Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Point Reyes, Drakes Bay Oyster Farm, Feinstein and the Koch Brothers

A few weeks ago the Drakes Oyster farm in Point Reyes California had exhausted pretty much all of it’s options for survival. The U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, denied the California oyster farm a renewal on their lease with the National government. The decision also mandated that the company and it’s employees had 90 days to pack up their operation and vacate the land. 

That is until the company sued the US government. for a restraining order on the decision and go on operating using arguments ranging from improper science to illegally not having enough time for public comment on the environmental reviews or the decision making process (even though a simple search finds many including his own).

I have worked on this issue since 2008, four years after the current owner Kevin Lunny bought the Oyster Farm and the remainder of the 40 year lease on the property. Over the years, and in a recent deluge, I  have heard all sorts of arguments on both sides of the Oyster Farm debate. Everything to it’s positive impact on the local economy and culture to the price of oysters to the company’s impact on the local environment the denials of the validity of that science, the reviews of those denials and the money wasted on that process. 

It was one of the first times I had seen such a divisive line between liberal leaning people. The debate split the wilderness conservationist from the localvore/micro-economists. The fight has also brought out of the woodwork free-market groups and even the Koch Brothers. Apparently the current non-profit, Cause of Action,  that is providing free legal service to the Oyster farm is headed by Dan Epstein, a former staffer for the Koch Brother’s Charitable Fund.

The work I did with the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin gave me a bit of a perspective on this issue that I feel the need to share. None of the previously mentioned issues (economic, local jobs, even negative environmental impact) are the pivotal point for me.

The lease in question was a 40 year non-renewable lease between the government and the owners of the farm and was set to lapse this year. As the title implies, a non-renewable lease is just that, set to terminate at a certain date and not be renewed.

Kevin Lunny knew this when he bought the farm from the previous owners and hit the ground running by petitioning members of the federal government like Congresswoman Diane Feinstein, who has been working on renewing the non-renewable lease for the past several years. There is no reason the owner should be “shocked” at this news, and should have made preparations for the 31 employees.

As Dr. Sylvia Earle elegantly put it:

For years, the oyster company's leasing deal has been honored by people of the country despite growing awareness of the immense benefits derived from protecting natural areas. Drakes Bay Oyster Company knew the limited terms of use when they bought the business seven years ago from the original owner. It is time for the new owners to honor this historic marine wilderness designation, and stop seeking special favors in order to derive financial gain at the expense of a national treasure.

To really understand what is happening you have to know the history. During the 1960’s and 70’s there was an expansion in the National Parks Service (NPS) and environmental protection laws. This included a law signed by President Kennedy in 1962 establishing a national seashore on the peninsula “to save and preserve, for purposes of public recreation, benefit, and inspiration, a portion of the diminishing seashore of the United States that remains undeveloped."

To make a compromise with ranchers and dairy farmers who were upset with their lands becoming protected lands, the federal government bought out the farms and leased the land back to them so the businesses could continue. In ‘72 the then owned Johnson’s Oyster Farm was bought by the government and a special non-renewable agreement was reached. The purpose of this agreement was to eventually allow the area to return to wilderness, area of land and water large enough to sustain biological diversity, which would be given the highest level of federal protection.  In 2004, a local rancher named Kevin Lunny bought the farm from Johnson and gambled on being able to break this government agreement. 

Salazar referenced the original "Congressional designation of Drakes Estero as "potential wilderness" in 1976, it intended the picturesque inlet to become full wilderness once the oyster farm's lease expired in 2012. Indeed, the only reason Congress didn't designate Drakes Estero as full wilderness in 1976 was because of the oyster farm, Salazar added."

While Congresswoman
Feinstein is “upset” at Ken Salazar’s decision,  it doesn’t change the fact that there is no legal reason to turn away from this contract and that by breaking this agreement, it can set a precedent to endanger protected lands in the future. That doesn’t seem like something a self described environmentalist should do. An interesting part of this story is that, had Feinstein not interfered with the process through an amendment to existing laws, there wouldn’t even have been a need to make a decision. The area would have just been forced to “return to wilderness” as per the original agreement.

This is the real point of this argument. It isn’ the economic one, or the 31 lost jobs or anything else. It is the precedent. The US government has never extended the lease of a “non-conforming commercial operation,” like Drakes Bay  oyster farm, on national parkland designated by Congress to become wilderness.If the deal can be broken and changed then there would be nothing  to stop logging, mining and other operations in similar situations in other states from continuing perpetually. You better believe that the conservative business movement and the Koch Brothers would love to see this gate opened.

