Day 117: Guest Blog: David Helvarg, Executive Director of Blue Frontier Campaign

I’ve been associated with the Blue Frontier Campaign, a nonprofit organization based in Washington DC, since before the start of my Pacific row. I was first introduced to David Helvarg, the Executive Director, by paddler and environmentalist Margo Pellegrino back in 2007. David’s guest blog touches on some issues that have cropped up in my own blogs recently, including the question of finding gainful service for the bored and disenfranchised to prevent the kind of unrest recently witnessed in the UK. Enjoy!

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U.S. Comedian Bill Maher recently pointed out that the most conservative sector of society that denies the science of evolution and climate change (what sea level rise?) now also denies Keynsian economics. According to this basic economic theory when there’s a recession and people are unemployed and in debt there’s little consumer demand to generate private sector sales and new production. At that point cutting back on government spending and laying off public employees will only worsen the crisis. We need to put unemployed people to work doing useful things like fixing our broken infrastructure including coastal ports, bridges, old sewer lines and storm drains that can pollute near shore waters making people sick and spawning algae fed dead zones. We also need to be supporting new technologies like sustainable aquaculture and offshore clean energy as part of a comprehensive approach to the management and protection of our public seas, global commons and, not to overstate the obvious, the crucible of life on our blue marble planet.

Instead the conversations in Washington, London, Athens and too many other capitals are about slashing public spending and embracing austerity, mostly for others. That means zeroing out funding for things like seafood safety inspections, worker safety on our docks and ships, water pollution enforcement and other environmental protections and marine conservation programs.

By contrast I just got to meet Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna. He was in San Francisco to greet 16 Pacific Voyagers from his nation who’d crossed the ocean. They were crewing one of 7 Vakas, double-hulled Polynesian sail/canoes on a trip, not unlike Roz’s, to celebrate explorer culture and raise awareness of ocean conservation. “We are a country very serious about saving our ocean and saving the environment, and that of course will help our people,” Puna explained.

This year, as part of my work with the Blue Frontier Campaign, I’ve been privileged to meet with three heads of state committed to building economies that protect our oceans and lands and provide hope for a better future. They include President Laura Chinchilla of Costa Rica (winner of a 2011 Peter Benchley Ocean Award) and President Anote Tong of Kiribati as well as Prime Minister Puna. They have established or expanded (or are about to) huge marine parks and also addressed the challenge of climate change (that threatens to overwhelm the nation of Kiribati through sea-level rise by mid-century). The Cook Islands plans to be free of fossil fuels by 2020, becoming the first nation in the world to do so.

I only wish that the leaders of larger, more influential nations like the United States, China and France would make similar commitments to protecting our environment and in the process create millions of new green (and blue) jobs in clean energy, science and sustainable agriculture and transportation. Each of us, as citizens and consumers, members of families, clans and communities of life have a chance to make a difference. Roz is making a difference in a dramatic way, rowing whole ocean basins to raise awareness. She was greeted by President Tong when she landed in Tarawa, on her Pacific voyage. But history is also the things we do everyday to make a difference from not using single use plastic to the food and energy choices we make. Each of us can. Each of us must.

A Favorite quote

When the people lead the leaders will follow

Second Favorite

The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment

David Helvarg is founder and executive director of the Blue Frontier Campaign a U.S. based marine conservation group dedicated to supporting seaweed (marine grassroots) efforts at the local, regional, national and global levels, with an emphasis on bottom up organizing to bring the voice of citizen-activists into decision-making that will impact our living seas. A long time journalist, Helvarg is also author of several books including: Blue Frontier, The War Against the Greens, 50 Ways to Save the Ocean, Rescue Warriors, and Saved by the Sea – A Love Story with Fish.

“Other Stuff”:

I found a decent-sized flying fish on deck this morning. I sized him up for breakfast, but decided that, for the size of him, it was more trouble than it was worth. I was sure he wouldn’t go to waste, and I was right. Less than 3 seconds after I chucked him overboard, a dorado had snapped him up.

