After decades of effort, the voluntary, collaborative approach to restoring the health and vitality of the Chesapeake Bay— the largest estuary in the United States—has not worked and, in fact, is failing. A diverse group of 57 senior scientists and policymakers have joined forces to save the Bay. This is our plan.

The Fog of the Bay

(Posted by Fred Tutman)

As this is my first post on a new blog, I feel I should explain who I am and why I think my perspective brings something different to the table. A child of my waterway (the Patuxent). I grew up with a deep love and a soulful connection to nature of any kind. Sometimes I feel isolated and maybe slightly disenfranchised by being a scarce African-American in the “green” movement. I may also have a different sense of urgency about environmental problems and hardships for that same reason. Anyhow I don’t always feel my environmental needs and concerns are being adequately captured by those whose primary connection to the environment is through recreational vectors like sailing, hiking and fly-fishing. I have always seen environmental issues as fundamentally about justice, equal access, and compassion for the really egregious problems faced by people who care about the environment, but whom you almost never see at an environmental rally, in a nature center, or among the membership ranks of conservation/cause movements. Frankly I have not seen very much compassion for the environmental problems faced by the poor, or working class, or people of color, immigrants or anybody else when I hang out with the representative demographics that generally are running preservation causes. The exception for me has been the Waterkeeper movement; which is a deep and wide collection of grassroots activists of all walks, many perspective and different watersheds, all sharing a common bond over the sacredness of clean water and a willingness to make to the personal sacrifices needed in order to actually get clean water. So I have found a home (or at least a job) among a deeply committed network of clean water advocates who are prepared to fight in order to get what is right and decent and what we are all entitled to: clean air, water and unspoiled land.

It is shocking to me that virtually every day, I run into people who are genuinely confused about whether the Bay is getting worse or better. I call this phenomenom, the “Fog of the Bay.” I think it is an outrage that we are dithering over something so fundamental to human existence and so morally compulsory. In over forty years of heavily funded efforts to protect and restore our waterways we have only succeeded in further degrading the Bay and confusing the people who watch for annual bay report cards like some sort of Bay stock market–as though progress in our cause can be realistically measured through the ups and downs of annual crab harvests and pounds of trash being hauled out of our river and the latest baffling scientific models. You need only walk to the nearest river to learn we are in trouble. But when I say this stuff publicly, people accuse me of being negative (i.e the glass is half empty instead of half full). I think part of the Fog of the Bay is that we have become so addicted to good news, so hungry for progress or a sense of hope, that we sometimes downplay the facts about how bad things have really become. So to dispel the fog of the Bay—we need to be able to look the facts as they really are, not as we would hope for them to be. We must have the spine to envision and articulate policies steps and measures likely to produce the results we need, even if these measures will make some angry or inconvenienced. It starts with admitting that conditions in our rivers are not only bad, they are getting worse—not better.

The Fog of the Bay is regrettably marked by a regional culture that has institutionalized low performance and modest results. We have normalized the politics of compromise and of tepid gains leveraged by rather weak prospects for the future if we keep going as we are. We are in many respects a preservation movement that has lost its way, and needs to raise our own expectations if we ever expect prevail. It is also a movement that has failed in my view to fully engage the hearts, minds or souls of vast numbers of people living within the watershed. The lack of a believable strategy is reflected by the low mass of our numbers. It’s time for a new day. The 25 steps embodied in the Action Plan for the Bay are courageous and historically significant. They are also inherently practical and necessary. They will not collapse the economy, eliminate jobs or any other dire forecasts made by our opponents. These are not feel good, temporizing planks lined with sugary prose, and subsidies designed to lure polluters or the public to the table. Instead these are symmetrically aligned policy tools that if applied faithfully, will produce real results according to 57 of the most expert thinkers on these topics. We have to implement them all in order to succeed.

The planks are framed in the language of non-compromise. Experts who are credible, accomplished and stellar in various fields of endeavor have dared to step up and declare not only that we have failed to do enough, but they are also telling us precisely what we need to do in order to both walk the walk and talk the talk. Now the ball is in our court. Yours, mine all of us. It is key that without our backing meaningful policies and measures like these, it won’t matter how much money we raise, or restoration work we do. The only way to prevail in our mission to take back our waterways is to WIN. There can be no posture and no option for an “also-ran”; or “good as clean”, or “as well as can be expected”. In this fight we either win or we lose. Winning is the only option for the survival of our species. Lip service is not good enough. Action and deeds only will suffice. There is no such thing as almost clean water. Clean water is in the end, the only kind of water worth having—and the stakes are incredibly high.

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