This editorial was written by Jeux De Vagues founder Katherine Terrell.
I have a morbid game I play inside my head. Whenever I go to the beach — and that is every day, now that my family and I moved to a small surf town in Costa Rica — I look at the high tide line and take a mental picture of it, marking a line in my memory of where the ocean has touched the shore. Has it risen? By how much?
Since we moved last year, I have no historical record to compare it to. I’ve asked locals who were born and raised here, and nobody seems alarmed by how the high tide almost washes into the main beach entrance now. I don’t recall that ever happening in the last six years we’ve come as tourists. I’ve been told that a big earthquake several years ago altered the tectonic plate so much that it actually raised the land a little, so that the tides no longer eat up so much of the beach. They also say the waves have been different ever since.
[Photo: The high tide line nearly reaching the trees along Playa Guiones]
I am not a scientist. I am a surfer. And surfers, in our quest for the perfect wave, all eventually become amateur meteorologists, learning how to read the ocean, tides, wind and moon. We become expert observers of our playground. Any change — imperceptible to the eyes through the days, perhaps more obvious through the years — we will notice.
When I lived in Malibu, I noticed that puddles formed in the parking lot of Zuma Beach during the stronger winter swells. The Pacific Coast Highway isn't far from those parking lots. Along Broad Beach, huge boulders were erected by distressed residents in a desperate attempt to hold back the sea. The boulders are a testament to their fear, but ultimately, who can hold back the ocean? Neither humans nor our feats of engineering.
The broken levees when Hurricane Katrina hit are a reminder of who is really in charge. That was in 2005. For Americans, Katrina was probably one of the first signs of what was to come. I remember seeing the front page story in a coffee shop. In the back of my mind, I gulped. Shit, it’s happening.
Since then, horrific floods, hellish fires, devastating droughts, and extreme storms and heat waves of unimaginable magnitude have affected huge populations across the world. Not to mention the rising seas, which I think about all the time. They say the ice sheets at Earth’s poles, which have been in existence for 15 million years, will melt before my 6 year-old son reaches adulthood. It’s too horrible for me to think about, but I know despondency will get us nowhere.
We need everyone to act. Yes, bike to work and stop using plastic straws. But also, I beg you, go for the big guys: The oil industry. The age of fossil fuels has to end.
The real culprits are the corporations making obscene amounts of money by extracting every last drop of oil from this planet. Exxon knew about climate change since the 1970s and yet they still continued to extract petroleum. Not only that, but they ramped up and funded climate-denial propaganda. Greed is a disease.
Imagine my horror when four years ago, I received an annual report from Exxon because we were one of its shareholders. Somehow our mutual funds had lumped us into a bundle that included Exxon. I had never thought about where our funds were going. Immediately, I called our investment broker and told him to take our money out of oil and gas. I added Nestlé and Unilever to the list. “Move as much of our funds into renewables,” I said. He thought I was nuts. Soon after, I learned that oil stocks tanked.
Look to the inspiring work of activist surfers in Australia who are fighting to keep oil companies from drilling the Great Austrialian Bight. To those who may snarkily retort, “But isn’t your surfboard made out of oil?” — sure dude. Now excuse me while I use this bullhorn.
In the United States, we too are threatened by the pressure to open our coasts to offshore drilling. We need to push for the Green New Deal. In every city and every nation, we need to urge our leaders to declare a climate emergency and to act on it.
On my sunset walks along the beach, it’s easy to soak in the wonder of the pink skies and seas that look like liquid gold and forget that our ecosystem is on the brink of collapse. I check the high tide line again. I say prayers of gratitude for this slice of heaven on earth. We must do everything we can to preserve as much of this beauty as we can. Because I know this for certain: There are no waves on Mars.