Rural Development: An Oceanic Approach

[imgbelt img= WhidbyIslandPugetSound320.jpg]We land-lubbing species still depend on the health of Earth’s oceans to
survive. And the waters’ future now depends on humans’ capacity to


[imgcontainer left] [img:Gulf-Sunset-1989320.jpg] [source]Timothy Collins

Sunset over the Gulf of Mexico, December, 1989.

We live in mind-boggling times: Wars. Earthquakes. Climate change. Melting ice caps. Wildfires. Flooding. Drought. Dying oceans. Energy instability. Polarized domestic politics. A lingering recession that is restructuring the political economy of the nation and the world.

The end of time? Who knows? Certainly not me. I can’t do anything about that anyway.

My concerns are that People are hurting, the Earth is hurting. What’s the connection between those two? I believe it’s fundamental: how we treat people is bound by how we treat the Earth.

The sweep of history over the past five centuries or so includes a pattern of exploitation: a lot of people have created wealth for a few. Also, the conquerors have capitalized on the “free” gifts of nature, mostly from rural areas. There’s been little regard for the impacts of these activities on the environment or on people.

On one hand, this system has raised living standards for many in rural and urban areas alike (“the greater good”). On the other, it has left out many people, here and abroad, who continue to lack anything like prosperity. Poverty continues to be widespread and devastating with wide gaps between rich and poor countries and among regions within countries. The system enforces rural geographic discrimination that leaves many communities and their residents behind.

Meanwhile, the Earth groans under a burgeoning population that is experiencing rising and falling living standards at the same time. The recent report by the International Program on the State of the Ocean, which warns of likely mass extinctions of ocean creatures, is another warning about global ecosystem collapse. How soon? It’s hard to say. But it is irresponsible to deny that humans play a part in changing the complex environmental interactions that make our shared life on Earth possible.

[imgcontainer left] [img:WhidbyIslandPugetSound320.jpg] [source]Timothy Collins

Waves from the Puget Sound crash on the rocky shore of Whidby Island.

Oceans are our largest rural areas. They cover about three-quarters of Earth’s surface. Humans only inhabit them as travelers, but we depend on their health. In prime condition, oceans are a source of food and maintain balance in our atmosphere. Climate change (the politically charged term is global warming) is a major threat. Even though we know better, we continue to use the world’s rivers as sewers whose effluent ends up in the oceans only to be spread worldwide. We overfish and overdevelop shorelines, destroying vital life-nurturing habitats where land and sea meet.

Oceans represent the largest part of the world’s commonwealth. Our mistreatment of the oceans eventually comes back to mistreating each other as healthy oceans are necessary for life to go on. If the scientists are correct and we stay on our present course, there will be little or nothing left for future generations.

“If the scientists are correct …” becomes the operative phrase when the realm of science confronts political and economic discourse. It is a common and too-often-true complaint that policy decisions are based on political and economic power and expediency instead of scientific data. After all, the scientists could be wrong, and changing the political economy is messy, especially if it means compromising money, convenience, and an entrenched status quo.