The environmental crisis is a social crisis: how activism is made sustainable


Today is World Oceans Day — a day to acknowledge and nurture our appreciation for something that spans most of the planet and is integral to caring for it. A healthy ocean supports a healthy planet, so talking about how we care for and protect it deserves a deeper conversation than usual.

The environmental crisis is a social crisis. It is a perspective that is not often explored, but it has the greatest impact on the daily lives of people in developing countries, and many of its driving forces are found in the secure and stable social structures of the life in the first world.

“If the environmental and social chaos of the past few years and weeks has shown us anything, it’s that our global operating system is riddled with bugs,” says Michael Stewart, co-founder of Sustainable Surf. “The environmental, economic and social crisis are interconnected. We believe it is time for the ocean health movement to start connecting all of these dots together, and so we are focused on building action within the ocean community to collectively address this issue.

So how are all these things related?

In the West Papua region of Indonesia, for example, village-level poverty is a major driver of deforestation in its mangrove estuaries. And healthy mangrove ecosystems actually protect coastal communities from flooding and store five times more carbon per acre than rainforests. It’s stories like these that reinforce Sustainable Surf’s statement that there is no climate justice without social justice. Their SeaTrees platform, designed to regenerate and protect coastal ecosystems, makes it easy for individuals and brands to fund mangrove restoration, creating sustainable jobs for the local indigenous communities who live there. Local people are hired to plant and care for the mangroves, bringing both currency and reliable jobs to the area.

“It’s not just about planting trees with our local partner, Eden Projects, and then forgetting about them,” says Michael. “The local community is trained to take care of these ecosystems and develop food crops. And perhaps most importantly, when we traveled to West Papua with our Ambassador Pasha Light and our friends at Protect Blue, we also held local workshops with local community activists to provide ocean health education to their next generation.

“We will pay you not just to build it, but to be its guardians and stewards. Pride and ownership. They create a new structure for people. Photo: Protect Blue/Eden Projects/SeaTrees

The same philosophy is linked to other projects supported by SeaTrees, such as watershed protection in Cambodia, where they partner with Wildlife Alliance. Or even when approaching the regeneration of California’s kelp forests in conjunction with the Bay Foundation, the plan is always based on effective local action, because that is what is sustainable. Whether it is offsetting carbon emissions or cleaning up and restoring a specific ecosystem, the solution is only a solution if it is sustainable, and more specifically, if it addresses the challenges of poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice.

The work done by Sustainable Surf through SeaTrees is designed to meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, a 17-point plan that outlines how all of these things are interconnected and can be transformed over the next decade. Hunger, education, gender inequality, decent work and economic growth may seem like social problems, but they are each just a link in a system that connects to consumption and responsible production, drinking water and clean energy, which we generally associate most closely with environmental issues.

“In short, SeaTrees isn’t just about pressing a button on your phone to plant trees, although that’s something you can do. It’s a digital platform that provides communities, like those in West Papua, with the resources and support needed to restore and protect their local ecosystem for the long term.

The Sustainable Surf model seems to be working. In its first year of operation, the platform has: planted 115,000 mangroves, sequestered 24,000 tonnes of CO2, protected 55 different species and supported 34 communities including those in West Papua.

In a digital world, the obvious next link at Sustainable Surf was to develop and launch a mobile app, which they called the Ocean Positive app. The app, says Michael, not only lets you plant “10 mangroves in 10 seconds,” but also a pocket guide to keeping a finger on the pulse of other kinds of ocean-positive activism. The app focuses on content relevant to environmental, economic and social issues at your fingertips: community-organized events and demonstrations, plant-based food, banking, volunteering, choosing gear better for our oceans, and even more.

Download the Ocean Positive app today.

“All the major scientific and political organizations in the world, including the United Nations,” says Michael, “tell us that we have about 10 years to fix the mess we’ve made with climate change before we hit a tipping point where our ocean and planet may not be able to come back in. We’re all going to have to work together to resolve this.

Editor’s note: This feature was made in partnership with Sustainable Surf. Download the Ocean Positive app here.


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