There are plenty of links in this post, plenty of information. There have even been emotional youtube videos made for the Oyster Farm. I have stated my side, please read up on it and decide if having cheap local oysters on your plate is really worth opening this door.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The sky is not falling, the Ocean is rising.

The earth is plummeting away from normal patterns to a chaotic vortex of ever increasing 100 year events and catastrophic chemistry. The climate is changing and while we have been warned since 1990 and before, the global powers that be haven't done much to answer to Climate Change. We should have been preparing, on a global scale, for adaptation and, as part of that adaptation, moving away from our practices that are causing caustic changes on our climate. While we are working on our practice and awareness, as a global people on this blue marble we need to up our game.

I am not trying to be a downer here. Just trying to get your attention.

The latest installment of the United Nations Climate talks, COP18 happend last week. It ended 5 days ago actually. While all of the news was ablaze with Gangnam Style's rapper Psy saying something bad about America once or the White House and decriminalization of Pot or if two people have the right to express their love in the way they choose, the climate talk got little press.

Once again very little was accomplished that needed to be and a lot of groups, needless to say, are unhappy with the results.  While many of the top polluters were absent and some delegates spent the time arguing if prayer was important or not in climate change, an impassioned speech from the ambassador representing the Philippines rang dark tones in our memories of Mohamed Nasheed at Copenhagen.

For those who aren't familiar Mohamed Nasheed. you need to make yourself.

He was the President of the Maldives' and island nation with a culture centuries old and dealing with the fore-front of Climate Change and possibly doomed to be submerged soon. President Nasheed once highlighted this point in a very clever way, by holding a meeting underwater. Here is a clip of him on the Daily Show. After a long fight against the world on Climate Change, the president was ousted by a coup earlier this year and continuously arrested and harassed by police.

There is an amazing movie I had the pleasure of seeing at the BLUE Ocean film festival. When you have the chance you should watch it.

Nasheed was warning the world about ocean levels 3 years ago. and the need for us all to change our practices. While there were some efforts, many of the changes have yet to be made and the future of costal communities seems a little damp.

An easy way to get yourself a little freaked out here is to check out the sea rise map. It was put out by and housed on the Google Maps API. It is fairly straight forward and shows what the coastline will look like if the water level rises by a certain amount. Zoom in on San Francisco, or New York or any costal community and crank that baby up to 9.

Back in 2009 - the same year that Nasheed was trying to get attention on the issue, scientists were saying this is what the earth could look like in 100 years. Today, the rates seem to be quicker than that.

The issue of our rapidly rising ocean levels is only one of may frightening things out there. The facts are that arctic ice is at 50% below average and shrinking, ice loss is directly related to sea rise and that the loss of this "white ice" makes the process hotter and possibly faster is staggering.  Bill Mckibbin explains in a (previously mentioned I know, but it was SO GOOD) appearance on Real Time with Bill Maher

Now is the time to come together as a human species and try to deal with these issues and the root causes of Climate Change. Yet the powers that be aren't getting what needs to be done, done.

Why aren't we more upset about this? Why aren't we writing our UN representatives for action, or our Present or our State Representatives?  We, as a whole have bee acting like the frog being slowly boiled, ignoring that the water is getting hotter for a long time now.

Once again we need to remember that each of us out there has a responsibility to learn what we can aout how to curb climate change and inform others of the issues. We need to add to the dialogue and contact our representatives and let people know this needs to be addressed.

And while we can make preparations for adapting New York to be Venice 2.0 we also need to make the changes necessary . We need to be working with our non-profit agencies fighting the good fight but even more, we need apply pressure to our governments,  This needs to be done all the way from our local water districts to the President.

Van Jones, a man whose dedication to climate change and green tech is an inspiration to me, said it truthfully when he said that the Climate is the issue President Obama will be judged on but I would take it further, it is what this generation will be judged on.

Here is where we need to make the difference.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Marine Protected Areas

Currently there is an interesting conference put on by Wildaid happening in San Francisco, CA. It is covering the creation, management and best practices surrounding Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). The event will bring together a slew of experts and knowledgeable speakers and panelists to try and talk their way to solutions for the Ocean. For those unfamiliar with MPAs, they are like any nationally or state protected lands, save that they are in the ocean. The protected areas are designed to limit activities in those areas to protect the ecology, biological diversity and resources contained by those MPAs.

