution and industrial excess. Since the 1960s environmentalism has moved from a protest movement to a societal ethic.
Unfortunately society still tends to think the environment ends at the shoreline. That’s why we need continued sea change in people’s thinking, understanding and assumptions about our blue marble world. Right now the prospects look hopeful.