The last couple weeks have been busy — the good kind of busy — for me and for San Diego Coastkeeper, and they have gotten me thinking about the roles we all play in protecting our coast and environment. Having the opportunity to hear former Vice President Al Gore speak at UCSD, launching the Project SWELL water-quality and pollution-prevention curriculum for the second grade, seeing the City Council approve a final legal settlement with Coastkeeper and the Surfrider Foundation to reduce chronic sewage spills, and meeting with local officials on issues ranging from sewage treatment and water supply to reducing urban runoff pollution and making smarter land-use decisions have all left me wondering: Who is going to be responsible for clean water and a healthy environment?
Let me frame the issue by discussing two amazing lectures on global warming I was lucky enough to attend over the last two weeks: Dr. Michael Oppenheimer at the San Diego Natural History Museum and Vice President Al Gore, who gave an updated version of his now-famous Inconvenient Truth talk at UCSD‘s RIMAC Arena. Like most environmental activists, I have followed the global warming issue (I won’t call it a debate — it hasn’t been for years, if not decades) fairly closely, but I am certainly not an expert on the issue and my blogging today won’t be on “climate change.” However, many aspects of these lectures make them an interesting starting point for what I will discuss — namely, the role of individuals as well as community action in protecting our local environment and, by extension, our planet.
The first and most obvious item of note at both lectures was the crowds. As has been the case with the entire San Diego Natural History Museum lecture serious on global warming, the line formed early for Dr. Oppenheimer, and the auditorium and overflow seating in the lobby area were beyond capacity. With the former vice president, the often rambunctious crowd was even more extreme. The line for the event started forming four hours before the doors opened, and the nearly 5,000-seat venue was filled with a broad spectrum of students, academics, environmental activists, the region’s top leadership and concerned San Diegans. Having been involved in the environmental movement for nearly two decades, it was inspiring to see such attention (finally) being paid to our planet.
Also of note about these discussions is the scope of the crisis. Most of the folks who are reading this are probably already familiar with at least the basics of global warming — if not, stop reading this and immediately rent and watch “Inconvenient Truth” before returning! As evidenced by the large, and very engaged crowds, most people now recognize that if we do not make environmental stewardship a top priority now, the scale of devastation we could be facing on this planet is almost beyond comprehension. What is critical to recognize is the intersection between climate change, energy policy, land-use decisions and protection of our air and water quality. While Coastkeeper is focused on protecting local water quality, we cannot hope to achieve that goal without addressing those same factors that also play a critical role in global warming: promoting local water supplies; reducing energy demands in the region; fostering smarter land-use policies; and generally helping educate and engage the public in environmental stewardship. Likewise, if we are effective in doing our job to protect and restore the health of our local waterways, Coastkeeper will also play an important role in stemming the tide of global warming.
The last thing to note about these lectures is the sense of optimism both speakers expressed. While stemming the tide of global warming will be no small task, both experts believe we can still avoid the awful perils of climate change through technological advances, changes in personal behaviors, and political will. While I agree with this assessment, my next entries will cover what I see locally as the public attitudes toward environmental protection as well as whether our political leaders have the will to properly prioritize environmental stewardship.