Summer at Sea
As OFI's 2022 Summer at Sea opportunity winds to a close, Dalhousie student Molly Wells shares new insights gained from this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Sustainability in the South Pacific
Thinking about sustainability reminds me of stargazing. Sailing across the Pacific Ocean with no light pollution, I spent many hours staring at the Milky Way, glowing like moonlight from countless stars. But if I tried to focus on a specific star, I would lose sight of it. Instead, I needed to observe it indirectly, from the corner of my vision. Like the stars, sustainability is a constant presence in my life, but when I try to focus on specific examples and goals, the meaning often slips away from me. I want sustainability to be an explicit part of my life.
This is why I applied for the 2022 Summer at Sea opportunity. I spent four months sailing aboard the Statsraad Lehmkuhl across the frontier of climate change: the South Pacific, whose countries produce 0.24% of global carbon emissions yet are immediately threatened by sea level rise and other consequences. Besides eight hours of sailing each day, I studied ocean sustainability on this “floating university.” Our class of 90 learned about psychology, biology, climate science, social anthropology, and international law as taught by the University of Bergen, Norway.
With 36 fields of study on board, I had a dizzying array of conversations about what sustainability meant to people. The need to consider sustainability using an interdisciplinary lens became obvious in subjects such as food consumption, marine management, and sea level rise. My background in marine biology led me to believe that I had the full story on certain topics, but by listening to others I realized I was blind to many factors. At the heart, issues such as ocean health are human created problems. Their solutions must be human too. My science education trained me to remove the observer from the observation, but my interest in marine conservation has also taught me that compassion leads to action. We need objectivity when searching for a sustainable future, but it is people who must take the first step.
For me, living sustainably is to be conscious of the reciprocal relation we have with nature. Sustainability itself is to shift from wanting more, to wanting enough. Humans have caused immense harm to the environment, but we cannot exist in isolation from nature. We need to reimagine our relationship with the environment to one based on respect and reciprocity, giving back more than we take.
Through hearing personal experiences of nature and climate change, I learned how connection to place can drive motivation to protect the environment. On a ship with 13 nationalities visiting four countries, people from Norway to Fiji told me about the beauty of their homes and their fear of losing it. And while we are united globally, ties to home empowers us to act locally.
No one understands the difficulties of village relocation in Fiji than villagers themselves, who must wrestle with the practical, cultural, and spiritual consequences of moving due to sea level rise. Successful large-scale initiatives require intimate understanding of local realities. Through my own unique experiences, I hope on my return to help the environment and people that I hold dear to my heart.
My biggest takeaway from this experience is the importance of listening. Everyone has their own stories and opinions that may differ from our own. If we disregard unfamiliar or contradicting ideas, we lose the complexity integral to sustainability. Within common ground there is opportunity for the new.
A sustainable future cannot be achieved without first being imagined. I believe things can be different, so long as we listen.
Written by Molly Wells