A port is a place for the exchange of goods, people, and ideas. From the beginning of time, when sailors left home in pursuit of commerce and trade, ports became hubs connecting land to sea to land through ships and maritime connection. When we think these days of ports, we think of big harbors – New York, Shanghai, Rotterdam, Hong Kong – the locus for massive worldwide transport of raw materials and manufactured goods that are the main asset of the export/import contribution to the regional, national, and global economy. Without ports, the world simply would stand still.
As a result of the geopolitical impact of these locations, ports also became financial and cultural centers where the concentration of wealth drove the development of financial institutions and instruments, architecture and urban design, the arts, universities and libraries, governments and diplomacy, and the many social achievements that are the aggregate what we call civilization.
There was also ensuing conflict. To deprive a nation of a port is an act of destruction. To blockade a port as a tactic of war slowly destroys the enemy from within by starvation, disease, political disruption, and social chaos.
In the early millennia of world history, the tiny port of Gaza on the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea, in what is now Palestine, played an enormous role in the trading of spice from east to west, the spice road by which herbs, incense, textiles, glass, and food stuffs were brought by caravan from the Arabian south and trans-shipped to Rome, Constantinople and other European markets. The value was fought over: early on, the Emperor of Pompeii incorporated Gaza as part of the Roman Empire to assure its possession and control over the lucrative connection.
In modern times, the port of Gaza continued as a minor regional center affected by the constant political and economic vicissitudes of that volatile area then conflicted by European governments competing for, acquiring, and controlling certain areas to augment imperial designs and financial return. Things in the Middle East have always been in flux, a continuing area of aspiration and despair, inhibited by a challenging climate and isolation. As modern transportation became global, the Suez Canal created a more efficient means for volume, transport, and the demands of Europe and the New World left the region behind.
Today, Gaza is a poor city in an even poorer territory, caught in the larger Israel-Palestine conflict with Egypt marginalized. As a result, the consequent Israeli blockade of the port of Gaza controls access and limits imports of food, water, health supplies, and more while the residents become more desperate day-by-day with little hope and no political solution in sight.
A March 2016 article in The Economist suggests interest in a long-planned and discussed project to build an artificial island three miles off the Gaza coast – a piece of “new” land to which no side can lay claim – for a modern port and airport, power and desalination plants that would enable a revival of imports, create employment, stabilize the social unrest in the region, reduce the blockade, and possibly break through the political paralysis in Israel and Palestine that serves no one.
The plan is of course fraught with obstacles. The $5 billion (US) projected cost presumably could be met by investors and donor nations, financing repaid, and operations underwritten by taxes and fees. The engineering is possible and the prospect optimistic, but given the volatility of internal politics, there is no guarantee that the project will ever get beyond a hypothetical solution for an insolvable problem. At best, the economics are marginal.
But what if the investment was calculated to include the savings of avoiding another war in the region? Of no further human loss and social break-down? Of renewed inter-action and cooperation between the nations — a true “peace dividend” of compelling financial, political, and cultural return? What if once more a port might assert its functionality as a place of exchange of goods, people, and ideas and serve again today as a powerful locus of resolution, reconciliation, and peace in a troubled place and a troubled time?
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"A Seaport in Gaza" first appeared as an audio broadcast on World Ocean Radio.
How, in the face of the all-out attack by the Trump administration on environmental regulations and values, do we create a new strategy for Nature?
Here are four steps to consider:
First, we must propose a new coherent idea around which to define environmentalism and to infuse it with a broader awareness of Nature as the central, organizing system that unites us all through many different and complex connections. From such a conceptual idea must come a transformed understanding of the natural, financial, political, social, and re-creational value of Nature as focus for living in the 21st century. Only from this holistic cohesion can we mobilize and expand audience and political will to the scale required to resist the power of vested interest and fear of change. Climate change is already affecting our lives in myriad ways and we must move beyond even adaptation and mitigation to implement a more effective strategy, respectful of our basic laws and rights, to assure survival.
In The Once and Future Ocean, (Leete’s Island Books, 2016), I argued for a new paradigm centered on the most valuable natural system on earth -- the ocean/water continuum, the global water cycle, that distributes the one element we all need worldwide to live. The old paradigm, based on consumption driven by fossil fuels, has out-lived its utility, its positive benefits are now overwhelmed by its negative consequences, and its practitioners are dinosaurs, sinking slowly into the mud of retrograde thinking, failed enterprise, structural oblivion, and bankrupt values. To revive these is impossible, to persevere is regressive, and to assert their continuity is destructive.
