“All Kinds of Fun”

February 24, 2009
NOAA Administrator nominee Jane Lubchenco (Courtesy Wikipedia)

NOAA Administrator nominee Jane Lubchenco (Courtesy Wikipedia)

Travels to foreign lands interfered with posting about NOAA Administrator-nominee Jane Lubchenco’s Senate confirmation hearing last week. She is a Distinguished Professor of Zoology at Oregon State University, and a prominent voice guiding U.S. policy and non-governmental efforts to study and protect the watery part of the world. Lubchenco served on President Bill Clinton’s National Science Board and contributed to a National Academy of Sciences climate change report for George H.W. Bush. She is also a Nicholas Institute Advisory Board member, and provided impetus for the creation of Real Oceans, believing that there should be a Web resource to learn about holistic stewardship of ocean ecosystems.

Lubchenco appeared before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee earlier this month. Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV conducted her hearing together with that of Harvard’s John Holdren, President Obama’s nominee to lead the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Rockefeller said he convened both hearings at once to encourage senators “to cross-question them and have all kinds of fun.”

The Pew Oceans Commission received a nod in her opening testimony. Lubchenco emphasized the need to create a National Climate Service, analogous to the National Weather Service, and listed off familiar items on NOAA’s plate: “Being administrator of NOAA is a big job. Some of the challenges I know well: ending overfishing, anticipating the consequences of climate change, preparing for natural disasters in a time when resources are tight, restoring ecosystems on which we depend for food, water and livelihood. Other challenges, I am just learning. Getting the satellite program back on track is chief among them.” Here are a few highlights:

On collaboration between NOAA and NASA, particularly regarding the NPOESS and GOES-R satellites: “Senator, I believe that both NOAA and NASA intend to have the best possible relationships. I think we can always improve on relationships. As you are aware, the — there’s a third entity involved in these satellites, and that is the Department of Defense. It’s my opinion that some of the difficulties that we’ve gotten into in terms of the two satellite programs you mentioned are partly a reflection of the tripart arrangement between those three agencies that has not worked to the extent that it needs to. I think that’s an embarrassment. I think it needs to be fixed.”

On the creation of a National Climate Service: “The vision for the national climate service would be a collaboration across a number of relevant agencies. NOAA currently has a wealth of climate data. It has deep experience in assembling that data and creating — using it to — putting it into models that help us understand how the climate system works. And we are at a point now where we are able to do short-term forecasting of climate-related events, like El Ninos, for example, that have huge consequences for weather patterns around the world.”

On aquaculture in federal waters: “Aquaculture, wherever it is practiced, is a very key element of our food production systems, and that certain types of aquaculture are much more benign in terms of their potential impact on the environment. I don’t believe that we have identified the right conditions under which aquaculture is sustainable… [T]here are more than 220 species that are farmed by aquaculture. And each one has different issues, and where it happens is critically important. So I am not prepared to put off the table offshore aquaculture at this point. I do believe that we should not move ahead in doing that at scale until we are convinced that, in fact, it can be done in a way that is not damaging.”

On polarization between fishing communities and regulators: “It appears to be a seriously dysfunctional relationship. I would pledge to make every attempt to try to begin to rebuild the trust. I have seen a number of programs where scientists and fishermen together are taking the data that they can both believe in and both rely upon to serve as a basis for having a reasonable discussion about making some — what are inevitably some very tough choices. There are not easy choices here. And it’s often a choice between today and tomorrow. We have seen the strong benefit of rebuilding stocks. The 12 stocks that have been rebuilt since 2001 now bring in over $2 billion into our economy. And yet jobs today are critically important, even more so than they might have been even just a few years ago.”

On legal jousting over Columbia River salmon: “This has been one of the most challenging issues for the Pacific Northwest. And I think the situation that we are in now is a result of a long history of finger- pointing at other drivers of change, both on the land side and the ocean side, and that there was a significant amount of time lost to denial of a problem and trying to blame it on someone else instead of moving on with achieving solutions.”

On the health of Chesapeake Bay: “What I do think the Chesapeake Bay situation brings to the fore, though, is the challenges inherent in managing activities that cost not only the land and, in this case, the estuary, the Bay, but also that cross multiple jurisdictions — local, state, multiple states, as well as different states and federal agencies…

“Chesapeake Bay really is a microcosm of a lot of the larger ocean issues, coastal issues in particular, where there are activities on land that impact the quality and the health of the ecosystems and therefore the resources and the jobs that are available. And figuring out the right mechanisms to do that integration is a huge challenge. One of my goals at NOAA is to bring a more holistic understanding of these interactions across different sectors, and to think about marine spatial planning in a comprehensive sense, with all appropriate parties, and to do a better job of resolving issues before they get to be so incredibly challenging that it’s very, very difficult to do something about them.”

These are just some issues — all kinds of fun — that await Lubchenco’s confirmation, which is expected after the nominee for Commerce Secretary.


New Arctic, New President?

January 21, 2009
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The new president will spend the day attending a prayer service at the National Cathedral and later, meeting with his Joint Chiefs and economic advisers. As Barack Obama acclimates to the presidency, we’ll dip into the recent past.

