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.

United We Stand?

Posted by Fred Tutman.

In our Bay preservation movement there some among us are deeply committed to compatible ideals and to the environment but lack the momentum or body politic to communicate their views clearly or beyond the narrow subset of environmentalism they represent. We are often divided within—as much by interest group as by our vision of what winning actually looks like. Such of our subsets are just not mainstream enough by orientation to communicate comfortably with those outside their own choir, but we include them by reference in order to swell our ranks. Truthfully, these are folks who have a smaller (but important) vision not always shared by all.

These include the folks working on trees, or stormwater, population control, or invasive species, climate change, or some particular area or subject matter that comprises a smaller subset of the overall community but it’s cadre of proponents are looking for ways to capture the momentum of the rest of the movement so that at least some attention will be paid to the thing they care most about. Often these people gravitate to broader “coalitions” not because they share the same specific aims but because they fear their own issue will be excluded and they want opportunities to educate the rest of us. It makes for dysfunctional coalitions that we fail to recognize these distinctions.

Meanwhile, notwithstanding, in our zeal to gain “power” for the environmental cause, some of our best and most potent strategic initiatives tend to be wasted on those who do not need to be or cannot ever be convinced. This includes squandering our time trying to lobby at least some players who are being either paid to hold a point of view or whose political or other self interest cannot possibly ever (ever) align with our goals. This holds true even while we waste our time arguing with people who either are not opinion leaders or decision makers (such as trying to convince the lawyers representing our opponents), or others who lack the good faith to even listen to us with an open mind (they don’t want to be convinced). Sadly, in such cases we find ourselves not only failing to impress upon our potential allies the relevance of our arguments, but we steadily erode any respect they might have for us by heaping fresh misunderstandings upon old. Worse, many of our ranks refuse to confront that we have opponents at all, as they persistently (and in futility) seek to “educate” our adversaries or make new “friends” for our cause hoping such targets will voluntarily change their behavior. Sometimes this as unlikely as a leopard changing its spots. Some support a clean Bay as long as they personally don’t have to change their behavior or how they make money.

So when it comes to our cause movement we suffer collectively from egregious confusions about who is as plausible ally, who is a fox and who is a hen, who shares or goals versus who just wants to extend the debate…for as long as possible. This presents a genuine conflict between our tactics and our achievable aims. It reflects genuine confusion amongst us about what we hope to accomplish as an end game and which course to take. In the end we generally fail to broker sufficient power in order to really win the sort of battles we must in order to create the world and the environment we want.

The coalition of interests that banded together in order to forge the 25 planks is just such a coalition seeking to change the culture of our tactics. It includes people with diversified knowledge and training and represents the spectrum of stakeholder from the private and public vantage points who have deliberated to envision a common set of goals and tactics. The composition of the group decidedly inclusive of many walks in order to present the widest possible reach. The group in all respects reflecting people who are plausible in their particular walks and while it includes many people formerly in public service the group is non-governmental and apolitical.

It is a forum where “farmers” and “Waterkeepers” sit at the same table and try to solve problems that have enormous gravity as far as the future of the bay and of the regional economy. It is a forum where no holds are barred in debate, but where all are bound by the good faith understanding that we sink or swim together. That while any of us can be right, we cannot do so by making others among us wrong. The group represents the very soul of consensus organized around reasoned self interest. The senior bay scientists and policymakers group is by no means a perfect forum, but it is the only one I am familiar with working on clean water where the problems of the bay are discussed not from the standpoint of dogma but from a sense of reality that the waterways are in trouble and if we continue on the same course, we are likely to produce future failures.

As the economy suffers and resource allocation problems intensify, perhaps if we cannot find new sources of money to solve these problems that have vexed us for decades then perhaps it is time to look to a fresh supply of new ideas and new (better) tactics.

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