The new paradigm calls for a “hydraulic society,” a new system of value, organizational structure, and social behavior based on the movement and purity of water in all its forms and places. We are each made of water; we die without adequate water; we use water to support the best of what we create; we conserve, recycle, and apply water to what we need first and foremost to protect and augment our subsistence; we revere water in all its sacred manifestations that have been recognized and celebrated by all cultures for all time. If we need one big idea to motivate and nurture us, I submit this one is modern, vital, practical, essential.
Second, we must reframe public understanding of environmental value by targeting broad public reaction against the new onslaught, by capturing the general outrage over the cross-the-board contravention of protections and focusing it toward political action. The withdrawal of all clean water controls and standards can be understood hypothetically or specifically as the restrictions are lifted and outcomes become known and expressed as unsafe drinking water or polluted beaches.
Third, we need theory and practice to finance this change. Some economists speak now of the green economy and the blue economy, perpetuating the historical separation of policy and practice between land and sea. We had better think in terms of “ecosystem services,” the incorporation of the true measurable value of Nature into our calculations of price, productivity, and profit. We need to re-organize our governance structures, planning and manufacturing standards, laws and regulations intended not to inhibit growth or profit but to counter abuse. We need to re-price all things and processes in terms of actual water use, providing first a standard supply to every individual as a basic human right, and thereafter controlling, conserving, and pricing all other uses on a scale of need versus sustainability, recalculated to assure that every good and every service protects the finite global supply through conservation, equity, justice, and peace at home and abroad for ensuing generations.
Finally, we must communicate relentlessly, through word and action, to transcend the inhibiting boundaries of history. We must embrace new methods and systems that prevent profligate water waste and we must resolve to prevent water disruption, water theft, and water conflict from today forward. We must accept that we are all water refugees, helpless without pure and adequate supply, and lost without Nature as source, now and forevermore.
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The natural environment in the United States is under attack as never before. In just a few short months, the Trump Administration--through appointments, executive orders, legislative initiatives, and budget allocations--has launched an all-out attack on standing policies, regulations, and existing designations for environmental protection and natural resource conservation that have been established and evolved since the beginning of the 20th century. This sudden and relentless onslaught may set back the progress of the environmental movement for decades through political shock, indifference to science, and the dilution of laws and constitutional protections on which such things as the creation of the Department of Environmental Protection, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act were originally based and have been defended.
These institutions may not survive the ideological opposition of the new administration. Corporations will be relieved from their regulatory obligations, from prohibitions against oil exploration and hydraulic fracturing, from pollution of lakes, streams, and harbors, from releasing harmful emissions into the atmosphere. The tools of science, such as satellites and observational research, will be abandoned lest they provide additional evidence of the critical changes in our environment caused by these activities to the exhaustion of our natural resources and the detriment of our public health. Even our adherence to international agreements and treaties will be compromised, isolating us further in the community of nations. Indifference to the social consequence of these retro-policies and decisions is fundamental in its willful ignorance and the inevitable destruction to follow.
The many environmental groups, communities and citizens that have taken steps to control this devastation, are rendered almost speechless by a sudden, tyrannical, arbitrary shift by government away from historical protections. They are angered and determined to triple-down on their efforts to oppose these changes; to fight them through political action and the courts; and to organize at the local, state, and national levels to prevent this senseless behavior that so goes against their purposes and commitments. If anything, these events have increased their determination, fund-raising, and participation by old and new supporters who are infuriated and driven to resist.
Listening to their meetings and attending their protests I find myself awed by their commitment but disturbed by their adherence to the tactics and language on which their past achievements have been based -- successes, unfortunately, that have not been strong enough to counter opposition through effective education, persuasion, and political representation. What is most upsetting is that, as a result, in state legislatures and the US Congress, they may not have the votes necessary to counter the new enhanced, anti-environment crusade.
What has gone wrong? Why has the true value of clean air and water, of sustainable exploitation of natural resources, of alternative forms of energy, of the protection of our communities and our individual and family health from persistent poisons, not been fully understood and embraced by the larger public that will certainly suffer the consequence? What have environmentalists failed to do to promote their accomplishments and enlist legions to their cause? Why is the protection of land and sea – all that Nature provides for our wellbeing – not celebrated as the fundamental principle on which to build our future?
