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← Let's protect the oceans like national parks

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Showing Revision 7 created 10/15/2018 by Brian Greene.

  1. So, of all my childhood memories,
  2. there is one that stands above the rest.
  3. And that is the time that my brave parents
  4. rented an RV, packed it
    with me and my brothers,
  5. and drove west
    from our house in Minneapolis,
  6. out to Yellowstone National Park.
  7. We saw all the sights, like the geysers,
    we stopped at the Badlands,
  8. but more than any of the places,
    I remember this as an adventure.
  9. This was my introduction to the Wild West.

  10. But it wasn't until I got older
  11. and I learned more
    about the National Park System
  12. that I realized just how lucky I was.
  13. One, to have that experience,
  14. but also that, hundreds of years ago,
  15. people had the foresight
    to set aside the very best places,
  16. the very best ecosystems
    in the country, for everyone.
  17. And for future generations.
  18. And to really appreciate
    just how prescient that idea was,
  19. you have to go back
  20. and you have to look at the history
    of the National Parks Service.
  21. So, a lot of people know, the first
    national park was Yellowstone, in 1872.

  22. A lot of people think of John Muir,
    the poet, naturalist,
  23. who was such a visionary
  24. in getting people inspired
    by the idea of conservation --
  25. that we need to take
    the best places and protect them.
  26. He had an audience in very high places --
  27. there's a great story
    of Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir
  28. going hiking, in Yosemite,
    during his presidency,
  29. four days, completely off the grid,
    just the two of them.
  30. Can you imagine a president
  31. actually just going completely
    off the grid for four days?
  32. (Laughter)

  33. No tweeting.

  34. (Laughter) (Applause)

  35. Like that idea.

  36. (Applause)

  37. But he had a great impact
    on Theodore Roosevelt.

  38. And he created dozens of national parks,
  39. hundreds of thousands of square acres
    of national wildlife refuges.
  40. It was an important administration,
    but it wasn't a done deal.
  41. Even less than 10 years
    after he created all of those new places,
  42. the future of those places
    was very much in doubt.
  43. And it wasn't until this guy,
    Stephen Mather,
  44. a businessman from Chicago,
  45. wrote an angry letter
    to the Department of the Interior, saying,
  46. "You guys aren't doing a good enough job
    protecting and preserving these places."
  47. Then, something was done about it.
  48. The Department of the Interior
    wrote him back.
  49. "Mr. Mather, if you care
    so much about this,
  50. why don't you come to Washington
    and do it yourself?"
  51. (Laughter)

  52. And he did.

  53. He took a job at the Department
    of the Interior,
  54. but more importantly,
    he started a campaign.
  55. He actually had a meeting
    two blocks from here, in 1914,
  56. in California Hall,
  57. and he brought together the park
    superintendents and a few other people
  58. who cared about this idea of conservation.
  59. And they put together a plan,
    they hatched a campaign
  60. that eventually led to the
    National Park Service in 1916.
  61. And that's really important.
  62. Because it went from an idea
    that we should protect these places
  63. to an actual plan,
  64. a way for people to enlist
    and carry that idea forward
  65. for future generations,
  66. so little kids like me can go
    and have these amazing experiences.
  67. That is the history
    of the National Parks on land.

  68. The ocean, what I want
    to talk to you about today,
  69. is a completely different story.
  70. And we are almost precisely
    100 years behind.
  71. So, the first marine
    sanctuary was in 1972,
  72. after the oil spill in Santa Barbara,
  73. people got interested
    in taking that concept
  74. and applying it
    to underwater environments.
  75. We've had our own John Muir,
    who's Dr. Sylvia Earle,
  76. who's been a tireless advocate
  77. for creating these marine
    protected areas around the world.
  78. So, I know there's a lot
    of bad news about the ocean,
  79. there's plastic pollution,
    coral bleaching, over-fishing --
  80. it's hard to take it all in sometimes.
  81. But this idea of setting aside
    places for nature is working.
  82. Science tells us that if you
    set these places aside,
  83. nature will come back
    and we can keep the oceans healthy.
  84. So we know this idea works.
  85. And Dr. Sylvia Earl
    has been influential, like John Muir,
  86. with administrations --
  87. George W. Bush and Obama
    were both fantastic ocean presidents,
  88. creating marine protected areas
    all around the country.
  89. This is not a conservative idea
    or a liberal idea,
  90. it's not even an American idea,
  91. it's just a good idea.
  92. (Laughter)

  93. (Applause)

  94. But --

  95. (Applause)

  96. Here we are, a few years later.

  97. And now the administration is proposing
    to roll back a lot of the progress
  98. we've made in the past 20 years.
  99. So, so, don't mourn -- organize.
  100. We need to do what
    Stephen Mather did 100 years ago.
  101. We need to start a campaign
    to get people engaged with this idea.
  102. And I think we need a league
    of citizen scientists for the ocean.
  103. And I've seen glimpses of this future,
    and I know that it's possible.
  104. My friend Erik and I started building
    underwater robots,

  105. these little swimming cameras
    with lights that you can see underwater.
  106. We started building these
    in his garage five years ago,
  107. and we've watched that grow
  108. into this community of thousands
    of people around the world,
  109. who believe that everybody
    should have access to these places.
  110. We all deserve the tools
    to go and explore.
  111. There's stories like Laura James,
  112. who used her robot to find out that
    sea stars in her area were dying.
  113. And she started this whole
    citizen science campaign,
  114. collected data and drove awareness
    for sea-star wasting syndrome,
  115. to try and figure out
    what was happening there.
  116. There are stories of fishermen in Mexico,
  117. who used the robot to create
    marine protected areas
  118. where Nassau grouper were spawning,
    to protect the future of this species.
  119. It's really amazing stuff.
  120. We found that if you give
    people the tools,
  121. they'll do the right thing.
  122. But we need to take it a step further.

