A Paper Presented by Peter Douglas
at The Coastal Society 16th International Conference:
"Minding the Coast: It’s Everyone’s Business"

Williamsburg, Virginia, July 12, 1998

Good morning! I am deeply honored to have been asked to be with you to speak about "visions" for the environmental future of coastal stewardship. As a 27 year practitioner, I do have a few thoughts on the subject.

This "vision-thing" is not easy to wrap the mind around. I suppose ability here depends largely on the sharpness of your sight - that is, hindsight, insight and foresight. And, of course, whether one is shortsighted or farsighted!

In my mind, "visioning" is more than forward looking. It is also a way of thinking and a way of doing. Certainly, a relatively clear and compelling vision will affect how one thinks about and how one does coastal management. Most important, however, to assume meaning and become operative, the vision must be effectively communicated externally and assimilated internally. In contemporary terms, I do not think "virtual vision" works. It must be real in the sense it is something one believes in with heart and mind and lives by . It cannot simply be an image on a big screen.

I am sure we have all engaged in some form of strategic planning exercise. Part of that effort involves crafting a "vision statement". The California Coastal Commission adopted a fairly good vision statement last year. I do not, however, intend to talk about this subject at that level. Rather, I want us to think in more philosophical terms to stimulate thought and lively discussion.

When I reflect on my vision of coastal management in 20 to 50 years, I begin by asking questions.

What do we mean by "vision" in the context of coastal stewardship? Why is having a vision important? How do we share the vision so the public understands it?

Put simply, "vision" is the picture we draw, in concept and words, of the environmental future we want for coasts and oceans. It is ideal and real. It is a source of inspiration and a frame of reference. It borders purpose and offers context for our goals and objectives. It is the horizon of hope on which we set our sights and toward which we map a goodly stretch of our path through life. It is a horizon over which the dawn of each new day breaks -- a horizon the whole of which necessarily recedes before us always just beyond reach. It holds many jewels we yearn for, any of which once grasped is replaced by yet new stars in a dawning sky. It has the magical quality and power of becoming what we strive for. It is a future with potential as proud legacy.

We need vision for many reasons. We need it to remind us where we have been and as guide for where we want to go. We need it to rally public support and colleagues to the cause. We need it if we are to lead. We need it if we truly want that better future for ourselves and those who travel in our wake. We need it as a measure by which our passing can be judged.

Is my vision of coastal management in 50 years what I wish it to be or what, based on experience and best judgment, I think it actually will be? Is it dreamtime, reality or virtual reality? I suspect it is a bit of each and certainly more wishful thinking than not.

I wonder if my vision is clouded by irrepressible, though often seemingly unwarranted optimism? Of course it is! If I were not to envision a better environmental future waiting for our children’s children on the other side of hope, I could not, day after day, sustain the flame of enthusiasm for our work that burns within.

I wonder too how one can fashion and hold to a meaningful vision when its realization may well be skewered over time by unpredictable events and variables totally beyond anyone’s control? Obviously, the most carefully crafted strategies of the best and brightest can be derailed by unforeseen and uncontrollable events. But so writes the fickle hand of fate. Vagaries notwithstanding, it is in our nature to make plans, albeit at varying levels of complexity, to give direction to our lives and purpose to our doings. A vision nicely nests our plans, hopes and dreams.

No two people have the exact same vision though they may have much in common.

Our visions will differ depending on where we live, local politics, personal experience and history, education and understanding, individual desires and personality, and values and philosophy? Despite differences, there are themes and threads with which we can weave a tapestry of commonality that brings us together as a community of environmental stewardship.

In conversation about this subject we need to speak in plain, easy to understand language. Unfortunately, much of the public discussion today about the role of government and the future of environmental protection is peppered with catchy, rhetorical slogans and phrases that seem to be more about politics than substance. I find many of these phrases about governance meaningless because most people, even those who use them, have no idea what they mean. Many, while popular with politicians, bureaucrats and academicians, sound good but don’t work in practice and confuse inherently incompatible or conflicting characteristics of human nature. While some carry important messages and hint at more effective and efficient ways of doing things, they lose force and focus because they lack common definition.

