Chapter 1 / Sharing Stories
Intro: Courtney Chew
Research and words: Hannah Chew
The oceans are our muse, our energy, our source of oxygen, nourishment, healing. Our ecosystem of life. Our Oceans, our Planet Blue.
Over the years we have used our channels to learn and share awareness of this body that emotionally and physically connects us. Welcome to OCIN Viewpoints — our ocean awareness project designed to help us dive deeper into learning and connecting with this magnificent ecosystem, together.
Originally content designed for our socials, we decided to compile everything to share online here with you. You'll find content to spark curiosity about our oceans, inspire action, and celebrate one of the largest ecosystems that surrounds us, connects us, and gives us life.
What makes up the ocean? How are we connected to water?
It makes up 70% of the Earth’s surface. 97% of the Earth’s water supply. More than half of the oxygen that sustains life on the planet.
Quick facts about the ocean:
• Around 50% of the US lies beneath the ocean
• The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest living structure
• Rivers and lakes can form beneath the ocean
• The Pacific Ocean contains around 25,000 islands
We could go on and on about the sheer vastness of our oceans, but what is it that makes them vital to almost every aspect of our lives?
How the ocean regulates our climate
Our oceans are responsible for continuously exchanging heat, moisture, and carbon with the atmosphere to regulate climate. Oceans absorb solar radiation, releasing the heat required to drive atmospheric circulation.
In total, our oceans store more heat in its uppermost 3 meters than the entire atmosphere.
Home to millions
The oceans house millions of plants and animals, from microscopic single-celled organisms to the giant blue whale, the Earth’s largest animal.
There is so much unknown, with only 228,000 identified species. One thing that’s for sure is that these creatures depend on the climate and overall health of the ocean to survive.
60% of the average human is composed of water. We are built with water and made of water; we drink it in order to survive, and it is vital to the life of every cell in our bodies.
Our connection to water is a huge part of our existence. On a primitive level lies the sense of calm we feel when we hear the sound of waves, or see the sun setting over the ocean. This describes a biological response called The “Blue Mind” Effect.
The Blue Mind Effect
When we are near, in, on, or under water, we relax and a different brain network activates.
But what is it about water that provides a rest for our brains?
When we are surrounded by a natural environment, specifically those involving water, there is a high level of predictability. Unlike a busy street, for the most part, water is largely the same from moment to moment. As our brains relax in response to the controlled background, they notice disturbances (like a wave or a boat in the distance) causing a release of dopamine. The repetitive sounds of water are a form of white noise, soothing the mind and distracting us from rumination.
Even the color of water plays an important role in stress reduction. As the world’s most favored color amongst men and women, blue is associated with feelings of calm, serenity, and tranquility.
In the presence of water we are able to experience something special and difficult to access in our busy lives – regularity without monotony.
The Marine Economy
The ocean system is an often overlooked and vital structure for the circulation of goods that support our economy and has led to globalization.
These bodies of water work in so many ways to maintain our economy. People travel from all over the world to see the beaches of Bali or the Great Barrier Reef.
Our oceans are also the main source of protein for about one billion people worldwide. More than 200 million people fish for a living.
Our Life and the Ocean
As humans, we are dependent on the ocean in order to survive. But the truth is that we look to these vast bodies of water for so much more – comfort, peace of mind, livelihoods, and memories are all born out of our oceans.
When we look at a map of the world, we see all of the continents floating in a unified ocean; we are not separated by water, it is what connects us. Recognizing that the ocean’s health is our health is the first step in understanding how we can protect where we play, an idea we’ll explore next week with our Bullet Note on what is threatening our oceans.
“We are water – we come from water and when the water is sick – we are sick. Water is the blood of Mother Earth, everything is connected.” - Autumn Peltier “Water Warrior”, Anishinaabe-kwe and a member of the Wiikwemkoong First Nation, Youth Climate and Water Activist
How are we impacting the ocean?
With the burden of responsibility carried by the oceans, we should be helping and not harming. Human activity affects nearly all parts of the ocean.
We are seeing this with:
• The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (now grown to the size three times the size of France, with a position on the UN)
• Microplastics that are impacting our tap water and the seafood we eat
• Toxic chemicals bio magnifying up the food chain, becoming more and more potent
• Greenhouse gas emissions slowing ocean currents, contributing to accelerated global warming (the oceans are our climate regulators)
• Warmer oceans affecting our food supply chain, as many species cannot survive higher than usual temperatures4
Overfishing threatening extinction of species vital to the marine ecosystem5
Our actions work in a vicious cycle, where our impact on the oceans leads right back to a negative impact on us. The ocean’s health is our health, and we have to protect that.
When we think of climate change and its causes, the burning of fossil fuels and the “greenhouse effect” are major points of discussion. But what exactly is impacted by these phenomena? It may come as a surprise that our oceans play a vital role when looking at the impacts of climate pollution.
