Before I headed to Ft. Lauderdale the last weekend in September, I was struggling with how to answer some demanding questions about what the Activist Network is and could be. The Sierra Club’s Mission Strategy Committee, a board advisory committee, is reviewing the Activist Network to help shape its future.
What happened in Florida could be instructive — this was the Activist Network at its best.
Chair Dave Raney
has been working on ocean issues for decades, most recently the Obama administration’s National Ocean Policy, which aims to integrate and streamline the 140 separate laws affecting the ocean, from offshore oil drilling to marine sanctuaries to commercial and recreational fishing..
Raney, who has lived in Hawaii for decades, vacationed as a youth at Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, before moving to Fort Lauderdale in 1957. During what he called his “hunter-killer” phase, he speared barracudas, groupers, and other large fish. (He says he’s been trying to make up for all the fish he speared ever since.) As part of the Marine Team’s National Ocean Policy project, Raney worked with the Broward, Loxahatchee, and Miami groups to host an ocean stewardship workshop on September 29.
He suggested to me that it might be a great opportunity to piggy-back on that issue-oriented workshop with a gathering the following day focused on building a new Club marine campaign team in Southeast Florida. We had a local leader, Tanya Tweeton from the Broward Group, willing to pull together the logistics. A huge job. (Thank you, thank you, thank you, Tanya!) Dave and I made a lot of calls and there seemed to be a great deal of interest. So we took the leap..
We got the word out in a variety of ways, primarily through the chapter and groups’ newsletters, listservs, and emails. We had 65 RSVPs for Saturday, and almost 40 for Sunday, far more than we expected. (Actual attendance: 49 for Saturday and 29 for Sunday — fewer no-shows than the norm, and pretty good for a sunny fall weekend.)
Here are just a few highlights from Saturday’s presentations.
After welcomes and introductions from Florida Chapter Excom member John Swingle and Marine Team chair Dave Raney, Billy Causey, regional director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, talked about the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. This is the nation’s first Marine Sanctuary and covers 150,000 square miles ocean, larger than the state of Vermont, and totally surrounds the community. The health of the environment and the economy are inexorably linked, he said. The Keys depend on tourism — sport fishing, diving, and so on.
He listed the myriad of threats to coral reefs, which have been in decline since the mid-70s — climate change, land-based pollution, habitat loss and degradation, and overfishing. Above all, reefs need clean water so sunlight can shine through. Nutrients from sewage and fertilizers lead to algae growth which cuts off the sunlight. There’s no silver bullet to returning them to health, Causey said. It’s a combination of addressing multiple issues, which is what the National Ocean Policy (NOP) does.
[Here’s Causey and Raney sharing the stage.]
Dave Raney stressed that ocean stewardship used to be nonpartisan, but has become polarized, with all the Florida Republican members of Congress opposing funding for NOP implementation. The next step, he said, is getting to the final version of the implementation plan. Whether we’re on offense or defense depends on the outcome of the election.
In the afternoon there was a presentation by Richard Whitecloud of the Sea Turtle Oversight Protection, which has volunteers on the beach every night during resting season, monitoring light pollution, cleaning up trash, and rescuing hatchlings disoriented by light by picking them up in buckets. Up to a third of the hatchlings are disoriented by the lights from hotels, streets, and so on, and head the wrong way after hatching.
[Here’s a sign along Ft. Lauderdale beach that I passed the next day.]
One particular challenge that came up repeatedly was the ongoing attempts to delay implementation of one of environmentalists’ most effective tools — the law that requires counties to stop sewage outfalls by 2025. (Right now, cities can pump their partially treated sewage into ocean despite damage to reefs and the marine ecosystem.) One bill delaying implementation until 2030 was defeated. Current efforts seek to extend compliance deadlines by which ocean outfalls must meet Advanced Water Treatment (AWT) standards from 2018 to 2020.
In informal conversations, I also got an earful about how challenging it is in Florida for politicians to be environmentalists. Because tourism and development are the top economic drivers in the state, all the politicians, even those who might otherwise be good on environmental issues, are influenced by these economic forces. (Governor Rick Scott was at the top of the villain list. One person even said he looks back nostalgically to the Jeb Bush era.)
[Top: John Swingle welcomes participants to the workshop. Center: Broward Group leaders Mara Shlackman (chair) and Hawk Arachy.]
My account of Sunday is far from objective, since I was standing in front of a gathering of about 25 people for most of the day, but it felt stimulating and fun to me and it appeared we made some progress. The idea was to start by brainstorming on goals and outcomes, record them on a flip chart and then circle back to them later and make decisions about what this new campaign team would work on.
But first, I want to share the ice-breaker we started with. Valuable prizes were at stake, and who doesn’t like valuable prizes? (Well, there was one person. More on him soon.)
We gave ourselves more than half an hour for introductions — I asked each person to say who they were, where they were from, and then share their passion, their vision for the day, and — here’s where the valuable prizes come in — something unique about themselves.
After lunch, we had a short quiz. I picked people from the group, read them one unique characteristic, and if they identified the correct person, they won a valuable prize. (We gave away ten of these travel mugs. You can order them here
There were some memorable uniquenesses: One person lived without electricity once the sun went down. Another was bailed out of jail by Jesse Jackson. One managed on three hours of sleep a night. (Oh, and one person’s unique characteristic was that he didn’t like valuable prizes.)
Now to the more serious work of the day.
We started with “conservation outcomes” — changes we want to see in the world. (Educating people about climate change is not an outcome. Passing a county ordinance limited sewage outfalls is.) After a lot of back and forth, we came up with the following:
Protect marine water quality and biodiversity.
Protect and expand coral reefs
Reduce size, duration, and number of algal blooms.
Protect sea turtles.
Ideally, these desired outcomes will become more specific with time, but this is a starting point — there’s plenty more follow up ahead.
Before we arrived at those four, we talked about “pathways.” A pathway is how we achieve the desired conservation outcome. What helped us was that we had already identified some of the pathways, but had labeled them outcomes. Everyone agreed that stopping sewage outflows was a priority. But upon further discussion, we realized that for this team, it was a pathway — a way to protect marine water quality, a way to protect coral reefs, a way to prevent algal blooms, a way to protect sea turtles.
After identifying pathways and writing them on big post-its, we took a break for a “silent gallery walk,” where everyone looked at the outcomes and pathways as if they were visiting a museum. Later, I gave everyone five red dots and they used them to “vote” on the pathways.
While this was a straw poll, and not binding, there were clear “winners” — stop sewage outflows, prevent rollbacks of current laws, ban plastic bags, restore and protect native beach vegetation. (You can see the draft outcomes and pathways here and the agendas here.)
The best part of the day was when more than 10 people raised their hands to be part of this new team. They include Jennifer Kuzia, Ricardo Zambrano, Tanya Tweeton, Sue Caruso, Judy Kuchta. Hawk Arachy, Matt Schwartz, Edward Schwerin, Jerry Schupler, Drew Martin, and Stan Panneman. Here's the new team page in the Activist Network — Southeast Florida Marine and Water Quality Team. Please join.
John Swingle, chair of the Florida Chapter’s Group Advisory Council; Dave Raney, and I will serve as advisors. We will soon convene on a conference call and talk about next steps.
[That’s me with Tanya Tweeton and Dave Raney relaxing after an intense two days.]