Taking off our masks, figuratively

The need for authenticity, kindness, and inclusivity in the fight to protect the ocean

By Dune Ives, Executive Director, Lonely Whale

The pandemic has brought our world to a halt in many ways none of us had expected—altering how we live, communicate, celebrate, and of course, feel. And, although we’ve seen a temporary dip in greenhouse gas emissions, it’s been a disaster for our wild places, which continue to be forever altered by the seemingly unabated crisis of plastic waste.

A new report commissioned by Pew Charitable Trust predicts that the amount of plastic waste being dumped in the ocean will quadruple by 2040—and the data to inform that prediction was pre-COVID-19. Since the pandemic erupted, the plastics industry has done a remarkable job following the old adage “never let a good crisis go to waste” by putting forth a false narrative that plastic is the great protector.

Someone recently asked me if I have hope for the future. In spite of the trajectory cited by Pew and the incredible strategy of the plastics industry to keep pumping out more non-recyclables, I actually do have tremendous hope for the future.

While we have mountains to climb, I am encouraged by all of the heroes I’m meeting along the way—and they may not look like you expect. Some of them are just kids, like the 400+ youth ages 8-20 from 40 countries and every single time zone who participated in Ocean Heroes Bootcamp, which we just held virtually in partnership with the Captain Planet Foundation. They joined us online for presentations, panels, and meetups to learn how they could work together to create campaigns against single-use plastic and pollution in their communities. These heroes care deeply about a broad range of issues including intersectional environmentalism, and simply won’t take “no” for an answer. Take for instance the incredible Dyson Chee, an Ocean Hero from our 2018 Bootcamp who was instrumental in helping to pass Bill 40 on Oahu, which is known as one of the most comprehensive pieces of legislation on plastic pollution. Dyson is now tackling climate change and advocating strongly for candidates who align with his values.

Others who are redefining what it means to be an “environmentalist” are actors, artists, business people, and activists for social justice. People like Julie Christeas, producer, activist, mother, and CEO of the first conscious indie film studio Tandem Pictures. She can tell you about the multi-billion dollar film industry’s carbon footprint and what she’s doing to change that. People like Jane Abernethy, Chief of Sustainability at Humanscale, and Gabe Wing, Director of Sustainability at Herman Miller, two iconic office furniture brands known for design innovation. These brands are competitors, yet thanks to the efforts of Jane and Gabe, they are working together to change the supply chain in a way that makes plastic waste a commodity. People like Wanjinku “Wawa” Gatheru, an environmental justice advocate and the first Black person in history to receive the Rhodes, Truman, and Udall scholarships, who is calling for the environmental movement to center the experience and expertise of frontline people of color.

In a new podcast from my organization, Lonely Whale, we shine a spotlight on those who are going against the current and choosing to use their own authentic voices to clean up our ocean. Through their work and their actions, they are making the word “environmentalist” more inclusive and encompassing not just the environment itself, but all people as well. In this first season of the 52 Hertz podcast, “Against the Current,” you’ll hear from those leaders I mentioned and more. We’ll provide answers to questions such as: What does recycling have to do with human rights? What can a teenager teach us about the environment by sailing through the Bermuda triangle? What is climate justice? And…what exactly are petrochemicals?

As a society, we are surely at a tipping point when it comes to our health, safety, equity, and wellbeing. And the first step is to humanize this struggle. What I can guarantee is that our environmental heroes are going to look very different moving forward than what we might expect—and this podcast series introduces you to many of the new names and voices you’ll want to get to know. I hope they will inspire you, as they have me, to be the best of what humans can be: kind, passionate, and just toward each other. Together they’ll teach you that turning off the tap of plastic waste entering our ocean is the greatest reflection of our own humanity.

New episodes will launch every Tuesday and Thursday. Click here to listen!  Episodes are available on Apple Podcasts, Breaker, Google Podcasts, Pocket Casts, RadioPublic, and Spotify. All content is family-friendly and appropriate for all ages.  We highly recommend it!!  

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