I refer to phrases such as, "new paradigms of governance", "total quality management", "reinventing government", "integrated coastal management", "sustainable development" and "sustainable communities", "treating government like a business", "strategic business planning", "performance-based budgeting", "service to the customer", "moving beyond command and control thinking", "adaptive management", "Thinking outside the box", etc. What do these words mean? And how do they relate to our visions for coasts and oceans?

Recently I repeated some techno-babble about new "paradigms" in coastal management when a friend pointedly asked if I was referring to 20 cents or a better way of getting things done? She said I sounded stuffy and obtuse. She made a good point!

Another example relates is the popular refrain that we need to treat government service like a business and leave behind command and control (read, regulatory) thinking. I do not consider this visionary or enlightened thinking. On the contrary, I view it as disingenuous and primarily reflective of a particular political philosophy of governance that promises much but delivers little.

The fact is, government is not in the business of making widgets. Government is not intended to produce monetary profit. Government provides services to the public that the private sector cannot, will not, or should not provide. Government can certainly learn from private industry (i.e., the importance of being "customer oriented" and "user friendly"). But government is fundamentally different from private enterprise. It is unproductive and extremely flawed thinking to treat them as though they are the same sort of thing. Each has its place, but each is necessarily different.

Eliminating regulation of private activities that impact environmental quality is equally flawed thinking. Unfortunately, while altruism is not dead, greed and preoccupation with personal profit is very much more alive and thriving. It is simply unrealistic to expect someone driven by visions of material wealth to sacrifice profit for a purpose not viewed as benefiting that individual. Certainly, helping people do the "right thing" through education and training should be the first level of effort. However, reliance on voluntary compliance must be backed by enforceable policies.

My coastal stewardship vision does not include elimination of regulation for the purpose of environmental protection.


When I speak of vision, I bring to the subject a public interest and community oriented perspective. I make no secret of and am proud that my life’s work is infused with a bias predicated on commitment to doing what, in my heart and mind, I believe is in the best environmental interest of current and future generations of life on the planet.

Please bear with me as I share a bit of personal background that explains the wellspring of my own vision.

Much of what I am and where I am as a spiritual and temporal person has to do with Nature -- the living and inanimate Earth, the heavens, energy fields of being, universal soul and our connectivity with ages past and yet to be.

My first awe-inspiring encounter with the power of the natural world occurred over a few cold December days in 1950 on the north Atlantic, as I stood at the ship’s rail. Leaving behind the bitter ashes of war and holocaust in Europe, my family fled Germany for a new world of hope and promise. I remember vividly, the seemingly endless reach of mountainous seas that lifted high and dropped with bone-jarring ease what to one young boy was the biggest self-propelled, floating hotel in the world. I spent hours on deck searching the horizon for land and spotted my first whale and giant manta. I also saw an albatross -- the first of many I was to encounter in my career.

Lady Liberty, standing proud and tall with torch held high to light the way, hailed our landfall shortly before Christmas.

Fond memories of my early California years are framed by beaches, surfing, diving, camping in the desert and Sierras, and long hours of labor on tugs, barges, a garbage scow and passenger boats working between the mainland and Catalina Island. I was a little dizzy in those days and had a good time. Out of ignorance and an unthinking, foolish urge to dominate, I scarred the earth a few times in my youth. I have no doubt I would have behaved differently had I known then the lessons the Lorax teaches our children today.

I was privileged with a splendid secondary education in private school at Pebble Beach on the Monterey Peninsula in rustic surroundings. As a working scholarship student, I lived happily in a converted tool shed behind the kitchen and was pretty much left alone. Often, on moonlit nights, I followed animal trails through thick woods to the rocky shoreline near Bird Rock.