  123. And, actually, I think we can dust off
    Stephen Mather's playbook.
  124. So what did he do?
  125. So, the first thing that he did
    was he focused on infrastructure.
  126. So 1914 wasn't just
    a time for the parks,
  127. it was also a time for the automobile,
  128. the Model T was rolling off the line,
  129. and Stephen Mather understood
  130. that this was going to be
    an important part of American culture.
  131. And so he partnered with highway
    associations around the country
  132. to build big, beautiful highways
    out to these parks.
  133. And it worked, he's basically
    invented car camping.
  134. And he knew that if people
    didn't go to these places,
  135. that they wouldn’t fall in love with them
    and they wouldn't care.
  136. So that was a really insightful
    idea that he had.
  137. The second thing they did,

  138. was they focused
    on visionary philanthropy.
  139. So, Stephen Mather was a successful
    businessman from Chicago,
  140. and anytime there was
    a parks association that needed funding,
  141. anytime there was a highway
    association that needed funding,
  142. they'd step in, write
    the checks, make it happen.
  143. There's a great story
    of his friend William Kent,
  144. who recognized there was a small patch
    of redwoods left on the base of Mount Tam,
  145. and so he quickly bought the land
  146. and donated it
    to this National Parks effort.
  147. That's Muir Woods today --
  148. it's one of the most popular
    national parks in the whole country.
  149. My parents are visiting here
    from Minnesota,
  150. and they don't really even
    care about this talk,
  151. all they're talking about
    is going to Muir Woods.
  152. (Laughter)

  153. But the last thing is critical --

  154. Stephen Mather focused on engagement.
  155. In one of the first meetings that they had
    around this new system, he said,
  156. "If you're a writer,
    I want you to write about this.
  157. If you're a business owner, I want you
    to tell your clubs and your organizations.
  158. If you work for the government,
    I want you to pass regulation."
  159. Everybody had a job.
  160. "Each of you, all of you,
    have a role to play
  161. in protecting these places
    for future generations."
  162. Each of you, all of you.
  163. I love that.
  164. That's the plan --
    simple, three-point plan.

  165. I think we can do the same.
  166. So, this was the headline
    when Obama created
  167. the Papahanaumokuakea National Monument:
  168. "Lots to see, but good luck
    trying to get there."
  169. But like Mather, we should focus
    on the technology of our time,
  170. all of this new, amazing,
    digital infrastructure
  171. can be built to engage people
    with the oceans.
  172. So, the National Marine Sanctuary
  173. has created all these
    wonderful VR 360 videos,
  174. where you can actually go
    and see what these places look like.
  175. Our team is continuing to build new tools,

  176. this is our latest, this is
    the trident underwater drone,
  177. it's a diving submarine, it's sleek,
    you can fit it in a backpack,
  178. it can go down to 100 meters,
    deeper than most divers can go.
  179. It can see these environments
    that most people have never had access to.
  180. New tools are coming
    and we need even better tools.
  181. We can also use
    more visionary philanthropists.
  182. So, when Erik and I started this,
    we didn't have any money,

  183. we were building this in his garage.
  184. But we went to Kickstarter.
  185. And we found over 1,800 people,
  186. almost a million dollars
    we've raised on Kickstarter,
  187. finding other people who think,
  188. "Yeah, that's a good idea.
  189. I want to be a part of that."
  190. We need more ways for people
    to get engaged
  191. and become visionary
    philanthropists themselves.
  192. We've also had
    traditional philanthropists,
  193. who've stepped up to fund us
  194. in the SEE initiative --
    the Science Education and Exploration,
  195. who are going to help us get donated
    units out to people on the frontlines,
  196. people who are doing the science,
    people who are telling the stories,
  197. inspiring communities.
  198. You can go on to OpenExplorer.com
    and see what people are doing,
  199. it's hugely inspirational.
  200. And it will also, hopefully,
    spur you to get involved.
  201. Because there is plenty of room
    to get involved.

  202. We want to hear what ideas you have
    for telling these stories.
  203. Because that's just it --
    this is all about engagement.

  204. There's all sorts of interesting,
    new ways for people to participate
  205. in the protection of these places.
  206. And the understanding.
  207. Like, Reef Check -- scuba divers
    are going down and swimming transects
  208. and counting fish and biodiversity data.
  209. They're getting the information we need
    to protect these places.
  210. If you're going down to the beach,
    participate in MPA Watch.
  211. Document what activities you see
    going on in these different areas.
  212. There is room for everybody
    to participate here.
  213. And that's just it, that's what we need.
  214. We need to build a future
    for our grandkids' grandkids.
  215. Last month, I went out sailing,

  216. and we got out to the Farallon Islands,
    25 miles off the Gate.
  217. And most people think of this
    as kind of a bird sanctuary,
  218. but we took our robot, and we sent it in.
  219. And the people on the boat were astonished
    at the life beneath the surface.
  220. I mean, these are really,
    really important ecosystems.
  221. Really, and this is a whole
    wild world we haven't yet explored.
  222. And we have an opportunity right now,
  223. just as they did 100 years ago,
  224. to protect these places, to put in a plan,
    to keep people engaged.
  225. So last year, when the executive
    order came out,

  226. putting all of the progress we've made,
  227. all of these new marine protected
    areas, under review,
  228. there were over 100,000 people
    who commented online.
  229. Almost all of these letters were saying,
  230. "Don't do it; protecting these places
    is the right thing to do."
  231. My message to those 100,000 people,
    those 100,000 letters is:
  232. don't wait for Washington.
  233. We can do this ourselves.
  234. Thank you.

  235. (Applause)