Thursday, April 21, 2016

How Many More Earth Days Until The Earth Is Saved?

Friday is the 46th Earth Day and hundreds of thousands of people young and old will be doing something good for the Earth. That’s a good thing because every act of recycling, reusing and restoring helps. But honestly, it’ll take a lot more to make our Earth a healthy place.

Hurrah for Earth Day volunteers and weekend warriors but the big, big threats to our planet aren’t addressed by the kinds of incremental actions that supposedly lead to full scale activism. That’s a hard pill to swallow for us educators and activists but, honestly, aren’t 46 years time enough to show some major progress in creating an environmental constituency among the majority of our nation’s people?-- especially given the urgency of the problems?

I sat this week with a group of lively black kids about the age of my grandson who had just got out of the Baltimore’s National Aquarium and they shared with me all the things they saw and did with the kind of detail and enthusiasm that made me want to enlist them in my marine crusade. But what will happen next? They will move into adolescence and young adulthood where the future of Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean will join other interests and concerns in a grand hierarchy of being alive. How do we keep the flame burning once it is lit in the young?

I sat with scientists and environmental colleagues last week at the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference in Vancouver, B.C., heartened that there was a strong mix of men and women participating but disheartened by the vast preponderance of Caucasian faces. Despite periodic hand wringing, the environmental movement continues to be white. How does environmentalism progress when the white population of this country becomes a minority in the next couple of decades?

I’m not sure how the information that comes out of the Ecosystem Conference will inform public policy and translate into the kinds of concerns that most people have when they think about their environment. In  our everyday lives, the environment comes down to public health, safety and access— our food, our water, streets, our parks and our beaches. In other words, environment and community need to go hand in hand to be relevant and meaningful.

The environmental movement need to become racially diverse if we are to progress beyond annual Earth Day events. The movement needs to speak directly to class differences and address issues meaningful to more than just educated, economically comfortable people. The movement needs to speak with many voices for each of us in the individuality of our ethnicity and our social standing. In doing so, it can speak to our individual responsibility for our environment. It can speak to the opportunities our environment provides us. It can speak to our legacy we leave for our children and their children.

Now let’s go pick up some trash, dig some weeds and plant a tree.

--Mike Sato

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

What’s In A Name?

Referring to the inland waters of Puget Sound and the Georgia Strait as the “Salish Sea” makes a difference, I believe, as I wrote about last week in "The Salish Sea— What’s In A Name?" So, how about “Jap” and “Nigger” Islands?

Knute Berger in Crosscut reports on how place names are important, full of meaning and capable of firing up intense passions. [Politically correct maps: Damn right.]

Berger writes:

.... In an article about the [Pramila] Jayapal-led name change effort, the Longview Daily News reported that a Wahkiakum County commissioner, Dan Cothren, signaled his dismissal of changing the name of Jim Crow Point there by saying he “would probably tell the person, ‘Well you need to get a life’ ” and calling the ideas “ridiculous.” He later told a writer for the Wahkiakum County Eagle in Cathlamet, “I just don’t like it that folks from the urban setting telling us from the rural setting what to do.”

.... The goods news is that no one is telling the people of Wahkiakum or any other Washington county what to do. Reconsidering a place name allows plenty of room for historical research, local values, debate, public input and disagreement to take place before a decision is rendered at either the state or federal level. It’s an opportunity to learn more about our heritage. Jayapal says she has heard from some folks in Wahkiakum Co. who didn’t know the term “Jim Crow” was at all racial. Another man told her he’s often been embarrassed when tourists visit and ask about the name.

Name discussions can educate all sides in the discussion, and in some cases they result in updated maps that reflect who we are now as opposed to who we were then.

The writer of The Wahkiakum County Eagle’s article, Rick Nelson, supports changing references to Jim Crow. “In my lifetime, the county has had some other name changes. We once had ‘Jap Island’ and ‘Nigger Island’ off the shores of Puget Island, and changing those names was a welcome move to change the heritage we will leave for future generations,” he writes. “Getting rid of Jim Crow in Wahkiakum County would be another welcome move to define our heritage.”

Rick Nelson is publisher of the Eagle and my brother-in-law. I know if you’re running a community newspaper you have to serve your community. That means taking every opportunity to inform and educate that community to move beyond the prejudices of race, class and gender.

Do people living there think “Jim Crow” was a brand of whiskey? It was a black-faced minstrel character created around 1830 who was a slave owned by Mr. Crow and who sang: “"Weel about and turn about and do jis so, Eb'ry time I weel about I jump Jim Crow."

Laws passed to limit black people’s rights were called “Jim Crow Laws” and the term “Jim Crow” is a derogatory reference to African Americans with the connotation of foolish, uneducated and lazy.

Got it? Is that what county commissioner Cothren wants to preserve with his wrong-headed local pride? One Facebook comment suggested that Jim Crow Point could be renamed to honor James Saules who was being honored originally. (How Mr. Saules could have been honored by “Jim Crow Point,” however, is another story, another time.)

No doubt this discussion should go on for a long time in Cathlamet and Wahkiakum County; maybe long enough for me to offer to boycott my next Mother’s Day visit like others have been doing to North Carolina and Mississippi.

But innocent folks get hurt that way. Although it does give me pause to learn that one letter writer to the editor said: “Nazi Socialism succeeded so well in Germany because local newspapers spread it, according to the writer, and Wahkiakum County is so fortunate to have a newspaper doing the same thing.”

