By Jonathan Hahn
On President Trump's first Earth Day in the White House, he declared on Twitter that "we celebrate our beautiful forests, lakes and lands"—an amiable if blasé arm-punch to the planet from the leader of the free world.
Until a few hours later that is, when the president resorted to his usual right cross.
"I am committed to keeping our air and water clean," he tweeted, "but always remember that economic growth enhances environmental protection. Jobs matter!"
Rarely does President Trump or his surrogates miss an opportunity to propound that "jobs matter" when it comes to the nation's environmental policies—especially where climate change is concerned. This binary logic—environmental protection equals job killer—is deeply woven into their world view. Trump has repeatedly called Obama-era initiatives like the Clean Power Plan "job killers" and vowed to "rescind all the job-destroying Obama executive actions, including the Climate Action Plan."
The delegation of fishermen that set sail Wednesday from a marina in Solomons, Maryland, would beg to differ. The only "job destroyer" for them is climate change.
Concerned about the threat global warming poses to their livelihoods, a crew of sustainable ocean farmers began a three-day journey they're calling the "Climate March by Sea." At the tiller of the small commercial fishing boat is Bren Smith, owner of Thimble Island Ocean Farm and the executive director of GreenWave. They're heading south down the Chesapeake before they plan to turn north up the Potomac on their way to Washington, DC.
Their final destination: the Peoples Climate March, when thousands of people, including indigenous, civic, social justice, business and environmental advocacy groups are set to take to the streets of the nation's capital to demand action on climate, jobs and justice.
"Climate change was supposed to be a slow lobster boil," Smith said in an interview before casting off. "For me, it arrived 100 years earlier than expected. We fishermen are the citizen scientists reporting that water temperatures are going up, species are moving north, the weather is becoming more extreme. We can see it with our own eyes. We're way beyond the idea of climate denial."
When it comes to environmental policy, the "job killer" argument is a red herring. According to an analysis by the Environmental Integrity Project, "two-tenths of one percent of layoffs are caused by government regulations of any kind, including environmental regulations. Layoffs are caused far more often by corporate buyouts, technological advances and lower overseas labor costs."
For fishermen, the real crisis isn't government regulation, but the threats climate change poses to healthy oceans and seas. Marine and coastal fisheries contribute more than $200 billion in economic activity and 1.8 million jobs in the U.S. each year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The World Wildlife Fund reports that marine populations are in catastrophic decline, plunging by 49 percent between 1970 and 2012, thanks in part to ocean acidification caused by warming waters, rising sea levels and extreme weather.
Meanwhile, more than 40 percent of fisheries have crashed due to overfishing, resulting in upward of $50 billion in economic losses, the California Environmental Associates assessed in its Charting a Course to Sustainable Fisheries report. One out of four marine species is threatened as a result of overfishing and climate change, among other factors, with 37 out of 1,288 bony fish species facing extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species.
The Climate March by Sea will cover 150 miles over three days, making occasional stops to pick up supporters. The crew of ocean farmers and commercial fishermen will be posting and live tweeting along the way on GreenWave's Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages with the hashtag #climatemarchbysea. They hope the voyage will help adrenalize public discourse about solutions to the climate crisis in the days leading up to the Peoples Climate March this Saturday.
An eclectic medley of individual, advocacy and corporate partners have come together to sponsor the journey, including celebrity chefs René Redzepi and David Chang, Patagonia, Ben and Jerry's, Dr. Bronners, 350.org, Bioneers, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Oceana and the Sierra Club, among others. The trip's organizers are also raising individual donations to help pay for supplies and to sponsor more fishermen.
During the voyage, the crew will cowrite a letter, addressed to President Trump, in which they intend to make clear that climate change itself, not the policies devised to combat it, threatens the economy, their jobs and their way of life. They will also demand an end to the planned cuts to agencies like NOAA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Smith plans to reaffirm in the letter what has become his most ardent message: There will be no jobs on a dead planet.
"Climate change is an economic issue, not just an environmental issue," he said. "It's not just about the birds and the bees. It's also about how do I run a small business and make a living in an era of extreme weather? We're heading to DC to send that message—that our livelihoods depend on a healthy ecosystem. That for those of us who care about building domestic employment, we have to mitigate climate change and protect our water."