These areas have garnered much attention from the scientific community as a result of the work of Dr. Sylvia Earle, Mission Blue, and her prize winning TED talk. Her plan, as stated on her TED speakers page, is to "bring knowledge of our oceans to a wide audience and galvanize support in favor of marine protected areas."

Recently, film star Leonardo DiCaprio and his foundation worked tirelessly on trying to help create an arctic protection area including the creation and distribution of a well-signed internet petition. Mera McGrew, of Mission Blue, expounded on the importance of protecting the arctic and its ecosystem in an amazing post that was picked up by the Huffington Post.

These Marine protected areas have been shown to be effective when managed properly. Protected ocean areas not only harbor more fish, they "harbor older and bigger fish that can produce up to 200 times as many offspring as younger ones." These areas also create a "spillover effect" that increases the population of native species in areas around protected areas as well. The end goal is to create a network of protected areas that will mitigate our devistating effect on the ocean, its ecosystems and life.

The problem arises in MPAs that the Ocean is both fluid and open and the rights and responsibilities associated with marine territories changes not only depending on where you are on a coastline, but also how far out into international waters you go. While certain municipalities and state agencies can create protective measures, such as California earlier this year, entire countries such as China can create policies that are so loose and ineffective as to remove the concept of the area really being protected.

Another problem is the area being protected. For those who may be unaware, the Ocean makes up about 72% of the Earth's surface. According to the IUCN's World Database on Protected Areas and the associated 2010 document, "Global ocean protection : present status and future possibilities," there were approximately 6,800 MPAs around the world, about 1.17% of the global ocean area. This percentage, and how little it actually covers, becomes clear with the interactive map that NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) has put out.

Problems abound with MPAs. As stated on Wildaid's website for the event;

Currently, many MPAs are poorly managed and their scarce resources are being employed ineffectively. When MPA authorities are able to carry out patrols and apprehend a poacher, the perpetrator is rarely fined due to outdated laws, corruption, or nonexistent judicial follow-up. In addition, when vessels, personnel, and equipment are available, few are operative due to lack of routine maintenance.

Graeme Kelleher gives WildAid's Global Marine Protected Area Enforcement Conference keynote highlighting his experience running Australia's Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. Photo: Jenifer Foulkes
The hope here is that the congregation of Ocean experts can share their expertise on how to create change for more highly protected Oceans through advocacy and teaching better management techniques. What Wildaid should be doing here is reaching out to the caring public with more information and updates to this process. They need to get the people at home asking "what can we do?" and have some ready made answers available.

One of the quickest and easiest ways that you at home can help is to contact not only your congressperson, but also the House Oceans Caucus and the Senate Oceans Caucus.  We need to phone the offices of the members of these caucus' and let them know how important it is to create teeth for MPAs so that we may  be a shining beacon of protection for the Oceans.  The more people that express support for such effort the more fire we will light under the collective tuchus of Congresses' Ocean leadership.

I wish Wildaid and their conference attendees the best of luck in their efforts but let's do our part at home and, above all else, pay attention to what is happening.

Monday, November 12, 2012

South Park and the Sea

***Caveat! harsh language and subjects in the links***

Anyone associated with the ocean who also is a fan of the television show South Park may have noticed something recently about their program; there have been many mentions of the ocean, ocean conservation and ocean news. It is no secret that South has kept a political note in its lampooning of modern events. Episodes have covered subjects from protecting forests to Climate Change to freeing sea-park animals to ocean exploration to co-opting native cultures. You can find a few lists here and there of the "top green episodes" from places like Mother Nature Network but most recently these episodes have had a very ocean-centric feel. South Park is not always in gung-ho support of environmental issues and their messaging.

In one episode they poked fun at Al Gore for his fear of Climate Change and global warming with the invention of "Man-Bear-Pig." Another episode relating to smog and Climate Change lampoons the eco-minded drivers of hybrids as the leading causers of "Smug" which destroys San Francisco in the show. While the South Park creators have not been pulling punches on the eco-minded, they have definitely been bringing some awareness to ocean news and eco-awareness.

One of the most prominent episodes to deal with environmental awareness and climate change was through an allegory of head lice. In this episode head lice on the scalp of a character named Clyde become aware of changes in their natural environment. In this scene, an environmentally aware louse tries to inform the Climate Change denying "President" of the lice.