In total, our oceans store more heat in its uppermost 3 meters than the entire atmosphere. In the last 200 years, the oceans have absorbed a third of the CO2 produced by human activities and 90% of the extra heat trapped by the rising concentration of greenhouse gases.
If we reach a tipping point, we will likely see more extreme weather events, changing ocean currents, rising sea levels and temperatures, and melting of sea ice and ice sheets—all of which aggravate the negative impacts of overfishing, illegal fishing, pollution, and habitat degradation.
With pollution at an all time high, if we continue down the path we’re headed, the ocean may not be our’s to enjoy for much longer.
Imagine what it would be like if our beaches became an extension of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, or our seafood became toxic to the point of being inedible. So many activities we love – swimming, surfing, sailing, and diving – are all jeopardized.
Is this the future we want for ourselves, our kids, and the generations that come after us?
Where does all the plastic go
Plastic production has increased about 200-fold since 1950.8
But where does it all go?
Until recently, a majority of the world’s plastic waste was being shipped to China to be repurposed. With the imposition of the China Waste Ban, halting all imported waste, countries are now trying to find ways to recycle their own plastic.
The reality is that not all plastic can be recycled. Only about 9% of all plastic is recycled because it either goes straight to waste or is unable to be sorted as a high value plastic.10 Products that feature non-recyclable labels, caps or wrapping are automatically sent to landfills. Your chip bags, candy wrappers, and plastic wrap will stay piling up in landfills, along the coastlines of our cities, in the stomachs of our animals, and breaking down into micro plastics in our oceans.
Synthetic vs. Biobased
Nowadays, we are seeing a shift towards biobased plastics, derived from renewable compounds such as vegetable fats and starches.
But don’t be fooled! Natural compounds do not necessarily equate to ‘eco-friendly’.
Plastic made from plants typically follow the same chain as regular petroleum products. The important distinction to make here is between biobased and biodegradable. Biobased simply means that the plastic is made from a renewable source, while biodegradable describes the breakdown of organic matter through exposure to microorganisms. All plastics will eventually biodegrade, though the rate of degradation varies on an exponential scale, with many taking up to 1,000 years with nowhere to go in the meantime. While biobased plastic discourages investment in the petroleum space, it is important to consider other factors, such as biodegradability and manufacturing when looking at its sustainability.
The Plastic Life Cycle
When plastic is ‘recycled’, high value materials are either sorted or incinerated. As plastic is burnt, toxins and carcinogens are released into the atmosphere. As plastic is sorted, the process of creating flakes to be washed, melted, and cut into reusable pellets, is also showing to be a poor alternative with all of the chemicals involved.
Bottom line, recycling is not the desirable option. No matter what we try, there is no way to recycle our way out of plastic pollution.
“We need to start being proactive – look at the plastic that you use in your everyday life. If we don’t address the start of the problem, we’re forever going to be cleaning. We need to turn off the tap to plastic.” - Kahi Pacarro, Director Parley, Founder Sustainable Coastlines Hawai‘i
The Ocean.. .It's the blue heart of the planet — we should take care of our heart. It's what makes life possible for us.
Why protecting our oceans means also protecting our coastal cities and fighting for social justice.
Our oceans, our coastal cities, and intersectional environmentalism.
“Stopping climate change is hard enough, but racism only makes it harder” – Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson
What is Environmental Racism?
Environmental Racism refers to the ways that waste, pollution, and the climate crisis disproportionately impact Black people, Indigenous Peoples, and other people of color. Segregation of ethnic minorities in dangerous jobs, increased likelihood of being exposed to hazardous waste, and a lack of access to environmental amenities (e.g. parks and playgrounds) are just a few examples of environmental racism in action.
Fossil-fueled power plants, refineries, landfills and other toxic waste locations inexplicably fall along racial lines in our communities. When we recognize that climate change is not simply an environmental issue, but a humanitarian crisis, the interconnectedness of the systems at play becomes clear. The same systems that have enslaved, oppressed, and murdered Black people for centuries continue to perpetuate environmental injustice today.3
Facts about Environmental Racism
• In the US, more than 55% of those that live within 3km of hazardous waste facilities are people of color.
• 40% of people who live critically close to hazardous chemical facilities are Black or Latinx
• Black people are exposed to 50% more air pollution than white people
• Communities with more people of color are 40% more likely to have unlawfully unsafe drinking water.
Pollution also disproportionately impacts poor communities, specifically in coastal cities, where communities rely heavily on the water around them.
With petrochemical houses located in these areas, where does all the waste and pollution go?
