Whales were very much on my mind. I had just returned from a dialogue in Japan that included a discussion on the impact of pollution and climate change on the communities of life in the oceans and was preparing to go to Poland for the United Nations Climate Conference. I had also just read an article on how the US administration had just approved the use of sonic cannons to find oil and gas reserves in the Atlantic, up and down the coast, a devastating decision for marine life. My heart ached for what these animals would now have to endure.
While on route to Poland, I had a dream, one of those dreams that is more vision than dream. I saw myself standing by the window in my Manhattan apartment looking out over the East River when I saw a beautiful large whale quietly and speedily swim up the river until it stopped just in front of my building and stared up at me. All I could do was whisper, “I see you. I hear you.”
This was the dream that followed me to Poland and haunted me as I walked through the hallways of the conference wondering how to bring the voices of the ocean into a meeting that would help determine whether life in the ocean lived or died. There was one session on oceans, which I did attend, but sadly it made no mention of the whales, the dolphins and other marine life. The main message to come out of that panel of marine experts was that the scientific organizations studying the oceans are now cooperating, whereas they had previously been working in their own silos. Well, a good first step, but the audience was not satisfied. When a member of the audience pressed them on why more action was not being taken, the response was that action will only come from the bottom up, not from the top down. The UN can do its studies, bring the best scientific minds and data to the fore, present the predictive models, and then — and then, if the governments don’t act, there is not much more these officials can do. All they can do is warn, which is what the United Nations Secretary General just did when he flew to Poland to try to encourage some progress. If we don’t act, we are on a suicidal mission, he said. At the same time, UN officials continue to appeal to civil society, which is why they let so many of us into these annual climate conferences. Again and again we are encouraged to pressure our governments toward concrete and meaningful action. In the US, for the time being, that means at the local level – our state and city governments that are part of the “we’re still in” movement.
A few months ago, I attended the Climate Action Summit in San Francisco and there much time was devoted to oceans. The presenters shared that too little attention and funding has been applied to researching the oceans, and in fact we understand very little about them — not very comforting. But one thing was made clear — the oceans determine the climate. If the oceans die, we die. Human life depends on the health of the oceans, and the oceans now are not very healthy.
So there was the dream, and the warning, and the positives and negatives of COP 24. Whatever is decided at the end of this climate conference, we will know that the responsibility partially rests on our shoulders. We must speak now not only for the human species, but for all who inhabit our precious planet.
I will remember the whale who appeared and appealed to me. I will continue to see and to listen.