Eventually the environment, in this case Clyde, changes by introducing substances caustic to the lice in the form of shampoo. Through some harrowing events, back stabbing and the help of a wayward fly the environmentally conscious lice and a few others flee to a more hospitable environment. There they decide to "live more in tune with nature."


A friend pointed out to me that I was missing a few KEY segment from the show's 14th season relating to the BP oil spill in the gulf. In two episodes, the show goes after the Oil and Energy company's horrible record of reckless drilling in Ocean areas and their "Oops, we are sorry" campaign.

The creators of South Park again point to the hypocrisy of a company whose only solutions that they can come up to for the problems they create are to apologize then drill again.


It is hard to forget that Parker and Stone have covered ocean issues in earlier episodes. In one episode titled "Whale Whores" the character Stan discovers the harm being done by the "Japanese" to the Whale and Dolphin populations and decides to do something about it. He decides to join Sea Shepherd.

The fact that Parker and Stone hate the show Whale Wars is pretty clear from the episode and while others may claim that South Park is no friend to the environment and the cause, I am not so sure. In an interview with the pair and a Huffington Post Reporter they state:
We did a show last season called 'Whale Whores' about the 'Whale Wars' guys. Everyone is against whaling, we're not into killing whales, but if you watch ['Whale Wars'] it's horrible--super f*cking boring--and if you watch that show for long enough you will hate the people in it. They say on the show, 'We will lie for our political ends.' They SAY that. So our whole show was basically, 'F*ck you, you guys are liars.' I don't f*cking care if it's in service of saving whales, you're liars. But we got a thank you letter from them and an environmental award. There's NOTHING about the environment in that show...but it doesn't matter, everyone sees their own thing in it. So a lot of our shows where even we think we've taken a very deliberate stand, liberals say, 'That's awesome, you took on the conservatives' same show and conservatives say 'That's awesome, you took on liberals.'
Sea Shepherd is an organization whose goals and membership are to be lauded but South Park's main point was that it was a terrible show and did not portray the organization well. In episode in question, the issue of dolphin and whale killing is not what Parker and Stone are against, it is the smugness and the hypocrisy shown by the Sea Shepherd organization in the poorly created and executed show associated with them. The fact of the matter is that the character Stan actually takes over the organization, steps up the guerrilla methodology of the organization, keeps honest and true and creates an impact. In the episode the boys of South Park through manipulation actually solve the issue. Captain Paul Watson, who in the episode gets a harpoon to the head, actually lauded the episode and what it did for the movement;
This particular episode of South Park titled “Whale Whores” slams the Japanese culture, but it also takes shots at American culture. It smacks down vegans and meat eaters alike, it ridicules Larry King, myself and my crew, unleashes Godzilla on the cowardly whalers, sniggers at the Hiroshima bombing, massacres the Miami Dolphins, firebombs and sinks the Nisshin Maru, kamikazes the Steve Irwin, kills off my crew, wipes out the whalers, mocks television, bitch slaps the crew of the Deadliest Catch, and does all this in a mere twenty minutes of way over the top violence, racism, sexism, and every kind of politically correct ism there is in an perverse orgy of slapstick humor supporting a ridiculously silly plotline that these pathetically successful evil geniuses manage to pull off in their particularly nasty minded manner. 
In other words- it was frigging great!
One episode from the current season reveals that Butters is a "native Hawaiian." Anyone familiar with the show knows that Butters and his parents are not native Pacific Islanders. The entire episode pokes fun at "white" people who have live on the islands or vacationed there for a year or two calling themselves "native" and having disdain for the "haoles" (a pejorative term to refer to outsiders of the Hawaiian culture) and rely on "Chi-chis" for strength.

The "native" Hawaiians fight against the US government when the local resorts refuse to honor their club cards and bonus points, again pointing out the silliness of the situation they are lampooning. While this is possibly a reaction to the recent Clooney movie, the Descendants, the creators of South Park are drawing attention to the plight of the Pacific Islander culture in a round about way. It is a relatively accurate portrait of a culture that, through a history of forced oppression, forced abandonment and forced assymilation is dissapearing and being coopted in a shadow of its former glory by the "new natives" made up almost entirely of "haoles."

In one particular episode from this most season that deals with our cultures standards on entertainment and self-shame, the creators of South Park imply directly that James Cameron is "raising the bar" for American culture. How does he do this? Through physically raising an unseen "bar" through his Deepsea explorer.