For Smith, the Climate March by Sea is the latest in a multi-decade career during which he witnessed the ramifications of overfishing and extreme weather firsthand. A high school dropout who grew up in a fishing village, Smith first cast out to learn how to fish when he was 14. He started working on the Bering Sea as a fisherman at the height of industrialized fishing, catching fish that mostly went to companies like McDonald's for fish sandwiches. "We were tearing up entire ecosystems with our trawls, producing some of the unhealthiest food," he said.
Later, after he'd set up his own oyster farm, two hurricanes in a row wiped him out: Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Irene. Smith lost 90 percent of his crops, he said. Most of his gear washed out to sea.
When he began the process of rebuilding, he took an interest in extreme weather and what was causing it. He quickly became disillusioned.
Smith developed an innovative form of marine polyculture featuring a mix of shellfish and seaweed, which he calls "3-D farming." Seaweed soaks up five times as much carbon as land-based plants and is rich in omega-3s, vitamins and minerals. It also serves as storm-surge protectors. "So you can see this nexus of new environmentalism, which isn't just about conservation," he said, "it's about jobs, environmental protection and addressing food security all at once. I think we're at that sweet spot."
Since then, Smith has also created GreenWave, a nonprofit, to open-source his model of sustainable ocean farming for other fishermen and to engage in policy work and research around ocean planning, such as developing new mobile hatcheries. He also runs Seagreen Farms, which is a for-profit in the early stages of building seafood hubs in poor neighborhoods.
"I'm not really an environmentalist per se," he said. "My journey has been trying to figure out how to spend my life working on the water. This jobs-versus-environment choice that the administration keeps telling us, whether we're coal miners or fishermen, is a false choice. Environmentalism and the future of the new economy are inextricably linked."
The Climate March by Sea will dock at the Washington Marina in Georgetown on Friday morning, where the crew will hold a press conference at 10:00 a.m. They'll host an event that night at Patagonia, where they will be shucking oysters, serving beer and making signs as they prepare for the Peoples Climate March the following day.
"The Peoples Climate March represents to me the future of environmentalism," he said. "It's also time to push back. We need to defend our ground, our waters, our funding. We need to drive home that there is a whole generation of blue collar people that believe in climate change and demand that it be addressed now."
Reposted with permission from our media associate SIERRA Magazine.
Yes, Houston, we have a problem: Our oceans are dying.
As the brilliant futurist Buckminster Fuller used to point out, our Spaceship Earth is hurtling through space at a great speed.
Imagine if someone told you (a passenger on that ship) that the main oxygen systems were failing because of how food was being grown.
What would you do upon receiving that dire warning? Perhaps work to make a change? Lobby the ship's captain? Maybe you'd simply deny that there was any such connection and keep going about your busy life.
But an imminent loss of oxygen just happens to be a current fact, because the ocean's phytoplankton (which provides two-thirds of the planet's oxygen) is rapidly dying off. Industrial agriculture not only contaminates our oceans with pesticide and nitrogen-fertilizer runoff, leading to massive dead zones; it is stripping our soils of carbon, which ends up in the oceans and creates acidification. At the current trajectory, in just a few decades there won't be much left alive in our oceans as the phytoplankton dies—all because of how we grow our food.
When climate change is discussed, the media, our governments and the climate movement are focused on the "evil" carbon in the atmosphere and the melting of the Arctic region. They're pleading with governments and Fortune 1000 firms to stop conducting "Drill, baby, drill" operations. Important stuff for sure, but lost in this debate of how much oceans will rise or how hot the planet will be in 2100 is a very sobering fact. If we don't immediately deal with the number one enviro issue of the day, ocean acidification, humanity will not be around in 2100 to observe rising temperatures or oceans lapping over Wall Street and Silicon Valley.
The good news is that we can cool both the planet and the seawater, while removing excess carbon from the sea, by regenerative agriculture—a solution literally under our feet!
