World Oceans Day and the BP Oil Spill’s Silver Lining

It was almost two decades ago in 1992 that Canada proposed a World Oceans Day, which was unofficially celebrated until the United Nations approved the day just last year.

In 2009, Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, spoke about the importance of protecting the world’s oceans:

The theme of World Oceans Day, “Our oceans, our responsibility”, emphasizes our individual and collective duty to protect the marine environment and carefully manage its resources. Safe, healthy and productive seas and oceans are integral to human well-being, economic security and sustainable development.

Ki-moon also stated that “human activities are taking a terrible toll on the world’s oceans and seas,” which is even more apparent now than it was a year ago. The BP oil spill may have occured just of the coast of the United States, but it has global implications.

So it’s appropriate, then, that this year’s theme is “Oceans of Life.” With that in mind, Ki-moon, UN members and visiting professors met at the United Nations Headquarters to discuss just that.

Through its World Oceans Day website, The Ocean Project invites us to participate in World Oceans Day in a number of ways. The site urges use to change our perspective — “to think about what the ocean means to them and what it has to offer all of us with hopes of conserving it for present and the future generations.”

How many of us are, in light of the recent spill, becoming all too aware of the spill’s ill-effects? If you watch the news at all (or follow as many water-related people on Twitter as we do), you can’t help but be disturbed by the photos of oil covered birds, of fish gone belly-up in black water. We wince a little bit when we hear that this is possibly the country’s worst environmental disaster, or when we think of the many, many years it will take to recover from it.

I would never suggest that the BP oil spill was a good thing. But if there is anything we can take away from it, it is that this tragedy has turned a nation’s eyes upon a resource that it might often take for granted. 

Remember World Oceans Day 2009? Me either. 

It’s a shame it took a disaster of this magnitude for many of us to realize the importance of the world’s oceans, but if we are to learn anything from it, we have to remember the theme not only of this World Oceans Day — “Oceans of Life,” but also of last year’s — “Our oceans, our responsibility.” 

Because you can’t have one without the other.


Soda Tax or Bottled Water Tax?

Obama’s health care plan is expected to cost more than $1 trillion. The most likely source of funding: taxes.  The Senate Finance Committee recently proposed a three-cent tax on sugary drinks including sodas, energy drinks and sports drinks. Diet sodas would be exempt.  Not only would this proposal aid in funding the enormous health care bill; it would also, according to legislators, reduce consumption and therefore decrease obesity.

However, some argue that a tax would not reduce consumption, and that education – not higher taxes – is what is needed to encourage others to live a healthier lifestyle.  The debate has made it difficult to pass a soda tax, as New York Governor David Paterson discovered when his proposal for a statewide 18 percent tax on soda failed. He recently revived the effort with the amendment that taxes on bottled water and diet soda would be removed if the soda tax passed. However, even with the removal of a diet soda and bottled water tax, some New York residents are still opposed to the idea as a soda tax would only pay for a tiny portion of the entire health care plan. Moreover, Americans can be picky and would likely be unwilling to make the switch from regular to diet soda or even bottled water, if they don’t already drink it.  And recent news has revealed that bottled water is not necessarily healthier – for people or the environment.

According to a recent study, a small tax on soda would not likely reduce consumption or prevent childhood obesity, but a larger tax probably would.  In a recent post on the bottled water tax, we argued that people who purchase bottled water probably don’t care too much about the cost, since they can get the same thing from their faucet at home for a lot less but still choose not to.  Soda doesn’t run from the faucet, however, so perhaps cost matters more in this case.   What do you think?  Would you change your drinking habits to save money?