Many fans of South Park out there may not even have been aware of Cameron's dive to the bottom of the Marianas Trench and though there is a little poking fun at Cameron's ego, Stone and Parker give implied credit to Cameron for literally raising the bar of American culture.

Why so much about the ocean? Is it the luck of the draw? The fact that after 16 seasons you are bound to pick up on ocean issues? Is it because they are from Colorado, a haven for ocean advocacy and events like making waves? One cannot be too sure but it is an interesting fact that this subject is so frequent.

Perhaps the ocean has a secret friend in the pair, or maybe it is just random coincidence. We may never know till we hear from those two inappropriate misanthropes.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Sandy, Climate Change and the Campaign

The destruction of gale winds and mountains of water has hit the east coast and the hearts and minds of America are with them. Causing countless damage to property and industry through the loss of power to businesses this is going to be a big hit to America and the East Coast. There are many ways to donate and help out, even apps dedicated to it. Organizations like RadioShack and the Yankees are putting forward huge funds towards the cause.

Technically this is what is known as a 100-year-event. In legislation and science this refers to an event where these extreme conditions statistically, would only reoccur every 100 years. It doesn't mean it can't happen two years in a row, just that it is unlikely. As the USGS puts it;
The term "100-year flood" is used in an attempt to simplify the definition of a flood that statistically has a 1-percent chance of occurring in any given year. Likewise, the term "100-year storm" is used to define a rainfall event that statistically has this same 1-percent chance of occurring. In other words, over the course of 1 million years, these events would be expected to occur 10,000 times. But, just because it rained 10 inches in one day last year doesn't mean it can't rain 10 inches in one day again this year. 
If you recall Katrina, that was also considered a 100-year event as was Irene. These are occurring with more and more frequency. As Andrew Cuomo put it, "We have a 100-year flood every two years now."

This is an unfortunate time for such a tragedy and possibly holds a little morbid irony. There has been a lot of discussion surrounding Sandy and the possibility that it was caused by climate change. The general consensus amongst scientists is while one cannot blantantly say that the storm was caused by Climate Change, changes in the environement and the Earth's climate has altered the background conditions over which these events occur. These elements can be linked to unusual size and intensity of Sandy. The real effect of climate change here is that we are probably going to have more of our normally occurring storms and weather; floods, hurricanes, droughts, blizzards, they will all intensify. We need to get prepared for more 100 year events.

The ironic part of this whole situation is that there was one subject that was not mentioned during any of the presidential debates, first time in a generation. Mitt Romney even scoffed at the whole premise of climate change mitigation at the RNC. While the President may be slightly concerned that the missing conversation topic. this issue not being at the forefront of the political discourse is unacceptable. The prevalence of climate deniers is frightening.

A a society, we must not forget that these weather and climate issues are something that will continue. We will need to deal with and curb as best we can. Earlier in the month founder appeared on Real Time with Bill Maher the same day that he had a Panel at SXSW Eco. This was the same panel where I asked the "Why is Climate Change and resource protection a bi-partisan issue?" While on Real Time, McKibben straight-talks a climate change denial question from Mark Foley.

The good thing is that the conversation seems to be moving in the right direction. On a congressional level, this morning Senator Bernie Sanders came out with a blog post called "It's Global Warming, Stupid" referring to the current language describing Sandy as "Weather on Steroids."

Romney has backed off of his earlier comments about removing Federal Assistance for disasters and giving that responsibility to the states. Hey has now given praise to FEMA, which has not escaped the attention of the press.

Even on Fox New's programming, where climate change deniers have basically free reign, the final word is given to a scientist listing off factors that raised the bar for Sandy from climate change. It is sad that it takes a hurricane to make us remember issues like climate change and that climate change deniers are "denying reality" but the truth of the matter is that there is still a huge lack of foresight regarding climate mitigation and preparation. Programs like FEMA are a national insurance to prepare for these events and we, as a country, will need to invest more heavily as events like these will continue to occur with increasing intensity.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Problem with Polling and the Beauty of the Free Market

Yesterday Gallup released the latest poll related to the Presidential election happening in a matter of a few weeks. One of, if not the, most trusted sources of polling data and information has the Republican challenger Mitt Romney ahead in the polls by %6-7. Even though they had recently changed their polling methods to be more accurate, there are naturally many who reject the initial implication of this result or argue to Gallup's inherent neutrality.

As a policy wonk it is usually frustrating to see the media swarm like piranha on new polls that get released, either ripping it to shreds or worshiping it as the end-all be-all source of pundit nourishment.