Former President George Bush on Jan. 9 issued a presidential directive that refines U.S. national interests in the Arctic. The eight-page document took two years to finalize and is the first White House statement on national security and the Arctic since Bill Clinton was president, in 1994.

The directive emphasizes U.S. national security and energy interests in the area, particularly given the changing climate and the likelihood of increased human and commercial involvement in the region. The Bush administration also commended progress within the Artic Council — the body of nine nations and indigenous peoples that the outgoing president didn’t always please. Bush gave the Senate a final prod to pass the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The week after the White House released the directive, the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative (JOCI) met in Maryland, to hash out recommendations for the new administration. Climate change and Arctic policy topped the list. How will the National Security directive affect, inform, or influence the new administration’s approach to this rapidly changing area of the world? Only time will tell.

Antiquities and Antiquaries

January 12, 2009

President Bush last week designated nearly 200,000 square miles of Pacific islands, reef, waters, and floor as protected, under the century-old federal Antiquities Act. This announcement sent the mainstream press racing for their globes and atlases, and momentarily put oceans at the center of the national conversation. Outlets that cover marine issues intermittently embraced the event, for better or for worse. The New York Times editorial board took this thoughtful stance on the perceived shortcomings of Bush’s move.


Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

More interesting than the news-driven coverage was The Economist‘s Special Report on the Sea, which ran in its Jan. 3 to Jan. 9 issue (Lead story is here, with links to others on the right). It’s rare to see the mainstream press devote such resources to this small corner (okay, 70 percent) of the world. True to form, Economist editors build an arc of logic into the package, opening with exposition about the state of the seas, before sliding into, if not policy prescriptions, commentary on politicians’ ineffectiveness on the issue (From “Saline Solutions“: “Is it too late to save the sea? The solutions to some of its problems are fairly clear, even if it requires political courage to put them in place.”).

A less obvious point lay scattered over the entire 16 pages. Readers of the Economist know that editors commonly save brain space on writing headlines and subheads by ripping forgotten gems out of antiquarian literature. This practice is particularly apt in this oceans package. The articles themselves directly address major, present concerns. The sprinkling of literary references throughout stories and captions has a subtle but powerful effect: Humanity has always lived and thrived by the sea. The ocean is a part of our identity, our history, and, because we eat so much fish, our bodies, too. Here is a list of most of these references, which all in all cover about 2,500 years of cultural history — a fraction of humans history with life by the sea.

“Inestimable stones, unvalu’d jewels”
Richard III

“The mackerel-crowded seas”
Sailing to Byzantium
William Butler Yeats

“Come, friends, and Plough the Sea”
The Pirates of Penzance

“There goes that Leviathan”
Angling Sketches
Andrew Lang

“Creeping things innumerable”
The Bible (Psalm 104)

What Are the Wild Waves Saying? Song, Stephen Glover

“Unplumb’d, salt, estranging sea”
To Marguerite
Matthew Arnold

“Oh, the shark has pretty fins, dear”
Mack the Knife
The Threepenny Opera, Brecht

“A trout in the milk”
The Writings of Henry David Thoreau

“Fishing up the moon”
The Wise Men of Gotham
Thomas Love Peacock

“Is it for you to ravage seas and land”
The Aeneid

Oceans Champion Tapped to Lead CIA

January 6, 2009

When President-elect Barack Obama nominated Jane Lubchenco as NOAA administrator, the oceans community cheered. Yesterday, when he asked Leon Panetta to direct the Central Intelligence Agency, the response was more guarded – and not because the oceans community is particularly entrenched in The Company. Maybe we should be.

Leon Panetta (Courtesy Wikipedia)

Leon Panetta (Courtesy Wikipedia)

Panetta chaired the Pew Ocean Commission, whose comprehensive 2003 report on ocean governance remains an indispensible policy Bible. He continued to grind away on ocean issues as the co-chair, with Bush-41 Energy Secretary Admiral James Watkins, of the Joint Ocean Commissions Initiative. Blue-ribbon panels are a major slice of the Washington, DC, economy, yet commission chairmen who remain advocates of thick-report recommendations are few and far between. So, when the Panetta-CIA announcement came, the oceans community suddenly lost an influential advocate to a new, all-consuming full-time job.

The population of high-profile oceans champions is dwindling. Politics and scandals have removed Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD), who lost his primary against a conservative Republican; Rep. Tom Allen (D-ME) who lost a Senate bid; and Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK), lost a Senate race that was close even though he ran under a seven-count indictment. Panetta’s enormous job of managing the CIA will leave no time or focus to work on ocean issues.

Panetta is indeed, a big loss, considering the extraordinary effort he gave to ocean issues. I nonetheless find myself very pleased about this appointment. The CIA is in desperate need of an outsider with a deft hand and a keen intellect to change its course. Panetta has proved himself a bi-partisan organizer of difficult constituencies by handling the many different voices on the Iraq Study Group. He managed a feisty – feistier? — mix of economic, social, and political interests with the Pew Ocean Commission and JOCI.

