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  • Writer's pictureGrey Gowder

The Hope Summit

by Grey Gowder

At the end of Erle C. Ellis's Anthropocene, he asks,“Is this the story of senseless destruction or a story of awakening and redemption?” This question serves as both perspective and motivation for me in my daily work in film and with the Sustainable Ocean Alliance. I choose the latter. I choose rebirth and regeneration.

My name is Grey Gowder and I am the Director and Co-Founder of the Sustainable Ocean Alliance-Charleston.

Last spring, my co-founder Zach Bjur and I met with Brooke Brown of the Lowcountry Marine Mammal Network and the organization's founder Lauren Rust. Our main goal was to set up one of our monthly collaborative field days with them, potentially for a Dolphin Count in April. As we expanded our conversation to sharing our short-term visions and goals for our organizations, we both realized that someone at the core of our work was the desire to promote greater collaboration within our community and to find ways to bring incredible organizations like the groups here today together. These groups already do so much for our community with the limited resources and bandwidth that they already work with. Imagine what they could do when combining their efforts.

We also saw a real opportunity to bring these incredible organizations directly to the communities that they serve. Each of our organizations benefits from the passion and dedication of our volunteers and we are so grateful that they share their love for this place and their aspirations for it with us every time they show up for events whether that is a creek sweep, a local government meeting, or even a Saturday afternoon conservation festival during college football season. Thank you all so much for what you do and for the inspiration that you bring. We are also excited to welcome new voices and new faces to this incredible community. Often people ask me how they can get involved and make a difference in overcoming the challenges facing their family or a part of their community. Our mission is for the Hope Summit to offer everyone ways that they can make an impact so that they can find the kind of agency that inspires hope and creates change.

This hope that we share is not naive hope. It is grounded in the knowledge that we have all of the tools we need to overcome the great challenges of our present and future and that we will do everything possible to create a vibrant and equitable future where our children and their children can thrive.

By choosing hope, I do not trivialize the challenges that we face. They are vast, they are diverse, and they are complex. To solve the challenges facing our communities, we must work as a community. The beauty of community-driven solutions is that we as individuals do not have to have all of the answers. By embracing collaboration, we embrace each other’s strengths, knowledge, and creativity.

Intersectional challenges require multidisciplinary thinking and collaboration to find solutions. Today’s panelists represent some of our local multi-disciplinary body of experts with backgrounds in conservation, education, storytelling, law, preservation, governance, and fisheries management. They each fulfill their vital role in sustaining and restoring the fabric of our human and nonhuman communities.

When I use the term community, I am not just referring to one segment of the population who lives here or to all of the people who call this beautiful part of the world home. Biologists define communities as interwoven and interacting systems of living things in a shared location. These systems represent the infinite interplay of all living and inanimate forces in the universe, as a colossal network of networks, stretching outward through time and space from the beginning of our universe to its inevitable end.

Imagine a tapestry made up of tiny threads. Each thread is one of our living neighbors fulfilling its niche within the surrounding natural system. The greater the biodiversity, the more resilient the ecosystem will be to change. The more species that disappear from an ecosystem, the greater the risk that the entire tapestry collapses. The key to our future on this planet rests in humanity reconciling our fragmented relationship with life on this planet and accepting our place within the tattered tapestry.

To forge a resilient future for humanity on our planet, we must restore our fragmented link to the world around us. In order to heal our planet, and in so doing heal ourselves, we must stop seeing ourselves as something apart from the rest of the world and return to seeing ourselves as part of the natural world.

On a beautiful September Saturday in Charleston, South Carolina, nearly two dozen local conservation and community organizations came together because we believe community-driven solutions are the key to creating a vibrant and regenerative future for generations to come. This was the first of many annual gatherings to celebrate the passion and dedication of local individuals and organizations serving our community, and to work together to find solutions to the challenges that face our community and communities around the world.

