The Chesapeake Bay watershed can be restored and the Chesapeake 2000 goals met by the 2010 deadline. That is a statement you do not hear very much any more. Many Bay advocates are becoming discouraged—even those in the government agencies who are working daily on Bay restoration.
We need to take a page from some of the dedicated volunteers in the Chesapeake Bay environmental movement. One of them, Charlie Conklin, recently received the Ellen Fraites Wagner Award from the Chesapeake Bay Trust for his outstanding contributions as a volunteer to Bay and river restoration. Let me share some of Charlie’s thoughts from his acceptance speech.
“How do I feel about the restoration effort?
“Having had the experience of working with a variety of conservation organizations and committees, from the Tributary Strategies, Rural Legacy, Soil Conservation Districts to the Dredge Materials Management Program by the Port Administration, and witnessing the breadth of conservation measures being implemented, I can say that, while I may not be totally optimistic, I am more than hopeful that we will be seeing major accomplishments in the next five years.
“This will occur mainly in the area of wastewater treatment plant upgrades and the implementation of agricultural BMPs (Best Management Practices), plus the many watershed restoration projects supported by the Chesapeake Bay Trust, the state and local agencies and watershed organizations.
“I live in Baltimore County, which has been identified as one of the top 20 Nature Friendly Communities in the country; so I see what is possible, from land use decisions to significant restoration accomplishments.
“As for citizen engagement, we need to learn from the results of the Chesapeake Bay Program survey done two years ago.
“First, make it personal. How does pollution directly affect me? This is where education and communication comes in, from Chesapeake Classrooms and Green Schools to the Bay Journal and the Chesapeake Bay Program.
“Second, make it doable. What positive impact can my actions really have? This is where the Chesapeake Bay Trust comes in—as well as local watershed organizations—providing opportunities for engagement.
“As for education and communication, particularly for those outside of the choir—we need to engage in what is referred to as the “double loop” learning process where issues are openly discussed, divergent views identified; basically to educate by listening and understanding rather than advocating.
“And, I may ask in both communication and education – what is the product or message? A restored Bay? As a respected naturalist retired from [the Maryland Department of Natural Resources], Nick Carter wrote ‘we have done a very poor job of selling our product referring to the conservation that we believe in. We have sold it as something pleasurable and desirable, as an amenity when, in fact, what we are attempting to preserve is the basis for life of all creatures on Earth, on which we rely for our very existence.’
“From a political perspective, as Michael Creighton wrote in his book, “State of Fear,” in referring to the environment, “nothing is more ill-served by allegiance to a single party.” Translated: Don’t politicize the environment.
“And lastly, learning from Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “Tipping Point,” behavioral changes can be affected in large masses of people when the message is carried by a few influential individuals. In all due respect to those here this evening , we need a Big Message Carrier—and not the Internet.
“What do you think would happen if a Cal Ripkin, a Gary Jobson, or a Bono—recently named person of the year—were out there selling our product? Telling the story that what we are preserving in the long run is the Chesapeake quality of life for our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Would not a high-profile spokesperson like that raise the profile of Bay issues in the eyes of the public and our political leaders?”
Those words from Charlie Conklin are thoughtful and inspiring. And Charlie is right. We know the science, we have the technology, we have developed the plans, and the financial resources are well within the means of the United States and regional economy.
Our greatest job now is one of marketing and positioning to motivate both the public and our political leaders to make the Chesapeake Bay a priority. If the Chesapeake Bay is a national treasure, we should treat it like one and invest the necessary resources.
It is only by working together, that we can finish the job.