Thinking About Water

Posted by Marcia Penner Freedman

The topic of water has been coming at me in many forms these last weeks.

A list:

  • a stirred interest in water sources for the area’s rivers and streams (since my relocation to Davis)
  • California’s new water conservation laws
  • phantom sprinklers on my property, watering plants in a shut-down system
  • an article about border patrol agents in Arizona destroying emergency water supplies in the desert
  • a request by a neighbor for donations of water for the homeless
  • an article about the water cycle and the origins of water on earth
  • astounding statistics about our use of water (i.e. 5.7 billion gallons a year flushed down toilets in America)
  • accidentally leaving a hose running for half an hour

When I think about the ubiquitousness of water I am reminded of something Charles Fishman wrote in his book The Big Thirst (p. 2): Water is the most familiar substance in our lives.  It is also unquestionably the most important substance in our lives.

Over the next weeks I shall begin to look at water from this standpoint.


Back to the Basics: Ocean Ethics

Posted by Marcia Penner Freedman

I received an email from Edward last week in response to the 4Ocean plastic cleanup blog of June 7. In it he talked about the multi-layered issues associated with ocean pollution and cleanup.

Ecologic impact, for one. “The establishment of the 4Ocean business plan, while admirable,” he wrote, “doesn’t in itself solve the ecological impact of the ever-increasing amounts of trash in the ocean or along it’s shores.”

These effects are enormous. Large numbers of marine wildlife are being harmed, many killed, through ingestion of small bits of plastic and other trash mistaken for food. Starvation. Poisoning. Internal bleeding and digestive illnesses.  These are a few of the direct attacks on those creatures of the sea who eat trash.

Another direct impact on sea life comes from fishing boats that discard their gear and their damaged nets into the ocean, bringing about a situation called ‘ghost fishing.’ In a bizarre way, this flotsam floating around continues to ‘fish’ as it traps marine life within its grip and, consequently, reels in larger predators that come to feed on the trapped fish.

Indirectly, pollution that brings about an imbalance in the ocean’s ecosystem – marine habitat destruction, for example – can put us all at risk. As described by the International Union for Conservation Nature (IUCN), Oceans are the lifeblood of planet Earth and humankind. They flow over nearly three-quarters of our planet, and hold 97% of the planet’s water. They produce more than half of the oxygen in the atmosphere, and absorb the most carbon from it. So it would appear that we have a personal interest in getting the ocean back into tiptop shape.

And then Edward wrote about the business community.  “Ridding the ocean of massive accumulations of trash must begin with changing the business practices of the world’s maritime industry as a major polluter,” he said.

I know we started out talking about plastic.  But with Edward’s challenge I became curious about the laws associated with maritime dumping, what is considered a pollutant, what not.  How is it monitored?  I shall not attempt to summarize this complex topic. But I thought you might be interested in reading the following list of items considered, under the law, acceptable for ocean dumping.

Help me out here.  I don’t get how some of these are not considered pollutants.

The London Protocol (of 2006) expressly prohibits incineration at sea and the export of wastes and other matter for the purpose of ocean dumping. Under the London Protocol, dumping of all wastes and other materials is prohibited except the following materials listed in Annex I of the London Protocol (“the reverse list”), which may be considered for dumping: 

  • Dredged material.
  • Sewage sludge.
  • Fish wastes or material resulting from industrial fish processing operations.
  • Vessels and platforms or other man-made structures at sea.
  • Inert, inorganic geological material.
  • Organic material of natural origin.
  • Bulky items primarily comprising iron, steel, concrete and similarly unharmful materials for which the concern is physical impact, and limited to the circumstances where such wastes are generated at locations with no land-based alternatives.
  • Carbon dioxide streams from carbon dioxide capture processes for sequestration in sub-seabed geological formations.

Given the vastness of the ocean and the immeasurable number of private and commercial ocean-going vessels, can we suspect that all are virtually free to pollute the ocean? A kind of guilty until proven innocent situation?

After all, laws can be made. Satellites can be launched. Ecology patrols can swarm the beaches and monitoring crews can board ships. But in the end it appears that this is a self-monitoring, voluntary honor system; that once again we are down to right and wrong. To ethics.




Learn Baby Learn

Posted by Marcia Penner Freedman

In psychology, learning is commonly defined as ‘a relatively permanent change in behavior based on experience.’

Isn’t that remarkable.

Learning is not only about changes in the amount of information stored in your brain. Nor is it only determined by changes in how you feel about a subject or how you perceive it. Rather, while both of these contribute to the learning process, it’s the change in behavior that signals that learning has actually taken place.

When it comes to how people treat nature, I’ve always wondered which techniques would be most effective in changing negative behaviors. How do you get a sensation seeker to stop driving a truck into a meadow? How do you instill an ecologic ethic in someone who believes all of nature belongs to humans? Is it enough to explain the workings of a meadow, or to call on feelings such as empathy, to encourage respect and responsibility towards the environment?

Last week a friend sent me a video about two guys who, while surfing in Bali, discovered the beaches were littered with plastic debris. When they asked why the trash had not been removed, they were told that every day the beach is cleaned and every day the waves and tides deposit new litter on the shore.

After considering the situation, they came up with a business plan called 4Ocean, which is a method for helping remove plastic from the sea. In Bali they hired local fishermen to haul plastics and other debris out of the ocean with their nets and bring the trash to shore, where it is prepared for recycling and dumping.

Since their experience in Bali, they have expanded their operation to twenty-six countries around the world, using the Bali approach of hiring local people to do the work.  To date, they claim to have removed almost eight hundred thousand pounds of plastic and other debris from the ocean and its shores.

The person who sent me the video suggested there might be some incidental learning about caring for the environment among those involved in the clean-up, a kind of transference of information from the ocean to all of nature.

That’s an interesting idea.

Incidental learning is very common. It is unintentional and unplanned, and it happens when we are involved in one thing and then extrapolate to another. Incidental learning allows us to gain new perspectives on an old idea or a familiar situation. It’s natural. Unforced. And, it’s personal, often occurring during hands-on experiences.

And here is where it would appear that the 4Ocean model offers a great opportunity for those involved in the project to incidentally learn that they are part of something greater than ocean clean-up. I mean,  4Ocean is operating in twenty-six countries. Imagine how many people are being touched directly and indirectly by this awesome and potentially mind-altering process.

According to experiential learning theory, as developed by David Kolb in 1984, however, one of the essentials for learning is that a person has to reflect on his experience.  It’s through these reflections that the individual is able to develop a new perspective about the situation, can internalize  something new, realize something incidental.

It’s not clear that reflection can be taught, however. And, it’s not clear that a person could explain his reflections, even to himself. Also, 4Ocean does not have the capacity, nor the mission, to encourage incidental learning associated with their operation.

So the question remains about developing techniques for changing negative behaviors towards nature. If experiential learning can spawn reflection that has the power to incidentally transform perception and ultimately change behavior, how can that be implemented in environmental education?