Our hosts, a local brewery and event space called Brewlab, set aside half of their parking lot for the village of tents and tables and a grassy side yard for children's games and the free Italian Ice from Holy City Italian Ice that was sponsored by Austen & Gowder LLC. This was a village of ordinary people doing extraordinary things as they embrace their roles as stewards and builders. They are educators restoring the link between their communities and these special places. Some are mobilizers embracing the power of citizen science to equip everyone from school children to retirees to hold accountable those who would destroy and diminish our world and elevate those who seek to restore it. Some are the inheritors of traditional knowledge that blend deep historical memory with observational scientific data to yield intimate connections to biomes they hope to save. Some are innovators establishing highly efficient carbon sinks and living flood control measures for their communities by hacking the natural benefits of salt marshes, longleaf pine forests, oysters, and freshwater wetlands.

To overcome the impacts of climate change, restore global biodiversity, and create regenerative futures around the world, we need community-driven solutions guided by local knowledge and led by local people. We must look to the natural world as an ally and a guide as we explore systems-based tools for restoring and regenerating the very natural systems that sustain our existence.

The beauty of systems-based thinking is that it often yields far more questions than answers. It requires patience and a keen perception of the intangible. Climate change once felt gargantuan and beyond the power of an individual to influence, but as the effects of climate change become much more personal and tangible and the systems that naturally combat climate change become more clear, a partial pathway to a resilient future built upon natural climate solutions. De-carbonization is only half of the fight for a regenerative planet. When we equip our children with the superpower of curiosity, we grant them the tools and agency to be the change they want to see in the world. We give them reasons to hope. And fueled by that hope, they have the agency to do things we could never imagine.

As the first visitors arrived, the little village came to life. Some had joined us earlier that morning for our Virtual Conference but many were arriving purely for the promise of solutions and community. Each visitor was there because of their deep love for their home. They wanted to help even if they didn't always know what that would involve. Our partners were there for the same reason. They shared that deep love for the human and natural communities of our region. The early trickle of guests quickly became a steady stream of visitors flowing through the U-shaped fair. Something true for visitors and participating organizations alike was the contagious energy that radiated through the crowd. By coming together as a community we became the physical representation of hope. The potent joy of collaboration was in the air.

Most of our visitors were locals there but we also had some unexpected guests like the scouting team for the new REI outfitter store coming to our area and a delegation from Saudi Arabia's State Department who were touring the US in order to better understand the environmental, sustainability, and community justice work being done here. They found the Hope Summit through Eventbrite and took the time to speak to every single tabling organization to discover ways that the lessons we have learned in our community can be used to help communities in their country on the other side of the world. That is what this is all about, communities helping communities, and in doing so creating real tangible hope for a better future.

By the end of the four-hour event, several hundred locals came to visit our market of hope. They found ways that they can get involved, creating not only agency for themselves but opportunities for their families, neighbors, and community in the process. The most important thing that came from this event was the opportunity for our organization to listen to community members and to visitors.

Across the world, citizen scientists embrace the responsibility of tracking the changes they see in their forests, reefs, and shorelines. Whether they are children exploring their passion or concerned stakeholders fighting to save their livelihoods, they are part of a global community searching for solutions to the challenges that threaten our very existence. They are the grassroots network that could be our deliverance.

With the help of this community of partners and citizen scientists, Sustainable Ocean Alliance - Charleston will create at least two Mission Blue Hope Spots in coastal South Carolina. Hope Spots are special places nominated on the grounds of having cultural and ecological significance that is unique in our world. Once formed, these will be aspirational hubs for innovation, restoring the relationships between local people and the lands and waters that sustained us while creating new opportunities for sustainable and regenerative industries. While Hope Spots don’t initially come with legal protection, they often become catalysts for collaboration between local communities, governments, and NGOs. They are aspirational places formed with the hope that future generations will be able to experience and benefit from the healthy and restored ecosystems of that Hope Spot. These Hope Spots will be symbols for stewardship and our love for the human and natural communities of our region.

We are very proud of the passion that this event produced and we are delighted by how enthusiastic our partners are to promote even more collaboration in our region. Working together, we can heal this beautiful garden that we all call home.

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