First, we all need to calm down about these results. They are a representation of only a portion of the registered voters and, like any poll, is an estimant of current sentiment. No poll is perfect, it is guess work of taking a "statistically representative sample of a population" and everything can go wrong from biased phrasing, to poor computer mocks to sampling error.

It really all comes down to statistics and statistics have patterns and can be skewed. On one hand, as noted by the New York Times' 538 blog, the poll results provided by Gallup are "deeply inconsistent with the results that other polling firms are showing in the presidential race, and the Gallup poll has a history of performing very poorly when that is the case."

On the other hand, other predictive models with higher performance numbers as indicators are swinging the other way. This includes everything from other polls, the illustrious "7-11 cup poll," and the prediction markets.

Prediction Markets can easily be described as an online gambling forum where people bet on the likelihood of outcomes. People come to these websites, mainly in other countries since there are legal issues in the United States, and bet on events creating "market prices". Like commodities markets, the current market prices can then be interpreted as predictions of the probability of the event or the expected value of the parameter.

One such prediction market is a site known as Intrade and they explain how it works on their site;
Stock exchanges find the price of stocks, and futures markets find the price of commodities. Prediction markets find the probability of something happening - a predefined, uncertain future event. Will the financial markets be up today? Will a certain candidate win the next election? Who will win the Academy Awards? If you have an opinion on what will happen then you can make a prediction on Intrade. Predict correctly and you can win real money profits.

Say what you will about the various methods of getting a pulse of an election but when people have 100s to 10000s of dollars riding on the election, they do not take it frivolously and, traditionally, have been amazingly accurate in their predictions and usually are not tapered by the biases of pundits and talking heads - no one has a boss or a bottom line that effects their view of the election. Intrade currently ranks Obama at 61.3% to Romney's 38.6%, or did at the time of this post. Did I mention that these numbers change daily as a result of news, new polls and economic indicators?

There is a great article in the New York Times about these types of markets used as predictors. as argued by Justin Wolfers, a University of Pennsylvania economics professor with anecdotal evidence.
The reason that I follow prediction markets on election day, because they are typically way ahead of the talking heads. For instance, I was live-blogging the 2008 election count for The Wall Street Journal, and called the election at 9:49 p.m. — based on prediction market data. The networks didn’t call it until 11 p.m.
Polls, cups and markets as indicators of the future will never be 100% accurate and the real point here is that no one should look at any of these indicators as "gospel." So let's all relax and move forward to the big day.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Global Water Games with Philippe Cousteau - SXSWEco

Imagine a game where you make decisions and take actions that mirror the real life decisions that affect people's lives. These decisions impact local farmers, fishers, even the health of a watershed. This is the type of thing that makes the policy "wonk" giggle.  The University of Virginia in a group effort, have created this awesome game that simulates the policy making and stakeholder process. The particular scenario they portray is with an east coast watershed but this partially open sourced game can really be applied to any policy making decision that impacts a group of stake holders.

A group of at least 4 and at most, well, there probably could have been a room filled with people filling different roles, can play the game. The "players" are broken into land developers, farmers, "Watermen," and policy makers of various types. Each round the different players made decisions on the games platform. In this particular instance I played a "Bay Policy Maker." In this instance it meant I regulated how many crabs the "Waterman" players could remove from the Virginia watershed and when.

Some may find this boring or overly complex but it really was a great way to look at the motivations of the different stakeholders and the x factors that affect the watershed. At one point the game sent us a curve ball with a hurricane. To "win" the game the players have to create a sustainable watershed system which the game equates as both an economic and a "watershed health" system.

This was a round based game where each round represented a 2 year period. I started to get the hang of the game towards the end of it but I would love to try all the different roles. As Philippe Cousteau explained, "This game is used to show that we all play a part in the sustainability of the system, I learn something new each time."

The administrators and developers went on to explain that everyone for college students to policy makers all have bought in to the game and loved playing it, each learning something new about the system and the different roles and effects the players have. There was some feedback about the User Interface and some of the play-ability but, keeping in mind this pretty much the beta testing of the game, I expect some amazing and wonderful advancements out of this game. Imagine an acidification module and filter animals like oysters! I am nerding out soo much about this right now, I doubt I can sleep tonight. Definitely the highlight of my SXSW Eco.