And it was there my conversation with ocean, land and stars began. Waves driven by temperamental winds, drumming on the shore, indelibly imprinted my soul with the perpetual harmony and passion in Nature. Sitting for hours, searching star-filled heavens for clues to the essence of being, moved by mystery and the wonder of it all, I wrestled with grand, confounding questions the young will ask. I found answers on that ancient seashore bathed in moonlight, alone with diamonds in the sky and shadows of finely sculpted rocky forms whispering mysterious stories of land’s edge.

Humbled and overwhelmed by the vastness and beauty of place and moment, I felt my heart beat and heard voices in the silence of the land and saw harshness leave my life. It was there I embraced faith and grew the philosophical holdfast for my being. It was there I came to terms with knowing there are no answers to the universal "why?". It was there I determined to live the questions I asked, and to make my life, in the words of Barry Lopez, " a worthy expression of a leaning into the light."

After law school and a period of alienation from the turmoil of the times, my life-partner and I returned over the seas in 1970. Pulled back by the addictive landscapes of California - John Muir’s "range of light", redwood cathedrals of Humboldt, the remote, wild beauty of the lost coast, ascending ruggedness of Big Sur, and the mystic magnetism of Mojave and Sonoran lands of light and sun - in the end, I returned because I believed I could make a difference, and if not, I had at least to try. I remembered as well advice from a wizened sage and friend with whom I learned in Germany before beginning the study of law: "Never give up on the new homeland that is yours, and if troubled by injustice and absence of vision and compassion in it, construct a personal culture of values and doing -- involve yourself to make a better place for the children." He also stressed the journey and our comportment on the way matters most.

My first assignment on return was to craft a long-term coastal stewardship program for California.


In addition to internal roots, many external factors, touched with forces of darkness and light, have shaped the vision I embrace.

As we continue this discussion, we need to remember not to confuse factors that contribute to the content of vision with the vision itself.

Indeed, the socio-economic, legal, political, cultural, demographic and institutional landscape in which coastal management is practiced today has changed dramatically over the last 30 years. Many of these changes contain both positive and negative implications for coastal management.

Examples include: Advances in information and communications technology; developments in natural and social sciences and engineering capabilities; higher standards of living and a dramatic leap in personal wealth; better education and increased sophistication and knowledge among members of the public; greater complexity and proliferation of the issues; changes in land rights law; the fragmentation of communities of interest and the emergence and domination of the special-interest agenda; cynicism about and disenchantment with government; term-limits, turnover and the loss of institutional memory; the politics of harshness and confrontation; a growing ambivalence to risk among the under-30-something; the degeneration of civility in discussions over public issues; population growth; increased ethnic and cultural diversity; changes in lifestyles including entertainment choices; transformation in the nature of employment and the workplace (i.e., becoming "freelance nation"); and the idea the public’s business can be better done by private enterprise than government.

Think about it! Most of these changes embrace both beneficial and deleterious elements

Advances in technology have given us marvelous new tools to work with. Yet, these same capabilities have made living and telecommuting from remote areas feasible resulting in new development pressure on isolated ranchlands and wildlands along the coast and elsewhere.

Similarly, the rise in personal affluence has enabled many people to devote time and money to environmental protection causes. It has also led to more second homes on the coast, loss of affordable housing in older coastal communities and a seemingly inexorable march toward exclusivity along the seashores of the nation.

I want to briefly expand on some of these factors.


The gap between the wealthy and the rest is getting bigger fast. Equity considerations notwithstanding, it is unlikely persons of limited economic means will be able to afford, in the near future, to live on the coast in most urban regions of the country or in remote areas attractive for second homes, retirement or telecommuters. Equity is likely to be realized primarily through the protection of existing and expanded coastal public access and recreational opportunities. The California Coastal Commission’s attempt in the late 70s to preserve affordable coastal housing as a form of public access was short-lived, in part, because local government objected to high-priced coastal real estate being used for low-cost housing and thereby reducing local tax collections.

