Last week I attended a panel discussion—part of an ongoing series sponsored by the local university—on sea level rise. One of the speakers recounted his experience several years ago with a local community project known as the Light Blue Line. The goal was to paint a line on the streets of Santa Barbara, CA, showing where our new coastline would be if Greenland’s ice sheets melted. The project proved to be very controversial, with real estate developers protesting that it would lower property values and local politicians jumping into the debate, and although the line was never actually painted, it did—as the speaker noted during his talk—generate possibly even more publicity around the issue of sea level rise than if the project had gone off without a hitch.
It wasn’t so much the account of the Light Blue Line that never materialized, though, that struck me during his talk, but rather his amusement—and frustration—at the reactions he got from members of the community. As part of the project, he had produced a poster showing the “new” coastline, which he displayed at local Earth Day events and elsewhere. The poster clearly showed major infrastructure—the airport, a good chunk of the major highway into town, the rail lines—underwater.
The almost invariable reaction of locals who viewed the poster was to locate their own houses. “Oh, no!” they’d say, or else, with a relieved smile, “My house is okay!” As I listened, I realized I’ve been guilty of doing exactly that. And maybe, shown a map of your own community, it’s an inevitable reaction—but most people didn’t seem to get any farther than that. This was extremely disheartening to the project’s organizers, who had intended the posters—and the blue line itself—to raise awareness of a much larger problem.
Do you encounter similar reactions—not just on this issue, but perhaps in the day-to-day aspects of your job—from people who tend to see only the small part of the situation that affects them, rather than the bigger picture?
Join Us at EC 13!
Erosion Control magazine turns 20 this year. If you’re attending the International Erosion Control Association conference, Environmental Connection 2013 in San Diego, please join us Tuesday afternoon, February 12, for a birthday celebration at our booth, #529. Hope to see you there!