The Regenerative Agriculture Initiative at California State University, Chico, and the Carbon Underground group have created this concise definition:
"Regenerative Agriculture describes farming and grazing practices that, among other benefits, reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity —resulting in both carbon drawdown and improving the water cycle."
The little-known facts are that (a) industrial agriculture contributes more to climate change than Chevron, Exxon and the entire transportation industry combined and (b) regenerative agriculture can reverse climate change if we shift our society's focus from degeneration to regeneration. If we can put men on the Moon, can we shift how we grow food in way that supports life on Spaceship Earth?
Designer William McDonough recent article, Carbon is not the Enemy, in the journal Nature states:
"But carbon—the element—is not the enemy. In the right place, carbon is a resource and a tool."
Don Wilkin of the Soil and Water Conservation District in McHenry-Lake County, Illinois, outlines how to transform farming in his white paper, The New CRP: Restoring the Nation's Depleted Farmland through Carbon Farming.
Also, worth reading is Kristen Ohlson's, This Kansas farmer fought a government program to keep his farm sustainable, to see why we must change the way we incentivize farmers.
As I explained in my Nov. 18, 2015 EcoWatch article, Soils and Oceans Omitted from the Paris COP21 Agenda:
In this age of fascination with high technology, we choose to ignore the earthworm (tiller of the soil) and ocean plankton (our indispensable oxygen generator) at our peril. Did you know that two out of every three breaths you take come via phytoplankton? Relying primarily on solar, wind, and hybrids as the solutions to climate change is a path toward disaster.
The good news is that we can help heal our acidic oceans, moderate the planet's erratic weather, and produce abundant food by refocusing on soil sequestration (which, as a bonus, improves not just soil quality but also water-holding capacity) across farmlands, rangelands and forestlands.
Living in a Biological World
Paying attention to the health of our soils and oceans is now a matter of life and death. That may come as shock to most Americans, as our media and educational systems teach us many things—except how the Earth works. We can learn how to be a doctor (except that most physicians forget nutrition) or a carpenter (but they forget how forests grow) or a farmer (except that they forget the importance of soil health and earthworms) or an urban planner (but they forget how to conserve water). Our American hyper-specialization has yielded technocrats who don't understand the laws of nature.
As Kiss the Ground cofounder Ryland Engelhart said:
"If we put soil health at the center of our agricultural and land management practices, we can take carbon out of the atmosphere, potentially enough to balance our climate. The food movement can become the climate change movement and we can all stand for a healthy future by investing in the soil."
As for our oceans, if you don't believe that they're in trouble, just read this 2010 piece from Germany's leading magazine Der Spiegel, Phytoplankton's Dramatic Decline: A Food Chain Crisis in the World's Oceans.
Per the article's lead, plankton is "the starting point for our oceans' food chain. But stocks of phytoplankton have decreased by 40 percent since 1950. ... It is an astonishing collapse, say researchers, and may have dramatic consequences both for the oceans and for humans."
The New York Times also warned of the dying of our oceans in its article Our Deadened, Carbon-Soaked Seas by Richard W. Spinrad, chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Ian Boyd, chief scientific adviser to the British government's Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
The article states:
"Ocean and coastal waters around the world are beginning to tell a disturbing story. The seas, like a sponge, are absorbing increasing amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, so much so that the chemical balance of our oceans and coastal waters is changing and posing a growing threat to marine ecosystems. Over the past 200 years, the world's seas have absorbed more than 150 billion metric tons of carbon from human activities. Known as ocean acidification, this process makes it difficult for shellfish, corals and other marine organisms to grow and reproduce."
Biodiversity for a Livable Climate held a fascinating Oceans 2016 program in October 2016 and the have the conference videos available online.
Judy Schwartz, the author of Water in Plain Sight and Cows Save the Planet, cogently stated in her conference presentation, An End to Floods, Droughts and Other Aqueous Misdirections:
"In a healthy ecosystem, when water falls on land it stays in the neighborhood for a long time. It's performing essential tasks on behalf of living things before finally making its way to the ocean. Because of ways humans have managed land since the beginning of agriculture, especially since the industrial revolution, water now lands on packed and ruined soils, rushing to the seas, leaving floods and droughts in its wake."
