(This is the first in a series of posts on What’s It Going to Take?: A look at how the environmental community can regain the initiative and build the political will necessary to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.)
(Posted by Bill Dennison)
Our New Year’s resolution for 2012 should be to improve our public dialogue about Chesapeake Bay restoration. Instead of public arguments, recriminations, and debates about the watershed models, we should be talking about innovative approaches to reducing nutrients reaching the Bay. Instead of arguing about how restoring Chesapeake will be too expensive, we should be embracing the new jobs that restoration activities create (see the Chesapeake Bay Foundation report “Debunking the ‘Job Killer’ Myth: How Pollution Limits Encourage Jobs in the Chesapeake Bay Region”). Instead of bemoaning the difference between current conditions and the “good old days,” we should be celebrating the achievements that are being made with respect to realistic, short term targets.
So what are some ways we can improve our dialogue?
First, we should begin every discussion about Chesapeake restoration reaffirming our shared vision of having a healthy Bay supporting healthy communities. We need to remind ourselves that farmers do not want to over-fertilize their fields, people using septic systems do not want to pollute the Bay any more than people connected to sewage treatment facilities and no one wants to be an environmental vandal. People living in the Chesapeake watershed generally have good intentions.
Second, we should emphasize what can “I” or “we” do to improve Chesapeake Bay, rather than what “you” should do. No one wants to be told what to do, and having someone prescribing your actions, rather than allowing for innovative solutions, can backfire.
Third, we need to celebrate our achievements, even small ones, while tracking our progress toward the overall goals. This celebration of achievements should embrace new approaches to Chesapeake restoration, thus providing positive reinforcement for the right kinds of behavior and developing a collective learning about what does and does not work.
Finally, there needs to be a safe forum for vigorous debate about contentious issues. But following the debate, we need to establish what we agree on, and what we don’t agree on. The agreed items are ready for a consensus policy position, and the items that remain contentious can be designated for further research or testing.
What are some topics that we should be talking about? There are several examples that epitomize fresh new approaches to Chesapeake restoration and we should be talking about these approaches. One of these examples is the growing army of citizen scientists that the Riverkeeper/Waterkeeper groups have trained and empowered. These citizen scientists are collecting important, relevant data at scales that count, and then analyzing and communicating their data. Another example is the Healthy Harbors initiative for Baltimore Harbor, a coalition being led by people in the private sector, supported by city, county and state governments. Having business leaders embrace bold, ambitious goals like obtaining a “swimmable” and “fishable” Baltimore Harbor by 2020 is a breath of fresh air. Innovative approaches like floating wetlands, water wheels for trash removal are being tested. Another example is using events like film festivals (e.g., Chesapeake Film Festival), wade-ins and musical concerts in which environmental issues are presented in a fun and entertaining way, to expand the interested, informed and empowered citizenry regarding Chesapeake issues.
In conclusion, we have much to talk about regarding Chesapeake restoration, and this dialog should ongoing, robust, and constructive. Let’s make changing our dialog to be positive and forward thinking our New Year’s resolution for 2012.