WEFTEC 2015

Rob Stewart is my newest hero. His early passion for photographing sharks led him to a career of environmental activism. His film, Revolution, was released in 2012, and you can watch it on Vimeo for $3.99.

Rob Stewart was the keynote speaker at the WEFTEC 2015 Opening General Session, “Leading the Water Resource Revolution.”Stewart delivered on his assignment to “push water to the forefront of innovation.”  The urgency of his message was his personal witness to accelerated global destruction of Earth’s ecosystems and the concomitant risk of human catastrophe.  When WEF urges “transformative innovation,” it sounds in service to efficiency and resource recovery, as in “it’s a good thing to be green and sustainable.”  When Stewart urges innovation, it is for the purpose of “saving humanity.” That is urgency!

Stewart’s presentation at WEFTEC’s Opening General Session was a compelling story that sounded a hopeful note with examples of school children engaged in political lobbying to stop shark fin harvesting.  He has even developed a recent website intended to engage and intrigue young people:  Not Impossible Now. He invites young people to be inspired by creative innovations and to act now, while still young, to save the world’s ecosystem. He offers up such as projects as the Slingshot water treatment system.

A noted engineering scientist, after Stewart’s presentation, shook his head solemnly. “Well, personally, I still think we are doomed.”

But Stewart’s instinct, or may be that of his advisors, is that “doom” doesn’t sell. His passionate advocacy, mixed with urgency and hope, sells.

Yet, I have been down the road of passionate advocacy for the environment, and it’s a rough road.  One of the best advocates I witnessed, back at an IWA World Water Congress, was Paul Hawken.  Hawken was a business entrepreneur (Smith & Hawken garden supplies) turned environmentalist and author of Natural Capitalism and Blessed Unrest.  Hawken was a fabulous speaker on the power of civil societies worldwide to alter resource exploitation, human and natural, the dark underbelly of capitalism, and even produced a video.   He started a project to facilitate and grow a worldwide network of such NGOs, through WiserEarth.org, to accelerate their empowerment and transformative capacity. Alas, this sustainability project was itself unsustainable, and it folded in 2014. Hawken had plenty of urgency and hope, but perhaps not enough passion and advocacy to change the world.

A more successful venture has been propelled by passionate advocate and author Bill McKibben. You may recognize McKibben for The End of Nature and Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet (you can watch a lecture by McKibbin on YouTube). He established350.org as an international umbrella for local climate change activism.  This has grown into a robust organization, currently planning “Power Through Paris, “ developing activists for participation in upcoming Paris climate talks.

Soil has its passionate advocates, and it starts with the programs of its professional science society.  The three combined societies -- theCrop Science Society of America, the Soil Science Society of America, and the American Society of Agronomy – publish the monthly CSA News, which I highly recommend. And together, through their Science Policy Office, they have developed the “I Heart Soil” public advocacy program, the “2015 International Year of Soils” science advocacy, and the “Dig It: The Secrets of Soil,” a 4,000 square foot public outreach exhibit.  Taken together, they comprise passionate advocacy of soils.

But the CSA doesn’t stand alone.  Cousins of the CSA effort include the “We Build Healthy Soils” program of the Association of Compost Producers, a biosolids friendly group in California.

They have non-professional supporters. Notable are the grassroots advocates at “Kiss the Ground”, a group headed by talented young people outside of soil science from the restaurant, gardening, citizen activism, and sustainability fields, who produced “The Soil Story”video.

And, they have science popularizers drawn from academia.   Dr. Sally Brown, in her October research update, introduces us to David Montgomery, geologist and author of Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations, and keynote speaker (you can see one of his lectures on YouTube) at last month’s Northwest Biosolids Management Association annual meeting.

Water’s Worth It. WEF reminds us of that, but not nearly so much so this year than when we were last in Chicago.  Has this effort the advocacy, passion, urgency, and hope to catch on?

Aside from the excitement of the OGS, WEF’s major project was the launching of its Strategic Plan, and concomitant Critical Objectives and Strategic Goals. Those of us who attended more than one committee meeting heard more than once the admonition that we need to align our committee work with specific reference to execution of WEF’s objectives and goals.

Compared to the urgency of Stewart’s call to action to prevent humanity’s doom, WEF’s Strategic Plan is a much more sober call to action. It has no call to re-boot humanity’s relationship with nature. Its objective from an advocacy standpoint is to be a “visible partner in national initiatives [on public awareness] ” and “provide tools… to communicate the value of water.”  Unlike the soils organization, WEF is not into passionate advocacy of the urgent need to save Earth by protecting water quality.

Much more compelling for me than the Strategic Plan was the call by WEF’s Program Committee for IKEstracts for WEFTEC 2016’s Interactive Knowledge Exchange session.   The Program Committee is looking for abstracts for development of videos, 30 seconds to 10 minutes in length, “to engage, educate and interact, with audiences local and remote to WEFTEC. “

This could be real fun!  And, it could be the opening to try passionate advocacy for the urgent need to save Earth’s water systems.  The Committee is asking for proposals to produce concise videos dealing with water. They suggest such topics as a special challenge, radical concepts, noteworthy innovations, valuable lessons learned, underrepresented issues, and humorous insights. IKE will have a dedicated session at WEFTEC 2016, supported with YouTube postings. Abstracts are due 2/9/2015 to 1/18/2016, as a one sentence summary and general description, submitted to www.weftec.org/abstracts.  Completed videos are due 5/16/2016.

I believe this could be great for the wastewater profession.  Julia McClure, CSA’s Senior Policy Analyst, explains in September’s CSA News that she wants to get her scientists “to share their passion,” to be more involved and to reach the policymakers.  One major benefit is to let the public know what the CSA scientists are working on, and how it relates to societal challenges, so as to help gain greater support. She says, “Likability and relatability of the researcher is important in advocacy, and not necessarily fostered in research training.”

Has the wastewater profession ever described likeability and relatability as professional qualities it wishes to foster among its members?

The IKE videos may prove to be a start, for both the wastewater and the biosolids folks, to communicate with relatability and likability our passionate advocacy for clean water.

I am inviting my biosolids colleagues to share some ideas.  We have until January 18, 2016, to prove that we can be Passionate Advocates.