Since the 1970’s, we have adopted the strategy of many organizations aligned with many issues, a kind of practical, but narrow approach to confronting specific problems with specific solutions. When you look at what has been accomplished, you see a broad spectrum of such endeavors, fighting for individual victories through research, expert testimony, targeted lawsuits, and ardent local or issue-focused campaigns. At a recent meeting of such organizations devoted to ocean matters, I heard all these single-minded voices, but not one advocating for a new collective strategy that might have, and still might, save the day.
Personally, I feel that the electorate has misunderstood environmental protection in a similarly fragmented way – mostly connected to a local stimulus – a poisoned river, an occupational sickness, a threatened animal, or the destruction of a cherished place – that has enlisted them to oppose. Their reaction is driven by immediate, personal feeling, not by a larger understanding of the relation of their problem to the integrated natural system of which the local impact is just a part, not by the realization that their challenge can only be met ultimately by confrontation on a larger scale, by fixing the basic cause as the best way to deny the offending effect.
To do that requires a fully understood and shared value proposition and vocabulary by which to articulate the issues in the broader context of community and social benefit. It necessitates a unifying idea that links these individual concerns and their solutions to the protection and support of family and community to equity and social justice based on a fundamental understanding on how Nature and her resources, sustained, will sustain us too, and thus must be protected and preserved for the benefit of all humankind. If the environment does not survive, neither will we, nor our children.
The Earth Optimism Summit is scheduled for Earth Day Weekend, April 22nd - 24th, 2017 in Washington, D.C. and around the world. Learn more about the program schedule by visiting earthoptimism.si.edu/calendar/summit.
Since October of 2016, our collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution's Ocean Portal has been to address ocean solutions and innovative projects in the context of the Earth Optimism Summit, to be held on Earth Day weekend in Washington, D.C., and around the world.
The mission of the Summit, as announced by the Smithsonian, is as follows:
“The global conservation movement has reached a turning point. After decades of patient study, we have documented the fast pace of habitat loss, the growing number of endangered and extinct species, and the increasing speed of global climate change. We have communicated our findings to a concerned public, and we have their attention.
But this is just the beginning, not the end, of a conversation. For while the seriousness of these threats cannot be denied, there are a growing number of examples of improvements in the health of species and ecosystems, along with benefits to human well being, thanks to our conservation actions. Innovations to reduce our impact on the planet are also starting to make a difference.
What’s working in conservation, why, and how can we scale up and replicate our successes? What are the best minds, boldest experiments, and most innovative community practices telling us about how to preserve biodiversity, protect natural resources, and address climate and sustainability?
The D.C. proceedings will be live-streamed for global viewing, and sister events will take place around the world. With its 2017 Earth Optimism Summit, the Smithsonian celebrates a change in focus from problem to solution, from a sense of loss to one of hope, in a dialogue about conservation and sustainability. We invite you to join us in pursuit of the models and success stories that will inspire progress at the species, ecosystem, and global level, grounded in sound science and collective experience.”
The event is intended to be “a celebration of success, where the science and stories of conservation accomplishments are shared and discussed. The goal is to overwhelm participants with the magnitude and diversity of what is working in conservation, moving the conversation from doom and gloom to optimism and opportunity. The audience is intended to be thought leaders, practitioners, pioneering scientists and researchers, artists, national and international media, and philanthropists. There will be a special emphasis on youth and traditionally under-represented groups; streamed internet access to plenary and concurrent sessions; films, storytelling, the arts, musical performances and theater; and public conversations featuring major figures in the conservation and innovation world addressing issues such as biodiversity and agriculture, saving species and protecting spaces, energy of the future, sustainable cities, and environmental justice.”
Since October, World Ocean Observatory, through World Ocean Radio and our social media, broadcast a 24-episode earth optimism series: profiles of exemplars and environmental innovators and ocean activists, individuals and organizations around the world that are but a sample of the new vision, new ideas and inventions, and new behaviors that are transforming our relationship with the natural world.