As population expands and the pressure for economic growth continues to build, traditional inland recreation lands are lost to development. This has placed heightened pressure on public beaches and other coastal recreational lands. Indeed, the most heavily used public spaces in the nation are beaches and malls. Most coastal properties now sell at a premium. As a result the conflict between seaside residents and visitors from inland areas is intensifying. Coastal residents, especially in urban areas, pressure their local governments to restrict public access to and use of public streets, parking lots, and beaches. In many localities, beach curfews, imposed in the name of public safety, exclude the public from public lands. Preferential parking programs are used with increasing frequency.

Another phenomenon of concern is the proliferation of locked-gate or gated subdivisions along the coast. A principle reason advanced by developers for such closed neighborhoods is concern by homebuyers about personal and property security. Obviously, developers also think they can earn a greater profit. Another reason is that fiscally strapped local governments like gated residential subdivisions because road maintenance and some other service costs are not born by the local government but by homeowner associations. The implications relative to exclusivity and public access (i.e., streets in gated neighborhoods are not available for public parking) are obvious.

Just last week, the California Coastal Commission again rejected a locked-gate subdivision between the first major public road and the ocean, in part, based on concern about the emerging community character of the coast. The cumulative effect of gated neighborhoods along the coast was seen as creating a character of exclusivity where people who cannot afford to live are not wanted. While the walling off of neighborhoods may be acceptable in much of the country, it is not the environmental future we should envision for that special reach of real estate adjacent to public lands along the coastal margin.


As a close observer of the natural world and human condition here and abroad, I am sensitive to the fragility of community environmental values threatened by exploding population pressures, poverty, technology and hunger for economic growth. I am also aware of the potent influence cultural values, political movements organized around environmental issues, and the partisan politics of power, expediency and profit have on our ability as a society to protect, on a long-term basis, environmental values of human and natural communities.

We have, over the past 65 years, as a society of broad ethnic, religious, political and economic diversity realized remarkable achievements on the environmental front, as well as in other fields, largely because we once embraced an overarching belief in the value and worth of promoting the common good -- the collective well-being of the people of this nation. One can quibble about details, but there was in our not too distant past a generally shared sense of common interests and purpose that warranted sacrifice and subordination of individual wants for the sake of the greater good of the larger community - the neighborhood, state and extended national community. Individual interests and expectations were tempered by a healthy understanding and appreciation of obligations and responsibilities to society and future generations.

That is in large part why we were able to establish and implement, at a national, state and local level, planning programs and rules that adjusted private uses of land in a manner protective of human and natural community environmental interests and values at some not insignificant cost to individual rights and aspirations.

Unfortunately, individual attitudes, social mores, and conditions of economic life have changed significantly in the last thirty years and have corroded the connections that bind people to community and the land.

The changes have been profound. Appreciation of value is replaced by fixation on costs. Quantity trumps quality. Materialism buries idealism. The search for common ground is abandoned, often before it is begun. Special interest advocacy eschews compromise . Civility is crushed by invective. Civic discourse degenerates into personal attacks. Anger conquers reason. Road rage is common. Avoidance displaces involvement. Acceptance of responsibility is defined by shifting the blame and victim mentality. Self-centered action and instant gratification rule. Virtual reality obscures the real world around us. Short-term profits obliterate long-term well-being. Billable hours are more important than meaningful work. Both parents hold jobs just to maintain a reasonable standard of living.

As a result of these changes and more, imagination, vision, compassion, social conscience and commitment to collective well-being have become casualties. We have, somehow, somewhere along the way, separated from awareness that "we are in this together" - that "minding the nest is everyone’s business."

During the last several decades we have, to a large extent and unfortunately, abandoned our attachment to, identification with, and loyalty to traditional communities - whether the neighborhood, village, town, city, or state, the church or civic organization, the company, or the family. This erosion of identity has neutralized a once-potent force that unified large segments of society around commitment to well-being of communities in which we live, work and play.

We have become a society of psychological, working, residential and recreational transients and freelancers. We teach our young to be flexible and adaptive: To be prepared for frequent changes in place of work and domicile. But how can community roots take hold if uprooting is the norm? It seems to me, "community" today has become a foggy, shape-shifting and transitory concept.