I saw a different kind of bird today. I’ve got so used to seeing storm petrels that this one immediately stood out as a different species. He was completely white, apart from dark feet and a dark beak – and maybe a dark face as well, but I couldn’t see. His most distinctive feature was a very narrow tail, looking almost as if it was just a single feather. Any suggestions on ID?

I was in the cabin writing up my logbook when there was a major yellowfin frenzy outside. Big outbreaks of splashing, first on one side of the boat, then on the other. I could feel the boat shaking with the impacts, and they splashed water so high that a few drops came into the cabin. Quite a furore!

Julian – glad you enjoyed “Rowing the Atlantic: Lessons Learned on the Open Ocean

Erica – good for you, spreading the good green word in Italy! I am so sorry to hear that some people are abusing the organic system. That really is not helpful. I hope (!) that in the future organic standards will have to conform to a global standard, and will be better enforced so we consumers know what we are getting.

Bruce – you made me laugh with your comparison between my loyal readers and the chaps downstairs – especially the belly flopper! :-)

Quote for the day, sent to me by Jay….: “Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.” (Martin Luther King)

Sponsored Miles: Grateful thanks to Leland Palmer and Patricia Collins.

  • Anonymous

    Roz, may I wager a guess that the UFB is a slow storm petrel … having lost it’s tail feathers while being almost nabbed by a dorado?  Or conversely, s/he is a dare-devil having skimmed too close to the surface, flirting with disaster, and fortunately zigged just as the dorado zagged avoiding its jaws by an instant. Few survive which explains its rare apparition and ghostly features … drained of color from the scare!

    Love hearing about the activity just inches beneath Sedna. Only her thin veneer separates you from all that commotion … how exciting!

    Will respond to David Helvarg’s blog a bit later … it is still very early here … unfortunately, my body is still on East Coast time. Returned a day early to avoid Hurricane Irene. They are expecting a foot-and-a-half of rain in some areas today, and millions are already without power. Thinking of my many friends who will endure Irene’s fury today.

  • Stan

    Another aspect of the current US economy that plays right along with David’s blog is the availability of money. Even those who still have jobs or retirement plans that are still solvent are not able to buy as they once did. Remember a great deal, I would say at least half, of the prosperous economy of a few years ago was bought with borrowed money. We bought gas guzzling cars, boats and other toys with the equity in our homes the banks and real estate people told us we had. Then it went bust and now the banks won’t loan us money to buy more stuff because the equity is gone and our personal loan capacity is tapped out. Not only are the unemployed not buying, the workers aren’t buying either. For the environment this is probably good.

    But, if I’m not buying, you’re not buying and the unemployed aren’t buying what is left to “stimulate the economy.” When are people going to understand that the economy we rebuild can not be based on people buying more “stuff” they use once or twice, get tired of and move on. We have a whole industry built on renting space to people to store the stuff they don’t use anymore, but might someday. The economy can be stimulated as David indicates by improving infrastructure and changing our energy system.

    We can also improve the situation by changing agriculture and our food delivery system. The change is slowly occurring and new policy could hurry it along, but people need to think more about the quality of food than its price. When I buy, in season, food from my local farmer, I help create a living wage job for that farm family, insure proper care for the land and animals raised on it and save energy. But, eating locally means changing our food habits. In in the northern half of North America at least that means not having all foods all the time. There will be few fresh fruits in the winter and fresh vegetables will be of the root variety: carrots, beets, turnips, squash and many others that we haven’t seen as staples in our diets for decades.

    The idea of having foods grown in energy intensive green houses or shipped in from South America needs to change. There are alternatives. In my community there is a new “biotechnology” park where the first business is a waste composting facility. In addition to compost the facility will produce methane to generate power, CO2 and waste heat that can be harnessed in green houses to produce high value vegetable crops for a longer period than our normal ag can and a stream of liquid waste that is being “mined” for exotic chemicals by a “third party” biothech company.