How might Panetta’s oceans advocacy inform his tenure as director of Central Intelligence? He has a vivid understanding of democracy. The U.S. is an open society, and the American public is owner and trustee of its government. Panetta has engaged the public to apply these ideals to our stewardship of the oceans. He helped create the California State University Monterey Bay at Fort Ord Army base and the Panetta Institute, a nonpartisan public policy center. Panetta is an advocate of the “Public Trust Doctrine”: the idea that American resources belong to all citizens. These resources are only held in trust by our government — with a solemn responsibility to protect and grow them.

The Public Trust Doctrine is a powerful and unifying concept for ocean conservation. What specifically does the public trust have to do with the CIA – by definition the very opposite of an “open society”? From my work on “Natural Security,” I have observed that the most successful and adaptable organisms distribute power and surveillance to many semi-autonomous problem solvers – in fact, complexity scientists call them “agents.” In nature, these problem-solvers might be as diverse as cells in the immune system, chromatophores in octopuses, or specialized individuals in a colony of tunicates. In a democratic society, these problem solvers can be the citizens themselves. Senator Gary Hart–who was thinking and working on terrorism issues long before 9/11 — has been adamant about a similar point: The more information we provide people, the safer we are. The outgoing administration has spent the last eight years pursuing the opposite track – and not only in national security policy.

I don’t know how much and in what capacity Leon Panetta can “open up” the CIA. I do believe that his devotion to serving the public trust and his long history with ocean conservation, will lead him–probably more than any previous CIA director—to ideas about security that better reflect the way nature has been doing it for 3.5 billion years.

Just in case, I’m sending him a copy of “Natural Securityto help him along.

Drill, baby, drill!

September 26, 2008

The U.S. House of Representatives yesterday voted to lift the generation-old ban on oil drilling on the Outer Contintental Shelf, thus bringing to resolution the year-long ascension of the issue from oil-industry wish list to national policy. Democrats, ostensibly the party in control of both houses of Congress, caved in to a forceful Republican minority, and an even more forceful president, who threatened to veto any spending bills that preserved the moratorium. Offshore drilling became a mantra through the summer, when politicians strove to find a rhetorical palliative to record-high gasoline prices.

The drilling ban was never based on anything that might pass for scientific research. Through the 1970s, the Nixon, Ford, and Carter administrations, Washington kept something of an implicit, even-keeled balance between exploiting natural resources and maintaining environmental protection offshore. That changed in January 1981, when President Ronald Reagan nominated James Watt to be Secretary of the Interior. Watt has a distinguished career as secretary, which included kicking the Beach Boys out of a DC Fourth of July celebration, explaining the diversity of his staff by pointing out he employs “a black, a woman, two Jews and a cripple,” and also by disrupting this unspoken balance between industry and the environment.

Watt moved to open coastal waters to more exploration, breaking the implicit deal, an action met by outrage by the environmental community. The Sierra Club organized a petition campaign to push back Watt’s heavy hand. The trouble was, what did they want to push it back to? As a practical matter, it was difficult to say what the best solution to the problem was; it would take too much time, thought, and effort to try and gerrymander an equitable system of where thou shalt drill and where shalt thou not. So the Sierra Club petition, eventually signed by 1 million Americans, called for moratoria on drilling in U.S. waters off the East and West coasts. The easiest answer was taking the whole OCS off the table.

Save Our Shores Act

June 25, 2008

By Sheril Kirshenbaum


From:  Sheril Kirshenbaum
Re:  Save Our Shores Act

Save Our Shores Act H.R. 1091


  • Introduced in the House by Florida Representatives Connie Mack and Kathy Castor.
  • Harmful algal blooms (HABs) like red tide cause humans respiratory distress.
  • Children and seniors are most at risk.
  • Habs contaminate shellfish.
  • They negatively impact coastal states’ socioeconomics through tourism.
  • It’s estimated that HABs cost communities in the United States nearly $100 million every year.


  • H.R. 1091 would increase funding for scientific research to combat HABs and their effects.
  • Specifically, would increase funding for peer-reviewed research into causes and effects of red tide and strengthen existing algal bloom research programs.


H.R. 1091 Save Our Shores Act would improve the state of our oceans.  It has bipartisan support of many coastal policymakers.

*Latest Major Action: *2/23/2007 Referred to House subcommittee. Status:
Referred to the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, and Oceans.

The Next Senate Commerce Committee Markup

June 24, 2008

By Sheril Kirshenbaum

The next Full Committee Markup in the Senate Commerce Committee will take place on Tuesday, June 24, 2008 at 2:30pm.

Members will consider:

1. S. 2907, the International Fisheries Stewardship and Enforcement Act

This bill would “establish uniform administrative and enforcement procedures and penalties for the enforcement of the High Seas Driftnet Fishing Moratorium Protection Act and similar statutes.”  In was introduced on April 4, 2008 by Senator Daniel Inouye.

2. S. ____, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2008

3. S. ____, the National Sea Grant College Program Amendments Act of 2008

This bill would authorize and amend the National Sea Grant College Program Act.

4. Nominations for Promotion in the United States Coast Guard (PN 1668, PN 1669, PN 1752 and PN 1753)

5. Promotions in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Corps (PN 169