I think it imperative we rekindle serious thinking about the importance of community values, particularly those that affect the current and future environmental health and vitality of human and natural communities. In today’s context, an essential "community" is a grouping of people with shared environmental interests in a readily identifiable piece of geography, whether a residential neighborhood, a public space (i.e., local, regional or national parkland), a place that is a source of livelihood (i.e., the ocean, forest), home for a traditional way of life, a watershed or other ecosystem, or an area delineated for governance.

Within these environmental communities of interest exist what I call environmental commons which are environmental features or characteristics of special, overriding importance to the larger society. Examples of environmental commons include environmentally sensitive habitats and ecosystems and the air, water and ground, whose degradation threatens human health and safety. Also included are publicly owned or used spaces, public trust resources, and the aesthetic aspects of place, such as highly scenic sea and landscapes accessible to the public.

More specifically, I view environmental commons to be those features of land and water areas, and air space, that exist independently or as an integral but identifiable part of a dynamic whole (i.e., eco-system, watershed, waterbody, waterbasin, coastal bight, air basin, public park, village, town, neighborhood, or parish) whose functional viability and integrity must be protected in order to ensure preservation of natural or human community values deemed of vital importance to public health, well-being and quality of life. Environmental commons of a residential neighborhood, for example, are places in it, whether on public or private land, use of which, directly or indirectly and to a significant degree, impact the quality, functionality and safety of the neighborhood (i.e., streets, sidewalks, trails, bikeways, playgrounds, schools, parks and open spaces).

I think this conception of "community" fits contemporary society well. It is a "portable" community to be taken along when the job or place of residence change. It is a movable community of shared, collective interests in protecting environmental commons wherever we find them.

So a key element of my vision of the future for coastal management is a rekindled and reformulated appreciation and understanding of the importance of "community" as a shared set of interests in the long-term protection of environmental values.


America is a country of great and growing cultural and ethnic diversity. As a result, challenges for natural resource managers increase as people of varied backgrounds and differing attitudes toward the natural world make demands on public lands and resources. Cultural diversity has always been one of the country’s great strengths. Inevitably however, conflicts will arise that relate to discrimination, economic status, cultural identity, custom, and livelihood. Historically, people of color have not been adequately represented in environmental protection programs. More must be done to effectively reach out and include in coastal management programs people from communities that have not previously been actively involved.

Looking to the future, we must build on the strength found in our diversity and recognize we have more in common than not. It is vital we understand that what we, as a diverse grouping of peoples, have in common can make a significant difference in the environmental future we leave our children

My vision includes focused, effective initiatives and efforts to expand participation in environmental stewardship programs, both in employment and volunteer capacities, by persons of differing cultural backgrounds. I see a future in which diverse communities of culture share a common vision of a healthy environment, both in the neighborhood and elsewhere.


The erosion of consciousness about collective well-being has led to subtle but extremely significant changes in the politics of governance in the country and especially relative to expressions of land use law by the courts. The convergence of multiple variables has combined to create a powerful force for change. These factors include growth of the private land rights movement, self-centered thinking, trashing of government by short-sighted, divisive and opportunistic politicians, backlash to environmental activism and successes in the ‘60s and ‘70s, political distortions of land use regulatory requirements, and growth of libertarian thinking and politics. In the courts it has emerged as a seachange in thinking about how environmental stewardship should be conducted by government.

This new thinking and judicial activism is characterized by a realignment of rights and responsibilities among individuals and communities, as represented by government. It involves a fundamental and drastic restatement of who pays for the "burdens" and "benefits" of environmental protection and it redefines the meaning of both.

Justice Antonin Scalia, in the 1997 Suitum decision (See Suitum v. Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (1997) __U.S.___ [117 S.Ct. 1659]), made clear that in his mind the difference between the prevention of public harm and conferring a public benefit is only a matter of degree and is, for many purposes of land use regulation, a distinction without a difference. He notes that

since the difference between harm prevention and benefit bestowing is in the eyes of the beholder, the harm (unless costs are born equally by everyone) must be clear and unquestionable (i.e., it cannot be based on ecological planning principles) and must rise to the level of a "nuisance" before the cost of preventing it can be imposed on an individual without government having to pay for the land-use restriction. Accordingly, if restrictions on an individual’s ability to use land benefit the community as a whole, even if justified as harm prevention, in most cases, the government must pay compensation for diminution in value of the privately owned land. Fortunately, the court majority has not yet embraced this position.