    There are countless ways to rekindle our economy for the good of people and the environment. We the people need to step up and use the services provided through these alternative approaches.

    Row on Roz, continue to lead us by example, grow those sprouts and consume larabar

  • Anonymous

    The beauty of life. Our beautiful earth. Common sense.  The “developing” world. Using only the power one needs, as in turning off the lights. Mans evolution, in body and mind and spirit.  Working by hand instead of using machines. Boom and bust.  Economics. These thoughts and more come to mind.  I am on my way to help clean up after my friends wedding so will write something on these subjects later.  I hope the people of this beautiful earth will weather the storm. 

  • Anonymous

    I will share these funnies with Roz once she makes land fall. In the mean time, I share it with you all in exchange for good vides in her direction. (please allow me to show her how proper bellyflops are to be articulated:)  

    Funny skit about communication, German Coast Gaurd Trainee: http://youtu.be/VSdxqIBfEAw  

    German Commercial, over the top funny
    http://youtu.be/Qy7ypWCmvbg   

    How many words can you come up with if you could only use each letter one: sqiuepsdaelain (hint: it can be one word also)
    http://youtu.be/uUhQN-PGWDg 

    Answer to follow :)   

    Row Roz Row!

  • Ellie

    I think it may have been a white tailed tropicbird.  I have seen them in Hawaii and apparently they are in the Indian Ocean, too (wikipedia).  They are mostly white with black near the eyes and black feet.  They have a long white tail that looks like one feather when flying

  • http://jimbell.id.au JimBellofBelmont

    Just got my reply back from Mayor Johnson. Seems he doesn’t have the direct power needed but does state support for the principle.
    Reply also says that Wales is apparently considering plans to introduce a charge on plastic bags. Well … it’s a start.
    Watch out for sticky black ink Roz… Jim Bell (NSW Australia)

  • Rachel

    Your bird sounds like a white-tailed Tropic Bird Roz. We had one came to visit every night at 6pm on the Atlantic from a few hundred miles out from Antigua. We called him Big White Bird and he’d do a few circles, come and hover right over the head of whichever of us was rowing, look down and then fly off. Almost like he was checking on us. Rx

  • Anonymous

    No worries Roz; I have no trouble keeping secrets either – it’s the people I tell them to that can’t keep ‘em. Row well…

  • Outsidejay

    Podcast episode 46 is online.

  • Anonymous

    I agree with David and Stan … it is really frustrating that there is no hard and fast science around economic theory … it is always an experiment that those in power get to carry out, and the problem is that objective post-mortum is not performed to assess the success or failure — nobody want to acknowledge failure — after all, politicians are about getting re-elected and not necessarily about seeking truth, especially when they fail. And one should never acknowledge the opposition for their success.

    I like to think that the most knowledgeable should have a greater say in matters of such importance than those who only have a smattering of input and understanding. Politicians should be screened for their ability to sort through the suppositions and call on honest experts. The problem is we have fewer seekers of truth.

    I just have hope that the populace will wake up, get informed, take on the responsibility to become involved, and question their elected officials, Representatives and Senators. Only through transparent and responsible dialogue will those who make decisions in a biased “vacuum” be tossed out of office. Maybe I am naive, but I gotta believe truth will win in the long run. I have faith that the majority are smart and committed and will act once they have the facts.

    Row smartly, Roz!

  • Anonymous

    Roz, a friend posted today’s New York Times commentary by Paul Krugman which is critical of two major contenders for the Presidency in the next election. http://nyti.ms/GutFeelings links to ”Republicans Against Science”

    Krugman’s conclusion aligns with today’s discussion:

    And the deepening anti-intellectualism of the political right, both within and beyond the G.O.P., extends far beyond the issue of climate change.

