Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The quest to save the oceans

"The oceans are in jeopardy. At no time in the span of human civilization have we faced such extreme and global threats to our marine ecosystems." So begins Saving Our Oceans-An Urban Challenge written by Major Jeremy Harris, Ret.

Mayor Jeremy Harris served for more than ten years as the Mayor of the City and County of Honolulu, Hawaii, the 12th largest city in the United States. He retired from politics in January of 2005. Prior to becoming Mayor, Harris was Honolulu’s longest serving Managing Director, a position he held for nine years.

Under Mayor Harris’ leadership Honolulu achieved world wide recognition.

* 1st Place Gold Award for Large Cities-International Award for Livable Cities 2004
* Best City Government Website in the United States, 2003
* Special Achievement Award in Geographic Information System Technology, 2003
* #1 City in U.S. - Use of Technology in Delivering Government Services, 2002
* America’s Best Transit System, American Public Transportation Assoc., 2000 & 1994

During his three terms as Mayor, Honolulu was recognized as one of the best managed cities in the United States. In addition to the hundreds of awards the City received during his tenure, Mayor Harris also earned national and international acclaim. Several of his awards include:

* Keystone Award, American Architectural Foundation, 2005
* Outstanding Achievement Award for Sustainability, U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2004
* Lifetime Achievement Award in GIS Systems, ESRI, 2004
* Lifetime Achievement Award for Support of Information Technology, CDG, 2004
* City Livability Award for Exemplary Leadership, U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2003
* Distinguished Leadership Award in Planning, American Planning Association, 2002

Mayor Harris is the only individual to receive the award of Public Administrator of the Year for two consecutive years from the Hawaii branch of the American Association of Public Administrators. He has served as the Public Director on the National Board of Directors of the American Institute of Architects. Mayor Harris is currently a senior visiting faculty member in energy and environment at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden, and an advisor on sustainability to the National Academy of Science in Washington D.C.

Mayor Harris holds a Masters of Science degree in Population and Environmental Biology, specializing in urban ecosystems, from the University of California, Irvine, and is the author of a new book, The Renaissance of Honolulu, The Sustainable Rebirth of an American City.

I include the lengthy bio because it is important to recognize Major Harris' credentials as I would encourage you to read the entire paper.

It is Major Harris' assertion that "the single biggest contributor to the destruction of our global marine environment has gone largely unaddressed. That destructive force is unsustainable urban development." Accelerated growth in urban populations along with increased consumption of goods and services are straining available natural resources and generating unprecedented amounts of waste.

Climate change caused by increased greenhouse gas emissions is threatening coral reefs worldwide due to elevated sea temperatures and ocean acidification. Most emissions come from the burning of fossil fuels, primarily in vehicles. Highest concentrations tend to be found in urban areas where the density of vehicles causes extremely high emission levels.

Localized pollution also threatens coral reefs and near shore marine habitats. Poor land use practices increases erosion rates and cause increased sedementation on the reefs. Stormwater runoff carry contaminants and sediment onto coral reefs and into coastal wetlands.

Hydrocarbons, household hazardous wastes, and other toxins are poured down catch-basins each day in urban areas, flushing out into estuaries and reef ecosystems when it rains. The agricultural areas surrounding urban areas burden the marine environment with runoff containing topsoil, herbicides and insecticides.

The aquarium fish industry, overfishing and the use of destructive trawls, dynamite, bleach, and rotenone to poison and stun fish for easy harvesting has a severe impact on marine ecosystems.

Major Harris sums up the challenge for cities:
"While it is clear that building sustainable cities is necessary to halt the deterioration of the oceans, the challenges that cities face in this effort are enormous. The scope of the transformation that is needed in urban infrastructure, land use, transportation, energy policy, and waste management systems for urban sustainability is daunting, but these challenges are well understood and the technology to meet them is largely available. The most critical challenges that cities face in the struggle for sustainability are those of capacity building, leadership development and infrastructure financing. While these efforts are fundamental in the battle to build sustainable cities, they are the most neglected. "
The oceans cover about 71% of the Earth’s surface and have a significant effect on the biosphere. The evaporation of ocean water (as a component of the water cycle) is the source of most rainfall, and ocean temperatures determine climate and wind patterns. It would seem prudent, then, for us to be extremely aggressive in our efforts to halt further destruction and repair existing damage.

Until next time...become the change you imagine.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Reconnecting with our natural heritage.

June 5th is World Environment Day, which was established by the UN General Assembly in 1972 to mark the opening of the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment. The theme for 2009 is 'Your Planet Needs You-UNite to Combat Climate Change'. This reflects the immediate need for nations to agree on a new course of action at the climate convention meeting in Copenhagen in December, and the links with overcoming poverty and the improved management of forests.

Mexico is the host country, this year, which reflects its growing role in the fight against climate change, including its growing participation in the carbon markets. A leading partner in UNEP's Billion Tree Campaign, Mexico, with the support of its President and people, has spearheaded the pledging and planting of some 25% of the trees in that campaign. Mexico accounts for roughly 1.5 % of global greenhouse gas emissions, and the country is demonstrating its commitment to climate change on several fronts.

While I applaud the numerous global and national "days" dedicated to environmental concerns and awareness, we need to involve ourselves in these issues on a daily basis. We need to have a global "Shift Your Attitude" Day to impress on people the need to change the way we think about our environment and our place in it.

The first step is to stop thinking of ourselves as separate from nature. We ARE nature, we ARE our environment. The only separation is in our own minds. Earth is life and the source of our sustenance. Sustenance can be defined as: the act of sustaining : the state of being sustained :a supplying or being supplied with the necessities of life. Which brings us back to the ongoing issue of sustainability.

For humans to live sustainably, the Earth's resources must be used at a rate at which they can be replenished. Humans, until recently, lived in harmony with their environment, and primitive peoples still respect this basic premise of life. As a materialistic society with unchecked population growth, we have exhausted the earth's ability to replenish itself.

The delicate balance necessary for any natural system to survive has been severely compromised. With this in mind there is an imperative need for humans to understand their connectedness to their world and everything on it. As my friend, Andrew, so eloquently put it:

"There have been moments of grace though. The quiet time first thing in the morning when I’m able to connect with the beauty of nature that surrounds me. The silence punctuated by bird song and the wind through the trees."

"That is the way of nature. There is perfection as we look not only closely at the plants but also at the panoramas of the bigger picture."

In keeping with the "bigger picture" there is a calendar of global environmental events available here. My challenge to you, the reader, is to start making a positive impact NOW, by shifting your attitude and awareness about your place in the environment. Reconnect with your natural human heritage.

Until next time...become the change you imagine.