Justice Scalia’s line of reasoning, while radical, is clearly where private land rights crusaders want to take the law. This agenda, if successful, will destroy society’s ability to protect human and natural community environmental values because there simply is not enough money in the public fisc to pay the bill. The apparent intent is to prevent the application of ecological planning principles, species and habitat preservation and bio-diversity protection measures on private property where the cost of doing so is born by the individual landowner. If protection of these environmental values is so important to the public, this line of thinking goes, government must pay for the protection and cannot, with impunity, impose those costs on individual property owners who are little more than unwitting targets of opportunity.

It is critical the public understand that, in the end, the courts will set the rules that determine the environmental future of the country and the environmental legacy we leave future generations.

The legal landscape relative to land use management for the purpose of protecting community environmental values changed dramatically in 1987. Two Supreme Court rulings that year (Nollan and First English) fundamentally changed the way in which land use decisions would henceforth be treated by inventing a new and expansive "regulatory takings" doctrine. At the urging of private land rights advocates, these and subsequent court rulings have effectively neutered government in its ability to protect important community environmental values. These decisions significantly redefined and expanded individual, private land rights and benefits at considerable public expense.

Court regulatory "takings" rulings have created legal tests, imposed fiscal penalties on public agencies, and established requirements of proof that are confusing, and, as a practical matter, very difficult to meet. They require the application of fiscal, technical and human resources that budget-starved public agencies simply cannot bring to bear. At the same time courts demand government do work that is cost-prohibitive, many politicians are calling for lower taxes and budget cuts for the very agencies with statutory responsibility to protect the environment. There is something painfully wrong with this picture.

Equally significant, is the widespread chilling effect these rulings have on public officials charged with environmental protection who now steer clear of tough land use decisions in fear of costly fiscal repercussions for the governmental entities they represent. A predictable consequence of this relatively new and forced public agency timidity is anger and growing criticism from an environmental community appalled by the results of the land use decisions compelled by judicial regulatory takings rulings. "Please don’t shoot the messenger" has become a common plea from public sector environmental stewards. My request is that concerned citizens focus on the meaning of the message and spotlight its authors (i.e., judges appointed by politicians). It is unfair and counterproductive to hurl invective at those without choice but to deliver the message.

This is not the forum to go into the technical aspects of the leading regulatory takings cases, such as Nollan, First English, Lucas, and Dolan . Suffice it to say, the direction courts have driven the environmental future of this country is not where I think we should be going as a society.

Another aspect of my coastal stewardship vision is that we again have a Supreme Court whose majority understands and appreciates the public’s vital interest in the protection of human and natural community environmental values by restoring to public sector environmental stewards tools they need to adequately safeguard coastal resources.


It is essential to the continuing viability of coastal management that more people share our vision, or visions, of coastal and ocean stewardship and the environmental future of coasts and oceans. For that to happen, we must do a better job promoting public education and public involvement. This is an area in which everyone can carry a share of the load. People of all ages can learn and teach about coastal and ocean ecosystems and do something to help protect them. While environmental education programs exist across the country, more needs to be done to focus on coastal and marine systems.

That is why the California Coastal Commission, the National Ocean Service, Sea Grant, Universities and other partners have launched "Seacamp Monterey Bay" which is a national program to provide youngsters, teachers and families a residential studies program to learn about coastal and marine sciences. This is an exciting new project that offers multiple benefits.

I am certain everyone here today knows of a project or program designed to teach and involve people in environmental stewardship through awareness and participation. We must advocate the taking of personal responsibility for the health of our environment. Remember, "its everyone’s business!