Most contaminants enter the ocean from surrounding land through rivers, estuaries and coastal areas. With the highest concentrations of contaminants found along coastlines, many ecosystems and communities are irreversibly damaged. To put this in perspective, around 50 million gallons a day of discharge into estuaries in a part of Texas, alone.
Of more than 8600 chemicals recognized in the USA, only 187 are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency for pollution. Because of this, these chemicals build up and lead to detrimental health side effects, including childhood leukemia, lack of motor skills, developmental issues, and cancer.
Trans Mountain Pipeline
For us, these issues hit close to home.
95% of British Columbia is ancestral and unceded traditional territories of Indigenous Peoples. The Trans Mountain pipeline, carrying 300,000 barrels of crude oil daily, has forcefully intruded its way into the homes and lives of countless Indigenous peoples. Many oil spills leave thousands of oil waste in our oceans.
Who is left to clean up the mess? What happens to our drinking water? How is air quality affected?
We all need to play our part, and with time and persistence we will see change. With the Trans Mountain pipeline, there was a recent resolution that the Atlantic coast pipeline will be cancelled – another step in the right direction that is a direct result of strength together and activism.
This brings us to the movement that is bridging the gap between people and climate: Intersectional Environmentalism.
Popularized by climate activist, Leah Thomas, Intersectional Environmentalism is an inclusive version of environmentalism that advocates for the protection of both our communities and the Earth. It aims to identify the ways in which injustices happening to marginalized communities and the Earth are interconnected.
Being an Intersectional Environmentalist is a show of support for humanity. It advocates for justice for people and the planet, and recognizes that one cannot be achieved without the other.8
“The systems that are oppressing Mother Nature are also the systems that are oppressing people, mainly minorities. Social Justice is climate justice is racial justice.” - Sophia Li @sophei for Slow Factory Slow Talks June 2020
Articles We Love
Intersectional Environmentalism Reading List
• Why Every Environmentalist Should Be Anti-Racist by Leah Thomas (https://www.vogue.com/article/why-every-environmentalist-should-be-anti-racist)
“I’ve stood beside white environmentalists during climate protests, but I’ve felt abandoned by my community during acts of unjustifiable violence toward Black and Brown people. I’ve had enough.”
• Climate Activists: Here’s Why Your Work Depends on Ending Police Violence by Dany Sigwalt (https://medium.com/@danysigwalt/climate-activists-heres-why-your-work-depends-on-ending-police-violence-fa1a76cf8c6f)
“ To win on climate, we have to challenge and upend the power structures that have allowed the behemoth of state violence and racial injustice.”
• I’m a black climate expert. Racism derails our efforts to save the planet. By Ayana Elizabeth Johnson (https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2020/06/03/im-black-climate-scientist-racism-derails-our-efforts-save-planet/)
• Black Environmentalists Talk About Climate and Anti-Racism by Somini Sengupta (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/03/climate/black-environmentalists-talk-about-climate-and-anti-racism.html)
“Success is measured by the improvement in the environmental and economic health of the people who have borne the brunt of our carbon economy”
Some Organizations to Support in this work of Intersectional Environmentalism
• Urban Ocean Lab – https://urbanoceanlab.org/
A think tank dedicated to developing solutions for coastal cities, founded by marine biologist Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson.
• Earth Justice – https://earthjustice.org/
A nonprofit public interest environmental law organization committed to combating climate change.
• Indigenous Environmental Network – https://www.ienearth.org/
An alliance of Indigenous peoples with a mission to protect the Earth from contamination and exploitation by strengthening and upholding Indigenous teachings.
• Sunrise Movement – https://www.sunrisemovement.org/
An organization building an army of young people to create millions of good jobs and stop climate change in the process.
• The Slow Factory - https://www.slowfactory.foundation
A non-profit organization founded by Céline Semaan focused on sharing and leading equity-centered education, inspiring sustainability literacy and knowledge for all, through open education, virtual conferences, and Incubator programs.
“The biggest challenge we face is shifting human consciousness, not saving the planet. The planet doesn’t need saving, we do...It’s this mindset of destruction and of greed – that is tearing apart our planet … we have to remember that we are all indigenous to this Earth and that we are all connected. We are being called upon to use our courage, our innovation, our creativity, and our passion, to bring forth a new world.” - Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, Environmental Activist and youth director of Earth Guardians
What can we do as a community?
As a collective, the first step in systemic change is rethinking the legislation surrounding consumption and manufacturing. We have already seen many countries banning single-use plastics. Such policies create a domino effect, forcing multinational policies to change harmful practices and consumers to follow suit. These bans will not solve our plastic problem but will encourage a shift in the societal mindset towards plastic and waste as a whole.
What can you do as an individual?
