A New Normal

World Ocean Forum
5 min readOct 20, 2020

Part ten of the multi-part BLUEprint Series: How the Ocean Will Save Civilization

Five steps forward that will affirm equity and justice as part of a new paradigm for a sustainable future.

What is normal when conventional behaviors have failed us? What becomes the normative foundation for equity as defined and affirmed in terms that demand necessary change? We understand that the conditions we now endure are not what will sustain us, short-term or into the future, and we are confronted with the obligation to construct a new platform based on new premises and new aspirations. If you question this analysis and do not admit to the problem, then you are too late to be part of the solution.

What will it take?

The first step is to affirm equity and justice as the operative outcome desired. That is not as simple as it sounds. The words can be heard all around us, although the actions have not followed, often contradicted by aggressive opposition and violence. Every proposition, including those included here, should be suspect and examined closely for action beyond lip service, easy association, and blue-wash like a mark in the sand quickly washed away.

The second step is to suspend all expectations that traditional governance, policy, and organizations and institutions, built in the past, will morph into a new progressive coalition and present a new paradigm fully-formed and applied. If that was to happen, it would have happened already. While there have certainly been steps proposed through these entities — the Green New Deal and the Blue Economy, for example — the very nature of the proposers and capacity to deliver is limited by rules, conflicting ideologies, and political agendas that prolong, indeed, stultify, the initiative.

The third step is to recognize personal and community necessity for change and the opportunity to progress individually and collectively by personal, familial, and collective action from the bottom up and inside out. Thus, personal lifestyle changes, long discussed, need to shift from good intention to sustained behavior. These same values and actions must be applied at home, in the work-place, and in local social organizations, as sustained demonstrations of strategy and commitment. Local ordinances, community solar and inter-connectivity initiatives, regional water and land conservation strategies, boycott of corporations, businesses, and enabling services should address the hypocrisy of these entities, penalizing their revenues and employment practices until it hurts enough to change.

The fourth step is to understand that the most valuable and powerful expression of personal and community power is your vote: for the local municipal managers, regional and state elected representatives, and federal officials, the Congressional delegates who are expected to represent your interests, not that of lobbyists or other counter-invested agents, who compromise and undermine the equity agenda. There is no aspect of transformational change that is immune from your influence and engagement. If a candidate does not understand and act overtly in support of an equity agenda, campaign against them, speak your mind, advance your responsible argument, and vote them out.

The fifth step is to know that unless we take the prior four, then any and all progress toward environmental protection, public health, racial and ethnic equality, safety and security, and the principles of democracy and justice is at risk, even as it is never more essential and urgent than it is today. We must act on these convictions; we must engage and motivate ourselves, family, friends, and neighbors; we must advocate by word and deed the criticality and immediacy of our actions.

The old normal is a proven failure, and as we stumble forward into uncertainty, the evident compromise of our basic assumptions for freedom, employment, health, education, security, safety, and responsible participation in the world order is revealed. How to resist? There is no choice but to seek and embrace change, to shape it for the future, and to guarantee that we, our children, and everyone around us is a welcome participant it its creation.

Earlier today I took a walk alongshore. We have had several days of dense fog, oddly amplified by strong wind and torrential rain. The ocean was still roiling from the passing fronts of disruption, and there was detritus strewn everywhere — seaweed, driftwood, and the sad inevitability of bits of plastic. I had been confined, to my house, to my thoughts, my anxiety, and my anger. Things had been definitely not normal, unless frustration and melancholy were to become my ongoing state of mind. That was not acceptable. And the ocean told me so, by demonstrating that after the storm comes clarity and vitality, a new scape for passage and survival, that is the foundation for hope and action. The answer was there before me.

Five steps to a new normal. Onward.

Learn more at worldoceanobservatory.org/world-ocean-radio

PETER NEILL is founder and director of the World Ocean Observatory, a web-based place of exchange for information and educational services about the health of the world ocean.

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