SXSW Eco day 2 begins

Today marks day two of the the 3 day conservation, sustainability, and technology conference SXSW Eco set at the AT&T Conference Center in Austin, Texas. While I was a bit confused as to why Chevrolet, a major car producer was the major sponsor of this event (and subsequently did NOT make plans to attend their hosted breakfast this morning) I warmed to the idea when I read into their background and how they created an Environmental Label and standard for cars that includes an end of life-cycle plan (try getting most producers to take on that responsibility).

Yesterday was an interesting day. From meeting Philippe Cousteau and learning about his three pillars of conservation success to racing to the "Hacking the Ocean's Food Supply Chain: Technology, Transparency and Seafood" with enough time to question their assertions that " populations are resilient, most will come back after being left alone for a few years; there is hope for these species if we are responsible" and that "...eating small seafood is a good idea, sardines and anchovies are super high in omega-3s and very low in contaminants."

While these statements on their face value are, in a sense, true they ignore the fact that taking away the food sources of the larger species adds stress to the species that eat them and things like krill and small fish are ALREADY being over fished. These statements also ignore the fact that American lack of consumption on larger species will not lead to the reduction we all hope for, that it is a GLOBAL problem.

I was able to race in at the last minute and ask the panelists if they had a chance to look at the Ocean Health Index. Apparently none of them had had the chance to see this informative and beautiful bit of information.

The panelists were interesting, kind and informative and it was a special pleasure meeting Maria Finn, author of the upcoming Ted book "The Whole Fish: How Adventurous Eating Can Improve Your Sex Life and Help Save the Ocean." Very curious to read that.

The actual setup of the events kind of confuses me. Most of the "micro sessions are set as 15 minute conversations and this set up is a bit frustrating. Just when you start to get into the talk and want to learn more, it ends. Leaves me hungry for much more.

The night ended with an impromptu meet up of SXSW Eco attendees at Scholz, a local bar in Austin with an amazing political background, to watch the first presidential debate. Since its founding in 1866, Scholz has been home to all of the State Capitol's legislative after work drinks or in session sneak aways. People from both parties have gathered there through its histories to debate, discuss and drink each other silly.

I won't go into the debate too much because my focus here is SXSW Eco, but the report that came out recently from CNN saying that 67% of Americans believe that Romney won the debate made me do a double take - were they watching the same debate? Sure Obama was slipping here and there but what can you do when your opponent is flat out lying and back tracking on months of campaigning. Ugh, I hate lies.

Keep watch for coverage of a few more key panels and discussions as they happen on the twitter feed @akornblatt and on here. Maybe we can make some suggestions to get more Ocean related panels in on the future... Hint Hint...

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Solutions and Action Through Innovation with Philippe Cousteau

Today is the first day of the South By South West Eco festival (hashtag #SXSWEco) and, as you can see, the place is a buzz of activity.

Ignoring the uncomfortable feeling of seeing plastic and Chevrolet everywhere, I am excited. Not only are the registration lines long but the panel discussion rooms are already filling up.

From SXSW Eco
Right now I am waiting for Philippe Cousteau's "Solutions and Actions through Innovation" discussion to kick off a blend of tech, eco-solution and hopefully Ocean issues.

Philippe touched on three main pillars to success in pushing for conservation. Investing women and children, utilizing the market of Wall Street and Environmental education.

The following video shows him covering how to tackle the Women and Children issue:

Wall Street has been shown to be highly useful in generating funds but is volatile and is not getting the money in the right places these days.

Cousteau promoted the stock ticket "GIVE."  This is an amazingly brilliant concept. GIVE is an exchange-traded fund (ETF) that is geared towards sustainable and impact related investments. As AdvisorShares states on their site:
GIVE is designed as a core allocation that proactively seeks opportunities in Sustainable Investment themes while reducing volatility. The fund will allocate capital to equity and debt securities of publically traded companies who have a proactive and meaningful sustainability mandate, as well as securities that may technologically, socially and environmentally impact the earth positively, with a focus on themes such as water, clean energy, innovation and other sustainable themes as defined by the portfolio managers. Additionally, AdvisorShares regularly contributes a portion of assets under management to Philippe Cousteau Jr.’s Global Echo Foundation.
Philippe is soft launching a watershed management game that looks incredible and has amazing potential to bring in a large mass of people and I will be checking it out later.