Changing legislation is a complex process that will take time, money, and unity. As individuals, the act of voting is vital to the health of our planet. With US elections coming up, we need to elect leaders that actively embrace environmental protection policies. Under the current administration, 100’s of environmental standards, regulatory requirements, and policies aimed to slow climate change have been revoked.1 Can our planet afford another four years of an administration that denies climate change?
On an everyday basis, we can also vote with our wallets, being mindful of the people and companies that we support everyday. Take a moment to read the policies of your political candidates and where they stand on climate protection - what are their proposals for new offshore oil rigs? How do they stand on the production of new plastics or the creation of new marine protected areas?
It only takes a few minutes and can make all the difference.
As we move into a new way of living and interacting we still need to be mindful of continuing the progress we had created. Simple actions, such as bringing a reusable bag while shopping or sourcing a reusable cloth mask, are steps we can take right now as we adjust to a new normal.
When we shop from multinational corporations, it can enable a culture of excess packaging and waste. Supporting local businesses, such as farmer’s markets and artisans, will encourage centralized systems and supply chains.
Reasons to support local businesses:
• Small businesses represent about 54.2% of the economic output produced by the business sector
• Competition and diversity leads to increased consumer choices and lower prices over the long term
• Competition and diversity leads to increased consumer choices and lower prices over the long term
• Non-profits receive greater support, as local businesses donate more to charities than non-local owners
What small businesses come to mind that need your support? How are these businesses doing their part to reduce their impact? And how can you do your part to help them out?
Zero waste living
What is zero waste?
Simply put, zero waste living aims to reduce landfill-bound waste to a bare minimum. Each Canadian generates approximately 2.7 kg of garbage every single day. With the Half-Earth movement, encouraging the notion that half of all land must be kept in a natural state to protect the earth by 2030, zero waste living could be the solution that changes everything.
Don’t worry though, we’re not perfect either. A complete zero waste lifestyle may not be a viable option for you, but that doesn’t mean that we cannot try.
Quick tips for zero waste living:
• Turn old sheets and pillowcases into produce bags
• Use reusable tote bags instead of plastic bags
• Patch your clothes when they rip, or take them to a seamstress
• Think second-hand first when purchasing something
• Try to borrow items that you will only use once from friends
• Invest in a multi use insulated tumbler
• Use newspaper to line trash cans
• Use bar soaps instead of liquid
• Shop bulk where you can
• Reuse glass jars for your plants
Repurposing waste so we can keep them out of our oceans
Of course the best case scenario is to use no plastic at all. For us at OCIN, we’ve tried our best to limit and eliminate plastic consumption where we can, from using plant-based polybags, reusable wrapping, and fabric made of 100% regenerable and recycled nylon yarns, made from discarded waste and fishing nets from our oceans. However, sometimes this is not possible in our day-to-day and we end up with plastic packaging or containers. Here are a few ways to upcycle your plastic containers.
1. Repurpose laundry detergent bottles into watering cans
2. Use plastic bottles for kitchen storage
3. Make a plastic bottle planter
4. Create a recycled bird feeder
5. Reuse bubble wrap and plastic bags from online orders
6. Wash and reuse takeout containers for meals on the go
How else can we protect the ocean?
With overfishing being the biggest threat to our oceans currently it is important to diversify your seafood diet and eat lower down on the food chain5
Be mindful of the ingredients in household products, such as detergents and soaps, that could end up in the ocean
When using sunscreen, avoid oxybenzone and octinoxate, chemicals known to contribute to coral bleaching6
Take part in experiences, like beach clean ups, that will allow you to see the issues firsthand and put you face-to-face with the dire situation that we are working with
Sign petitions to ban single use plastics and increase ocean conservation funding
Get curious and become aware of what is going on around the oceans, both locally and globally
Find community in local ocean conservation communities
Finding community in local non-profits and ocean conservation organizations that inspire us, is one of our favourite ways to keep us connected to our oceans, maintain awareness about ocean health, and hold us accountable for things we can do together, like participating in or even leading beach clean ups. Research some organizations in your area and join the committee or volunteer to help!
“People ask: Why should I care about the ocean? Because the ocean is the cornerstone of Earth's life support system, it shapes climate and weather. It holds most of life on Earth. 97% of Earth’s water is there. It's the blue heart of the planet — we should take care of our heart. It's what makes life possible for us. We still have a really good chance to make things better than they are. They won't get better unless we take the action and inspire others to do the same thing. No one is without power. Everybody has the capacity to do something.” ― Dr. Sylvia A. Earle
Read more about the team at Sustainable Coastline’s Hawai ‘i in our interview on our Magazine with Executive Director Rafael Bergstrom https://www.ocin.co/blogs/collective-features/sustainable-coastlines-hawaii
The Story of Plastic, a 2019 documentary directed by Deia Schlosberg. - www.storyofplastic.org
The Story of Plastic, a 2019 documentary directed by Deia Schlosberg.