    Lately, for example, The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page has gone beyond its long-term preference for the economic ideas of “charlatans and cranks” — as one of former President George W. Bush’s chief economic advisers famously put it — to a general denigration of hard thinking about matters economic. Pay no attention to “fancy theories” that conflict with “common sense,” the Journal tells us. Because why should anyone imagine that you need more than gut feelings to analyze things like financial crises and recessions?

    Row with common sense, Roz!

  • Pippa

    I’m thinking of them too, Unca Doug. It’s sounding serious on the news broadcasts.

  • Pippa

    Bravo Stan!
    Yes, I can easily go without unseasonal veggies & fruit when I have the choice of eating fresh greens in season. I keep telling my local super market that I won’t buy asparagus that come from half way around the world. Perhaps one day they will stop stocking it as most people won’t even miss it if it wasn’t there.

    I’m glad you’re having a little entertainment with your oceanic friends, Roz.

  • Anonymous

    We took down a 30X100 foot greenhouse this spring, maybe we can get some solar or geothermal going to heat it when we put it back up.  Made dinner with vegetables from the garden at the nursery grown by a friend so these things are happening.  In our area farmers markets are very popular of late.  There is hope…now if we can get the economy to the next step in it’s evolution…also a concept that is present to me lately…stewardship of the built envoirnment..maintenance and repair of buildings…would put a lot of people to work and they could enjoy the satisfaction of working with their best tools…hands.  Thanks for the comments Stan  

  • Pippa

    Why, oh why, Unca Doug, is common sense so uncommon?!

    Row with uncommon-common sense, Roz!

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for posting the picture of the tropic bird.  It is great. 
    Cheers,  Stephen

  • Anonymous

    Pippa, I re-read the quote after driving two hours … it is tongue-in-cheek and I interpreted it bass-ackwards, so I modified my tag line slightly … hopefully it makes more sense. The “common sense” and “gut feelings” denigrate thorough, credible, disciplined research and snubbed as “fancy theory.”

  • Christopher Schmidt

    Unfortunately, Mr. Helvarg’s take on “Keynsian economics” (as he defines it) has more in common with the “gut feelings” basis of the Intelligent Design hypothesis than it does with economics or science, and I don’t think he has looked very deeply into the nature of the current recession.

    Both consumer spending and government spending are in record territory today.  By his lights the economy should be booming.

    Government spending has its own “hockey stick” graph:

    http://politicalcalculations.blogspot.com/2011/07/spending-vs-revenue-us-debt-crisis-in.html

    The component of GNP that is way down in this recession is private investment–down as much as 36% since its peak in 2006, as discussed here:

    http://www.independent.org/newsroom/article.asp?id=2895Clean water and air justify themselves.  Linking them with “Keynesian economics” handicaps our common message with unnecessary political baggage.

  • Christopher Schmidt

    Somehow, the end of my comment got mangled.  The second link was supposed to be:

    http://www.independent.org/newsroom/article.asp?id=2895

    And my final paragraph should have read:

    Clean water and air justify themselves.  Linking them with “Keynesian economics” handicaps our common message with unnecessary political baggage.

  • Daniel

    Whatever the merits (or lack thereof) of “evolution science” or “Keynsian economics” it is an example of the religious ( as the term “religious humanism is used in the Humanist Manifestos”) worldview which is in conflict with my own.

    Those of us who do believe in creation (and the Creator) are often targets of those more politically liberal, but really Mr. Helvarg, to quote a “comedian” as a source? Why do we give such weight to the sayings of comedians and actors? (or even certain politicians) Is it simply because they have a stage from which to speak? Why does Bill Maher’s opinion carry any weight?

  • Daniel

    A further note:
    If your goal is a cleaner ocean why would you alienate rather than enlist the support of those who believe the ocean and its life exist as the result of an act of creation rather than a process of evolution?

    It makes me wonder if your environmentalism is part of a larger agenda, or a means to other ends from which belief in God is necessarily excluded.

    Or perhaps you think creationists are not interested in clean water.