These initial sessions are limited to 15 minutes which is like a candy sampler or wine flight - you get the flavor but not really the substance and don't have the opportunity for real conversation. Philippe did a great job, just wish there was more of a chance to get into the thick of it.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

SXSW Eco 1 - Leaving on a Jet Plane

I am currently sitting in the San Francisco Airport about to fly off to Austin, a city I spent a large amount of my formative years around, for the second SXSW Eco conference. Most may recall the exceptionally large and exceptionally successful critical mass of film, interactive media and music. Since its start in 1987 SXSW has gone from a relatively tame festival to a crazy party of tech and music and awe.

SXSW Eco, is an offspring of such an endeavor. Being only 2 years old the baby conference, according to the event's website;
international audience of on-the-ground innovators and executive level decision makers from the public and private sectors as well as thought leaders from academia, this event will drive the conversation of sustainability beyond rhetoric and towards solutions. SXSW Eco is for professionals at the forefront of the post-recognition discussion who are dedicated to making progress towards solving these challenges. 
I am going for a number of reasons, foremost of all because an amazing friend that I made this year and while some may be excited over food issues and the cool volunteer work you can do at the conference, I will be a part of the Oceans contingent.

So, honestly, I am unsure what to expect. I have already seen a meal event sponsored by Chevy and I see that Jessica Alba is interesting in promoting her brand. But it has been hard finding out what all happened here last year while I have been doing some preliminary research and figuring out what panels, discussions and events I am interested in attending. So far one of the highlights is looking like it will be this Global Water Game with Phillipe Cousteau which will hypothetically make him the 4th Cousteau family member I have meet in a week.

Over the next week or so I will be providing some tweets on #SXSWEco, updates here, some liveblogging there, some hackathon over in that direction, but probably not since I am not a programmer. Just pay attention. There is some cool stuff going on.

The BLUE Ocean Film Festival or how to loose an entire month on an awesome project.

I haven’t posted lately. That is because I have been hard at work. I had the honor of working on the social media outreach for this brilliant combination of Film, Conservation, and Outreach - The BLUE Ocean Film Festival and conservation event. I just got back from the film festival and had the urge to write each and every one of the awesome people I met an email. The amount of time that would take was staggering so I decided to put out this open letter in my blog. This here is an expansive list of awesome things that happened at the festival. 

Keep in mind I have a tendency to be long winded and have a LOT to say. There is a lot of cool stuff to see so I issue the following warning;  


Hey guys,

First let me say that it was amazing meeting you all. This festival meant a lot to me and it was a pleasure to work on. It was one of those amazing things you hear about. I want to keep in touch with you all and wanted to thank each and every single one of you. You all worked long, hard hours on this and deserve to be proud of pulling off something this awesome.

I mean, its not every week you get to  do the following:


As I am writing this out I am realizing how long this list is. Basically the message is that stories and news about all this stuff and all the stuff related to the festival is going to keep going out there so keep watching.

I do encourage you to head over to the festival’s Facebook group and share what you got so we can share it with all our friends.

And there is more, there is tons more.

We will be sending out photos and videos of all of this stuff while it comes in. If you have some we want it.

I will probably keep adding the to some sort of list or just throwing them at the hash tag #BLUEOceanFF and adding them to the Google Plus and Facebook pages. If you could do that too that would be awesome. If you have any awesome footage you want to share or cool stuff you want to talk about what happened at the festival, feel free to use those forums. I especially encourage you to watch our Facebook and Google Plus pages news will be posted.

I feel the need to remind everyone that there are a lot of 501c3s associated with it and taxes are coming up.

  • Showing off my Liquid Galaxy skills to Charlotte Vick (CHARLOTTE! Can you send me some of that video I took of you and your friend in there? Thanks)

I have a lot of following up to do to get everything together and I came to the conclusion that the best way to get the basic message (and do a bit of selfless self promotion) out there was to put it up on my blog.

I haven’t been able to work on it for a while but that was because I was out there working on the awesome project and wanted to focus on it, before myself, and it was so rewarding and awesome.

I want to give you all a heads up that I am going to SXSW ECO. Wait, what? There is a SXSW “Eco Breakfast” presented by Chevrolet? For those of you familiar with SXSW, Eco is in it’s second year and I will go over that more later. For the rest of you just pay attention. I want you to know that I may be live blogging from there and will let you know where that will be. Be sure to follow my twitter @akornblatt

As I pack my bag for today's
flight I look forward to the down time (ha) where I can reach out to all of you and thank you and catch up. Lets keep this ball rolling and be rock and roll stars for the Ocean!

Andrew Kornblatt