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Susan Eleuterio Headshot

Loving the Ocean to Death

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Like many east coasters, I love the ocean. I was raised primarily within a couple of hours of its siren and soothing sounds and the equanimity of its vastness. I only lived as they say in Delaware, "down the shore" for one brief summer in college, but I long for it in the way my Portuguese ancestors would have found familiar-there's even a word in Portuguese, suadade, a longing for something or someone that is gone, but not forgotten. This longing and love for the ocean, particularly the Atlantic Ocean, means I completely understand the desire for New Jersey coastal residents to rebuild, not only their houses, but the beachfront communities, the boardwalks, the piers, the built environment.

At the same time, I wish we as a nation could take a moment to reconsider our eternal rush to construct. It is a selfish wish -- I have not lost my home or the woods which surround it -- a tiny pocket of nature in the midst of a vast sprawl of suburbia and desiccated urban communities in northwest Indiana. I have not lost my second "home," a condo on Chicago's Southside where I keep an office and a place for family and friends to visit

To be sure, I am part of the 1% and in spite of Barack Obama's stirring words in 2004, there is a Red and a Blue 1%, and there are two Americas' even among the rich. Blue America is every bit as guilty as Red America of, as my husband puts it, "consuming the planet. " Yes, we have our Priuses, we recycle, and we devote some of our money and in some cases, the majority of our time to trying to make life better for the 99%. But we also fly anywhere and everywhere we want to, we buy organic but we continue to buy clothes we don't need, food we don't eat, and appliances we don't use. I need to believe as part of this group, that our goals and the politicians we support, the President among them, are better than the goals and the politicians supported by Red America -- which as far as I can ascertain are primarily concerned with having more more money and more stuff- no matter what damages are incurred locally, regionally nationally and worldwide. Again, Blue America is not blameless -- I'm typing this on an Apple product -- made in China -- with unsustainable minerals.

Having confessed to being part of the problem, I refuse to give up on looking for solutions. I frankly don't understand people who give up -- it's not only cynical -- it's criminal. So back to the ocean. When the downturn hit, I hoped it might slow down sprawl, stop the building of McMansions, the parade of enormous SUV's on the road, the construction of another big box or even small box store on another corner.

When boomers travel overseas, (another privilege of the 1%) we are reminded of the world of our grandparents-where there was one corner store, not four; where there was a gas station in town, not eight in a mile radius, and when people lived in apartments and houses that enforced community not permitted isolation. My father's family lived in a New England triple decker -- grandparents on the first floor, aunts on each of the other floors in New Bedford, Massachusetts, just up the street from the ocean. New Bedford was decimated in the Great New England Hurricane of 1938. In 1966, one of the world's largest hurricane barriers was constructed along its shore which obstructed the view but prevented the murderous flooding that devastated the city and sank two thirds of all the boats in the harbor in the 30s. East Coasters are already considering sea walls, floodgates, and all matters of contrivances. Along with that, I wish they would consider the facts.

The ocean levels are rising-the Arctic ice is melting- even photos of polar bears floating on tiny pieces of the remaining ice has not been enough to make climate change part of a serious national conversation. Before they rebuild, I hope the people of New Jersey and New York will consider the ocean. I hope they and we will connect the dots between our consumption, our construction and our potential civic connection with each other and the planet. I won't live to see the harsher realities of climate change but in a weird scary way, I hope my children and grandchildren will live that long, but if those of us with money and power don't take responsibility -- those children and grandchildren will not just be looking at rebuilding a boardwalk. They will be looking at building a life raft.

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