Much today is made of the word “bi-partisan,” two parts in some form of agreement as a way of being in the world. I tend to see the world similarly, dividing people generally into two basic behavioral parts or predilections: takers and givers, haves and have-nots, complacents and activists, righters and wrongers, doubters and believers. These dualist analyses, however simplistic, seem nonetheless to characterize the evident circumstances of our world as well as the political, financial, and social nature of our responses. The conflict has never seemed so stark as today when our attitudes seem to have paralyzed our willingness to think, compromise, and embrace the change we need to secure our future.
I have recently published my ocean tome, “THE ONCE AND FUTURE OCEAN — Notes Toward a New Hydraulic Society”, a proposition that the old paradigm of unlimited growth in the name of consumption enabled by fossil fuels is exhausted, the positives of that organizing principle overwhelmed by the negatives, and demanding a new paradigm, a new world view around which to organize our values, organizational structures, and social behaviors. The argument calls for a “new hydraulic society,” managed growth in the name of sustainability enabled by water in all of its circles and cycles of conveyance, from ocean to atmosphere to mountaintop to watershed to ocean and back round again. Water is the most valuable commodity on earth, the one thing each and every one of us, anywhere, anytime, needs in an equal amount to survive. By commodity, I mean first a thing of use, value, and advantage that because of its universal and essential requirement is a human right to be equitably shared and justly distributed. With such an understanding and system in place, then new structures of finance, governance, and social behavior will inevitability, rationally, and realistically follow.
I think this shift is inevitable, and through the book and the public presentations around it, my job is promote the idea and persuade readers and listeners wherever and however I can to give it consideration as a necessary and practical way forward.
Not easy. It requires significant change in how we view the world and how we live in it. We must put aside the old paradigm as an initial step toward acceptance of the new. We must revise the way we understand how water is so much a part of every aspect of our being — in our bodies, in our family and community health, producing our food, supporting our processes of manufacture, and otherwise enabling our quality of life. We must agree that such things as climate change, extreme weather, long-standing procedures and systems, pricing, distribution, and governance must accommodate this new world view, and that much of what we have taken for granted and long enjoyed will be redefined and transformed. It is a challenging idea, and a daunting task, but it must be considered and acted upon if, as I believe, that without such a fundamental shift we threaten our very survival.
My every conversation then is an opportunity for discussion, hopefully not to the point that folks will begin to cross the street or run for cover on my approach.
Given the paralysis of our governance today, such a solution may not come top down from our legislators and civil servants, and, given the urgency of the challenge, such a response may only be possible from individual and community action by each of us from the bottom up. Thus, we all have a role to play, and as I perform mine I find the largest resistance and most motivating opportunity in confronting those dualistic separations: the takers and givers, haves and have-nots, complacents and activists, righters and wrongers, doubters and believers.
Ultimately, the strategy must be focused on turning the doubters into believers. If one can be persuaded to consider and understand the substance and urgency of the argument, then the inevitable questions of practicality, law, technology, capitalism, politics, and all other opposition to the possibility are changed and countered by the power of a new idea, the energy of a new commitment, the application of existing knowledge to new outcomes, the engagement of personal, family, and community action with a new agenda, and the imaginative release of a new and transformative vision. We must define what’s next. We must welcome change. We must refine and apply the new paradigm, either from what I suggest or from a better a better idea to come. But we must act now.
The once and future ocean is the source of a new way forward, not just for what we must have to drink, but also for our food, energy, health, security, community development, and individual and cultural renewal — the redemptive and sustaining realization of a new hydraulic society organized around the movement of water. My job is to turn doubters into believers. I believe. Do you?
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, providing links and proactive services to individuals, aquariums, science centers, educational institutions, governmental and non-governmental organizations to build public awareness and a global constituency for the ocean. “Doubters and Believers” was originally published as an audio podcast on WORLD OCEAN RADIO. Peter Neill is author of “The Once and Future Ocean: Notes Toward a New Hydraulic Society” available now.