Why optimism? Well, it surely beats the depressing pessimism that grips so much of the news today. Optimism may be defined as “a disposition or tendency to take a favorable view of things and to anticipate favorable results,” and such an orientation is evermore necessary particularly when times seem dire. Conservationists, on land and sea, have made and are making still major changes in how we engage on every level and in every place with the urgent need to preserve natural places, endangered species, and ecological systems. Through research, innovative practices, and political activity, they are changing our world for the better. This is neither naïve nor ineffective; it is hard work, persistence, commitment, and success in many more ways than we may today know or yet understand.
The Earth Optimism Summit, on the front line of “favorable results” and should be known and celebrated.
Water is the most valuable resource on earth. Why would we not organize our system of values, social structures, and individual behaviors around it?
Yulia Sobol Photography
the characteristic spirit of a culture, era, or community as manifested in its beliefs and aspirations.
The world has lost its way. The physical and political turmoil we face is symptomatic of a failed system of values unable to support our environmental, social, economic, and political security.
Since the industrial revolution, we have placed our faith in an operative paradigm that promotes unlimited growth based on consumption enabled by fossil fuels. But now the negatives of that historical vector seriously overwhelm the positives as manifest in the resultant environmental degradation and all the ancillary effects on air, land, and water pollution and the resultant global instability we see around us. The scientific community tells us so, and the market tells us so. The evidence of climate change and its pervasive and complicated impacts on how and where we live is incontrovertible. Suddenly we are all environmental refugees. The collapse of the price of oil, the glut of supply, the reliance by states and communities on a single means for generating revenue and employment — all of these, and more, are declarations of fact and failure that are inflicting real pain, disruption, and loss for economies, communities, and individuals the world over. The old value equation is bankrupt.
The fundamental question then is, what’s next?
Sweet Ice Cream Photography
I suggest a new paradigm for the 21st century: managed growth based on sustainability, enabled by the ocean and the movement of water — from ocean to atmosphere to land and watershed to ocean and round again — the circles and cycles of conveyance that nurture our world and hold the key to our survival. I call this “hydraulic society.” We have all learned the “water cycle” in our first science class, and we teach it still as a fundamental explanation of how our planet breathes and sustains life in all its forms. Some 70% of the earth is covered by water; 97% is salt; 2% of the remaining fresh water is frozen in the Polar Regions; thus the world today subsists on the remaining 1% to meet its needs for drinking water, food, health and hygiene, in a global hydraulic system.
This new paradigm has impeccable logic based on the fact that water is the most valuable resource on earth. Why would we not organize our system of values, social structures, and individual behaviors around it?
The new paradigm calls for an alternative organizing principle whereby the ocean and the movement of water is conserved, managed, and re-utilized to meet basic human needs and the goods and services required to sustain them. We can conserve through awareness, and changed public behavior to increase the capacity of water we already have. We can desalinate to meet our future fresh water needs. We can manage our fisheries and new production through policy and aquaculture to provide essential protein and associated employment. We can generate energy through wind, solar, tidal, current, and geothermal production, and can provide power generation in the coastal areas where an ever-increasing percentage of the world population chooses to live. We can investigate ocean species, known and still to be discovered, as a new pharmacopeia for future cures of diseases yet to come. We can modify our centralized structures of governance to protect this new system, make it more effective and efficient, moving to a more collaborative watershed system for preservation, governance, and regional advancement. We can price water as an universal right guaranteeing every individual a minimum supply at no cost to meet essential needs and thereafter establishing a valuation and pricing system based on utility and need rather than on private ownership.
Jeremy Bishop Photography
All this, and much more, can be achieved now, with existing knowledge and technology, if we can only discover the political will to make it so. If we can wrap our minds around the new paradigm, understand the authenticity and implication of “hydraulic society,” apply its logic, and act thereby in our own and our children’s best interest as the beneficiaries of Earth’s natural value, we can surely transcend the short-term profiteers, political fear-mongers, and subversive opportunists who are anathema to progress. The world cries out for a context for change, a vision for the future that moves us beyond morbid reality and hopelessness to a better place. We need an ocean ethos, a change in the fundamental character or spirit of our culture, organized around the pure and enduring value of our water planet.
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An Ocean Ethos is an essay excerpted from The Once and Future Ocean: Notes Toward a New Hydraulic Society by Peter Neill, director of the W2O.
The Once and Future Ocean is available wherever books are sold.