“Nazi Socialism?” Who are the innocent? Education opportunities abound.

--Mike Sato

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

#SSEC16— Hold On To That Blue Marble

Canadian astronaut and scientist Roberta Bondar gave an inspired and inspiring keynote address to kick off the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference in Vancouver, BC, on Wednesday. Capacity attendance of 1200 folks will be sharing information and experiences during the three-day meeting.

From space, it’s a whole different perspective on the problems and opportunities the conference is addressing in jam-packed concurrent sessions throughout the days. Keeping that perspective is good because I sat and listened to how rising water temperature correlates with sea star wasting disease, learned how higher water temperature correlates to increased shellfish toxins, and how we’re don’t know why tufted puffin populations are plummeting in the Salish Sea while auklet populations are doing OK. And, after all these years, how we still don’t know what works to change people’s behavior to save and restore the Salish Sea.

Sharing knowledge and networking with others are good stuff and the conference does a great job in bringing folks together in that respect. But the urgency of preserving the healthy parts of the Salish Sea and restoring the health of what’s damaged requires concerted actions on both sides of the shared waters, now, more than ever.

Before the next conference in 2018, we should send everyone to outer space to see the world the way Roberta Bondar has seen it. Meanwhile, as long as I’m here at the conference, I’ll do my best to hold on to that blue marble.

--Mike Sato

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Salish Sea— What’s In A Name?

The Salish Sea (NASA/WikiCommons)
It’s not a good idea to read a Wikipedia entry and think that makes me smart, but it’s not a bad idea to read an entry to remind myself that I don’t know everything. For example, about how the Salish Sea officially got its name.

I’d followed over the last couple of decades efforts to gracefully refer to the shared marine ecosystem shared by Washington state and British Columbia and cheered Bert Webber on in his successful crusade to have these shared waters named “The Salish Sea.”

Reading Wikipedia, “The name was endorsed by the Washington State Board on Geographic Names in late October, 2009... [and] was approved by the United States Board on Geographic Names on November 12, 2009.”

What I’d forgotten or maybe never even knew was that the Stz'uminus First Nation (formerly known as the Chemainus First Nation) in March 2008, according to Wikipedia, proposed the name “Salish Sea” and B.C.'s Aboriginal Relations Minister Mike de Jong championed the name formally to the British Columbia Geographical Names Office which, in August 2009, recommended adoption to the Geographical Names Board of Canada, which adopted the name contingent on the approval by the United States Board, which was forthcoming on November 12, 2009. [Isn’t bureaucracy amazing?]

Does it matter? I think it does as an important recognition of the First People in this place where we now live sharing resources. And saying “Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference” feels a lot more graceful than the mouthful of “Puget Sound/Georgia Basin Research Conference” or parsing that awful word, ‘transboundary.’

Maybe “The Salish Sea” is a start. When Washington participant travel north to this year’s Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference in Vancouver, let them practice saying “Tahoma” and “Komo Kulshan” and “Shuksan” before reaching the border.

Bienvenue a la Mer de Salish.

--Mike Sato

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference 2016— What Do You Know?

(Map: WWU)
It’s been just about two years since the last Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference brought together scientists, governments and activists and in a week we’ll see how much smarter and resolute we’ve become in preserving and restoring the health of the shared waters of Washington state and British Columbia.

Over the years, the biennial conference has endeavored to bring science and policy together with themes titled,  "The Salish Sea: Our Shared Responsibility,” "The Future of the Salish Sea… A Call to Action,” "Knowledge for the Salish Sea: Toward Collaborative Transboundary Solutions,” “Science for the Salish Sea: a sense of place, a sense of change,” “Applying Science and Information to Sustainability in a Shared Transboundary Ecosystem,” and "Many Voices, One Sea.” You get the idea. Science, projects and people (policy) but no politics. [Proceeding of these conferences are archived at Conference Archives]

Two years ago, one of the big stories coming out of the conference was about pteropods, sea butterflies with delicate calcium structures, being destroyed by an acidifying sea. [New Study: Acidifying Ocean Destroying Sea Butterflies ] There were news reports of a bad oil spill in Virginia when a tanker train derailed. And the Squamish First Nation was in the news with their Liquified Natural Gas project. Seems like we’re still dealing with ocean acidification and fossil fuel transport.

In a series of blogs from the conference last year I wrote about how David Marshall of the Georgia Basin Council gave an example of how science informed a restoration project. He challenged attendees to answer three questions when the conference was over: Give another example of how science and policy went together, identify a specific project that could influence policy, and predict what the Salish Sea would look like in 10 years. [#SSEC14 Day 1: Will Science Inform Policy and Politics? ]

Outgoing Western Washington University president Bruce Shepard laid down another challenge to attendees, one that today is a front-burner issue: He said, “... If in the decades ahead, we are as white as we are today, we shall have failed as a university.” Western has just named Sabah Randhawa its new head, but I think Bruce Shepard’s challenge is one for the environmental movement as well and I’ll be looking forward to seeing the complexion and cultures of those attending this year’s conference. [#SSEC14 Day 2: What Will It Take to ‘Save’ the Salish Sea? ]

At the end of the three-day conference in 2014, I tried to channel David Marshall, looking ahead to the next conference in 2016 and asking this year’s attendees, “Did what we learn at the 2014 conference make a difference?” and seeing a sea of hands raised. Then: “Tell me your story about how it made a difference.”

See you in Vancouver at the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference 2016. [#SSEC16]

--Mike Sato