Another important reality is that most people, I suspect, do not see beauty in the natural state of Nature. Certainly everyone with TV has seen the beauty of a Yosemite, a Yellowstone and other spectacular places of the world. But how many see beauty in the ecosystem of a hot, dry desert, a smelly, mosquito-infested marsh, a salty, fly-ridden Great Salt Lake, or in the weaving of a spider’s web? Where you and I see beauty, others with a different view see ugly. It takes a trained or educated eye to see the beauty in a mudflat or a swamp. One more reason why public education is vital.

Looking back nearly 30 years, I am struck by how little has changed in the politics of coastal management. Controversial issues then remain so today: Local versus state-level control; funding of land use planning and regulatory programs; public access; private property rights; wetlands and other environmentally sensitive habitat protection; preservation of agricultural and open-space lands; growth controls and setting urban-rural limits; conflicts among recreational uses and users; industrial uses; fisheries management; water quality protection; erosion control and dealing with hazards; gentrification of older communities; affordable housing; protection of scenic resources; population growth focused in coastal areas; etc.

Certainly, there have been some significant changes. For example, attitudes toward coastal management are far more positive and public awareness and understanding of environmental issues have improved remarkably.

Another important change is the advent of term limits and their impact on political leadership and institutional memory. There is less time to learn about good governance and a greater tendency to want to make a quick mark without much consideration given to the longview or longer term effects. There are also new issues such as gated neighborhoods and the tendency of fiscally strapped public entities to rent or sell coastal public space for commercial use.

Notwithstanding increased public awareness, a major challenge is how to fire the public’s imagination and stimulate active support for the work we do. It is not easy, especially when so many citizens feel alienated from government. In good times, it seems to be a natural tendency in our society for people to behave as if pushed away from a common center by centrifugal force. We need to find ways to generate a counter force pulling people together toward a common purpose.

As Leon Panetta made plain at the recent National Ocean Conference in Monterey, the only way many people can be motivated to pull in the same direction and together, is when there is a crisis or through strong leadership. While we here know coasts and oceans are in crisis, its hard to convince the general public of that fact or that the health of coast and ocean environments actually matters to them and is something they should care about. Similarly, even people who should know don’t realize that the environmental future of natural and human communities in this country is being driven over a cliff by court rulings involving private and public land rights - a condition I speak of as an insidious American tragedy.

Generally, the public psyche suffers from a serious attention deficit. If something does not affect one’s daily life, it is not much thought about. Absent galvanizing events such as the antics of a James Watt, the Exxon Valdez or the 1969 Santa Barbara offshore oil well blowout, the public tends to ignore coastal management. That is why political leadership is so important.

To make our task yet more difficult, it seems ironic that the more successful we are at much of what we do the less public concern and activism is generated. Indeed, it is in the nature of environmental stewardship to labor in ways not understood or recognizable to the general public. For example, many of the most significant accomplishments in coastal management are things one canNOT see - the wetlands not filled, the public access not lost, scenic vistas not spoiled, the subdivisions not approved, the offshore oil drilling that is not happening. Our work is not self-promoting in that the better we do it, the less likely people will think there is a problem that needs fixing.

Yet, as we well know, coasts and oceans, like any precious reach of geography, are never finally saved. They are always being saved. And their greatest threat is public ignorance and apathy.

As we look to the future, it is clear the ways and means we use to implement environmental stewardship programs have changed dramatically over the last several decades. People have access to more information than ever, modern mobility and instant communications have transformed the planet into a global community, rich in diversity yet inextricably linked and interdependent in terms of economics and environmental health. There has been a remarkable evolution in the workplace, the neighborhood and the public square. The technology we have to collect, store, retrieve, analyze, process and present data is awesome. I remember manually typing letters with carbon copies.