Bren Smith's keynote talk at the October 2016 Bioneers Conference on GreenWave ocean farming highlighted a revolutionary way to grow ocean kelp and sequester five times the carbon that can be sequestered by land plants. It produces abundant, high-quality food, feed, fuel, and fertilizer. It filters and purifies water, providing habitat for local biodiversity. Last but not least, GreenWave ocean farming creates a shining opportunity for economic democracy by providing a very low-cost entry point for small producers to make a right livelihood while restoring the Earth.
Truly inspiring:A revolutionary new model of harvesting bounty from the seas via Bren Smith in his #Bioneers16 talk: https://t.co/nUT4sBp5sO— Michael Pollan (@Michael Pollan)1480474171.0
As seen in this excerpt, Popular Science recently featured the GreenWave work:
"Smith's underwater farms do the opposite. Kelp scrubs nitrogen and phosphorous from the water, helping to protect ocean ecosystems. Kelp also wards off ocean acidification, the result of carbon pollution seeping into the ocean, turning waters more acidic. Kelp soaks up carbon, keeping surrounding waters safe for shellfish and other vulnerable creatures. For this reason, Smith's farms serve as sanctuaries for crab, shrimp, and other marine species."
The Bren Smith model is now being implemented on the East Coast, off Connecticut. But, sadly, the red tape of the California Coastal Commission has thus far prevented ocean farming off California. I am optimistic that 2017 will bring major progress and some win-win solutions. California's entire coastal ecosystem is collapsing, as the once abundant giant kelp forests that extended for miles off our western coastline have been in steady decline with the past hunting of sea otter for their pelts by Russians and Spaniards and the recent deaths among the starfish population, which have contributed to a perfect storm of cascading ecosystem collapse.
In the shallow waters off the unincorporated community of Elk in Mendocino County, a crew from the California Fish and Wildlife Department recently dived to survey the area's urchin and abalone populations. Instead of slipping beneath a canopy of leafy kelp such as normally darkens the ocean floor like a forest, they found a barren landscape like something out of the film The Lorax.
Ocean farming holds the promise of a restoration of our oceans through working with nature. As we gain more pilot programs on the West Coast, time will tell how soon such a restoration might be achieved. But, as the following statement from the English writer and ecologist Paul Kingsnorth makes clear, we haven't much time:
"When I look at the state of the world right now, I see an arc bending towards something that dwarfs any parochial concerns about particular presidential elections. ... I see a grand planetary shift that has not been seen for millions of years. I see that half the world's wildlife has gone, and half the world's forests, and half the world's topsoil. I see that we have perhaps two generations of food left before we wear out the rest of that topsoil. ... I see coming waves of political and cultural turmoil resulting from all of this, which makes me fear for my children, and sometimes for myself."
Listen Up, Breathers on Spaceship Earth
If you plan to continue breathing in the coming decades, here are some important points to consider:
- Under current conditions, plan on having less oxygen every year going forward.
- We live on an ocean planet, not a land planet. It's a good idea for us to educate ourselves about our ocean ecosystems.
- If you're thinking of having children, please consider their oxygen needs. They'll need more than may be available!
- Because of the ongoing ocean devastation and oxygen loss, your Google search engine and Instagram account may not function any more.
- The millennial generation will determine whether there is a livable future, so please support and empower them.
- While this message may cause depression or anxiety, luckily for us we have an app for that—one with more than 500 million years of R&D. It's called soil carbon sequestration. Learn more here http://www.ecowatch.com/the-solution-under-our-fee... and at Kiss the Ground, Regeneration International, Carbon Underground, and Project Underground.
- Purchase foods from farmers who follow regenerative farming practices, using compost, cover crops, crop diversity, holistic grazing of animals, and ocean farming to produce foods and fibers. Avoid at all costs industrial (i.e., with no access to pasture) meat and dairy products.
I'll close this entreaty with an evocative excerpt from a Walt Whitman poem in Leaves of Grass, "Out of the Rolling Ocean, the Crowd":
"Return in peace to the ocean, my love; I too am part of that ocean ... we are not so much separated; ... know you, I salute the air, the ocean and the land ...
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.