Putting the Blue Back in Red, White, and Blue
by Caroline Schwaner -- May 28th, 2015
Why am I in DC? The blog is entitled “building a blue carbon science toolkit in Ecuador”. Every adventure begins somewhere. Harry Potter starts in a cupboard under the stairs in muggle suburbia, not the Wizarding World. Mine commences in our nation’s capital, so I can learn about policy, law, nonprofits, and government.
DC can be pretty foreign…Have you ever fallen asleep on the Metro or experienced a Metro fire? The Metro could be worse. In Madagascar, I rode in a taxi brousse (a bus the size of a suburban filled with 30 people) and the driver hit a live dog, so the bar has been set incredibly low for public transit. Between navigating the convoluted Metro lines and unsuccessfully attempting to parallel park (which is not a thing in the South)… it felt like a different country. I even had to wear a sweater in the summer – mind blown.
I decided to dive right in and attend the Blue Vision Summit. Hundreds of ocean advocates convened to turn the tide and “put the blue back in the red, white, and blue”. To kick off the event, we heard from Ralph Nader, Representative Sam Farr, and Roger Berkowitz (CEO of Legal Sea Foods). Fabien Cousteau stole the show, taking us all on a journey under the sea to Aquarius, an underwater marine lab, where he spent 31 days beneath the waves. I would love to be an aquanaut (we know more about outer space than the ocean), although eating freeze dried food for a month seems less than desirable.
Break out panels followed the keynote addresses. In these sessions, I learned about the “seaweed rebellion”. Green Wave, an agriculture movement featured during the seafood panel, is a mixture of seaweed farming and shellfish cultivation, requiring zero inputs. Community fishermen can fish above the seaweed and shellfish beds, taking part in a commons scenario. This is a first step towards “desushi-tizing” America. Introducing seaweed as a healthy way to mitigate overfishing is intriguing; it has more protein and Vitamin C.
I selected Polar Challenges as the final session, a fitting topic as the Obama administration recently approved plans for drilling in the Arctic. Admiral Robert J. Papp, former Commandant and now the US special representative to the Arctic, tried to field questions and assuage the fears of the audience. Papp made several good points, explaining that the Arctic does not belong to us, rather it belongs to the world. In case you didn’t know, the Arctic has no single government, but there is a council of representatives from Arctic states and for the next two years John Kerry and the US will chair the council.
The next day we lobbied. I don’t think I can put this better than in the words of Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. “We don’t listen” we need to be the “voice of the ocean.” That was our agenda, to speak for the ocean. While flitting in and out of congressional offices, (eating free North Carolina peanuts by the handful) we distributed packets of information and tried to share as much knowledge as we could. Our lobbying group included another Duke NSOE student Kara Shervanick and a recent Duke NSOE graduate, Andrew Menaquale, now an analyst for Oceana.
I felt like Elle Woods in Legally Blonde 2. The tunnels beneath the house and senate offices are a hot mess and we struggled, continuously getting lost. I lobbied for North Carolina, expressing the constituents disapproval of seismic testing and drilling off the East Coast. We had the chance to meet Congressman David Price (a Duke alumnus). We personally thanked Congressman Price for the letter he released with Congresswoman Niki Tsongas and Congressman Gerry Connolly urging the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to exclude planning areas in the Atlantic Ocean from the Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program. BVS broke records for the number of ocean advocacy meetings on the hill.
The summit concluded with a panel led by another Duke alumna, Dr. Sylvia Earle. She opened by apologizing for wearing sunglasses but she had been stung in the eye on a dive (only at an oceans conference). The closing panelists included HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco, Enric Sala of Nat Geo, and Vice Admiral Charles D Michel, Deputy Commandant for Operations USCG.
Before the session, I met a representative from GRID-Arendal working on my Ecuador project. He is part of the global initiative focused on harnessing the values associated with coastal carbon and ecosystem services to improve management of blue forests. During the session, I sat with, surprise, another Duke alumna Justine Schmidt who has been working on documentaries in Lebanon, and she seemed eager to potentially coordinate with EIF.