While much has changed, essential characteristics of human nature and the human condition have remained constant. People want and strive for a state of physical and emotional well-being and security. Most people seek to raise their standard of living, avoid conflict, be loved and find happiness, have friends, acquire material wealth, grow families, be successful, have a good time and be left alone. What motivates people and what they strive for depends on where they have been. I may want only material profit while you find meaning and reward in community service. You may care only about immediate returns while I worry over the well-being of future generations. Whether one is building a business or saving the planet will obviously shape their individual vision of the future each wants. It works the other way around as well. The trick is in getting people of differing backgrounds and motivation to recognize the interests they have in common, such as the health of the earth. Certainly, some will never see it. Others see it but disagree on terms and definitions, and ways and means.

The key is that people must understand the vital need to talk to one another in a civil and thoughtful manner. The search for common ground among a closely linked but highly diverse community of people is perhaps the most significant challenge of our time. We have no choice but to work at it. That means we must make the effort to understand and respect the perspective of others even if we do not agree. We must listen closely and hear each other. We must build on what unites us and not dwell on our differences. A healthy sense of altruism does not preclude appreciation of the need to have a job and earn money. Nor should a focus on profit exclude giving for the sake of the community.


There is so much going on in the struggle of our lives and work, I worry we not lose sight of the forest for the trees. Certainly trees are valuable in their own right and, in my book, each has standing. But, many together form a forest we need also strive to see and save as a community of environmental values worthy of our attention. We must sharpen our message and stress the worth of preserving human and natural community environmental interests and worry less about the cost of doing so.

I have no doubt as the world becomes more crowded and the tug and pull of hectic daily life wears and tears at the fabric of our emotional being, we will, as a society of individual human beings, yearn more and more for the solace of the shore. We will want and value even more than we do today land and seascapes uncluttered by the doings of man. We will reach for solitude of place, the passionate pulsing of Nature and the inspiration of land’s edge as relief from the pace and pressures of urban existence. More people than ever will come to the seashore in search of its soothing and healing power. Because there will be less of them, public support for the protection of parklands, other public lands and open space will grow stronger. Similarly, the public will escalate its demand for protection of coasts and oceans.

And we here are blessed with the public trust of doing just that!

The way of public service is not easy in these days of citizen disillusionment, frustration and cynicism. There is abroad in the land a self-centeredness and sense of lost confidence in government fueled by opportunistic, shortsighted and narrow-minded politicians. A sizable segment of the public seems unwilling to recognize the good works of public employees done every day. Many people demand public service but don’t respect it. They want it but don’t want to have to pay for it. They simply take public service for granted. At worst, they become abusive and offensive.

Sadly, these are realities of public life in contemporary society. While I can understand the condition, I don’t like it, I won’t accept it, and I certainly can’t excuse it.

Most of us here come to and stay with our work by choice. Much of the reward we realize from our labor is wrapped around a bundle of intangibles. We are driven by motivation with deep roots in our personal values, our way of looking at the world and ourselves, philosophy, and dedication to service in the best interest of the planet and life on it. We can, and I do derive strength and comfort in the knowledge our work is meaningful, honorable and enduring -- at once noble and ennobling. When events push me into the arms of despair and I question the worth of the struggle, I remember the children and turn to Nature for inspiration and renewal.

Those who choose public environmental stewardship as vocation hold in their care a precious trust. I sincerely believe most people want us to do our jobs well and expect that we bring vision, strength of purpose, knowledge, professionalism and integrity to the task. When we do, public support will be there. Knowing this and the nature of our work, should empower us to hold at bay the cynicism and resignation that inevitably gnaws at all of us from time to time.

Because our work is so much about rewards and values not easily held in hand, we must search within ourselves for satisfaction and fortitude to keep on doing what we do. Inspired and self-driven by our vision of a better environmental future for the country and the world, it is up to each of us to keep alive our dreams and keep stoked that fire in the belly.

American character has, for several hundred years, been identified with taming of wilderness and exploitation of land for human profit. Why cannot commitment to preservation and restoration of community environmental values to benefit all life exemplify our character as a people in decades ahead?

It can, if we but listen closely for the heartbeat in our being that gives voice to our vision of a healthy planet. And it is this vision that can lift us into the light shining just the other side of hope.

Thank you for having me here!

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