Friday, 4 Apr 2003

NEW YORK, N.Y.

I am back in New York City preparing for tonight’s big event — last-minute press releases to go out, goodie bags to stuff, remarks to polish, seating to assign, and so forth.

Dan Barbe, Sigourney Weaver, Masaharu Morimoto, Michael Anthony, Susan Lifreiri, Meryl Streep, Eric Chivian, Michel Nischan, Kerry Heffernan.

One thing I’m really looking forward to about tonight is the food. The chefs have worked really hard to come up with a fantastic menu with all-organic, local produce — a serious challenge in New York this time of year. The first sit-down course will be prepared by Morimoto, a chef on the cult Food Network show “Iron Chef” who has just opened his own restaurant in Philadelphia. True to his Japanese style, he is preparing a raw course of hook-and-line-caught cod. Awareness about the importance of choosing seafood from sustainable stocks has flourished in recent years, thanks in large part to groups like Chef’s Collaborative and ocean-education institutions like the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Audubon Society. We recently received a Seafood-Lover’s Almanac from the Audubon’s Living Oceans program, which I highly recommend to anyone interested in this issue. It is comprehensive, up-to-date, and beautifully illustrated.

As part of my work at the center, I am collaborating with the New England Aquarium on an exhibit about how the health of the oceans affects human health. We hope to show people that the oceans play a vital role in human health and that if we threaten the health of the ocean, we threaten our own health — and the health of our children. When we first started this program, a colleague of mine and I stationed ourselves outside the aquarium and asked visitors to name one way the ocean affects their health. Ninety percent of people said they did not know. The other 10 percent named seafood as a link between their health and the health of the oceans, but even most of those people were not aware of the contamination issues, such as mercury, that compromise the otherwise very significant nutritional value of seafood.

Eric Chivian, Meryl Streep, Don Gummer (Meryl’s husband), and Kathleen Frith.

Our exhibit will explore direct links such as seafood contamination (and the disturbing fact that nursing infants are the most vulnerable to such pollutants), but it will also explore less direct human health impacts of the ocean, such as how changes in the climate will affect the oceans, and in turn affect human health. Rising seas due to melting glaciers and thermal expansion are one of the largest human-health threats the world now faces. The small island nation of Tuvalu in the South Pacific has already begun evacuating its people due to the impact of sea-level rise. These 11,000 people may constitute global warming’s first environmental refugees, but unless mitigation occurs quickly and aggressively, they will be followed by many more. Rising seas contaminate small islands’ already-limited freshwater supply with salt water, and the extreme weather events associated with global warming will further compromise the health and safety or islanders.

The great irony of this situation, of course, is that the people who live on these islands bear the brunt of global environmental problems for which they are not responsible. The same is true for native population living in pristine arctic environments that are being polluted by toxins blown in on wind and ocean currents from other places.

These are the issues I hope I can bring into the common dialogue, so we can start to make the transition from one of the world’s largest polluters to a leader in remediation. It is up to us, to every one of us, to voice our collective outrage so that together we can push for saner, healthier national and international policy.