This is the fourth post in the series “Ocean Guardians We Admire”, read the third post here
Our devoted readership may remember past intern, Shengxiao “Sole” Yu, who helped us design our Travelers’ Philanthropy Program back in 2014. In the years since, Sole has remained a consultant of sorts, a person who we have asked for suggestions, advice, and favors. Sole attributes her willingness to help us to believing in what we are doing here at Bodhi Surf School, specifically with our Ocean Guardian Journey model. Most recently, Sole spearheaded a case study on how Bodhi Surf School is trying to address climate change and be a responsible tourism company, which will be featured in a forthcoming paper published by the Center for Responsible Travel.
Sole has been a colleague of and advisor to Bodhi Surf School for many years, and she’s also an “Ocean Guardian We Admire” — one whose words we will be featuring for our April edition of this series. To say that Sole is a thoughtful and intuitive person is an understatement; she has an uncanny ability to understand global events and make insightful connections. To her, the stakes of being an Ocean Guardian and environmental steward are very high indeed, as she believes that environmental issues are actually social justice issues. That having a clean, safe, and stable environment is a human right. And that, unfortunately, those most affected by phenomena such as climate change and other human-caused environmental degradation are those who contributed the least to the creation of these problems. When using that lens, there are even more compelling reasons for us to all work together to tackle these issues and reverse the damage we have collectively done.
Sole has gone on to work for GlobeMed, an organization that helps to address global health disparities by connecting students to communities and movements that aim to “improve the health of people living in poverty around the world”. She continues her personal Ocean Guardian Journey, knowing that environmental health is conducive to human health, social justice, equality, and prosperity. For us, this is a holistic, and ambitious perspective, and one that we are encouraged by. So without further ado, read about Sole’s personal journey to become an Ocean Guardian!
My Ocean Guardian Journey
For a long time, I have overlooked the importance of the environment, partly because I grew up in cities and did not see the intimate connection between the people and the planet. I also fell into the trap of short-term thinking and short-sighted vision and saw our planet earth as a bottomless pool of resources for our use.
As I slowly learned the science about rising sea levels, carbon emissions, and global climate change, I began to view our earth differently. I began to see nature and humans as being in a long-term relationship, and like any other relationship, it requires mutual understanding, appreciation, respect, and giving.
Life in a coastal community
It wasn’t until I had the chance to live and work at the Bodhi Surf School in the beautiful coastal community of Uvita, Costa Rica, that I fully felt the intimate connection people have with the planet. The beautiful landscapes, the songs of the birds, and the dense smell of the ocean air in Bahia Ballena all gave me a visceral sense of our earth. Letting the ocean waves splash my toes and doing yoga on a platform surrounded by trees and flowers made me feel the affectionate hug of nature.
Being able to spend so much time outdoors taught me to love nature the way I would love my own family — because it is part of our collective family of humanity. Nature reacts and responds to us. It has the power to improve our health, change our thinking, and elevate our mood.
Having had the chance to live in a coastal community also connected me to the ocean in a way that could never be achieved otherwise, and this is why I have decided to embark on my very own Ocean Guardian Journey.
Humanity and history
“After all this time, the Sun has never said to the Earth, ‘you owe me.’ Look what happens with love like that. It lights up the whole sky.” — Hafez (also attributed to Rumi)
Poets and musicians throughout history have marveled at the enduring harmony and beauty of nature. We are a part of nature, and our actions, or lack thereof, have an enduring effect on the harmony and beauty of it. I am inspired by our humanity and our works in the humanities, to continue my Ocean Guardian Journey.
I recently finished watching a series hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson called Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. One of the most memorable analogies that helped me to understand our place in history, was the history of the universe, roughly 13.8 billion years, was condensed into a single calendar year. On that cosmic calendar, January 1st represents the first known event in the universe, the Big Bang, that created the different pieces in our space. On that calendar, humans did not appear until around 10:30pm on December 31st. During that calendar year, a multitude of events happened that lead us to be where we are today — whether it was an asteroid that just missed the Earth on its trajectory or the large emission of carbon dioxide that ended the Ice Age and subsequently allowed conditions for humans to thrive — they have had lasting impacts on our lives.
Learning about all that has come before us has given me a profoundly connected sense of humanity and its place in history, and helped me to understand what lasting impact our actions can have on the future and thus to commit more deeply to my Ocean Guardian Journey.
Social and generational justice
Our commitment to our planet goes beyond the relationship between us and nature and history. It also concerns our relationship with each other. The communities that have been, and will continue to be, most severely affected by man-made issues such as climate change are usually the places that have contributed the least to it in the first place.
Rising sea levels will foremost affect island nations and coastal cities, where many residents rely on subsistence farming and tourism, both of which will see a drastic decrease in profitability when floods, hurricanes, and monsoons hit. Kiribati, a Pacific island nation, has already declared that global warming has rendered its territory uninhabitable. Droughts will foremost affect farming communities where residents’ livelihoods depend on harvest, which will also see a drastic decrease given inadequate rainfall. Drought has severely affected farmers in Darfur, with low harvests leading to poverty and tribal conflicts, ultimately contributing to long-term political and social instability. Melting ice is not only threatening the lives of arctic animals, but is also affecting tourism-driven places like the Alps, where ski resorts have already started to build man-made snow.
Most of these communities and countries have contributed very little to the human factors that are disturbing the planet. Topping the list of the biggest emitters of CO2 include China, the U.S., India, Russia, Brazil, and Japan. The actions of median and high income nations produce negative consequences on low income nations, making environmental issues questions of social justice.
The way we treat our planet today will produce the most-felt consequences in the future, leaving our kids and grandkids to deal with the consequences of our current actions, and making environmental issues questions of generational justice.
The push for social and generational justice is what makes me passionate about my Ocean Guardian Journey.
The Blue Marble
The Blue Marble is a representation of our earth. From far away in space, the earth looks mostly blue because it is covered by our blue oceans. I was given a Blue Marble by the lovely people of Bodhi Surf on my last day in Uvita, and I proudly display it on my shelf now as a constant reminder of our planet and of my commitment to the Ocean Guardian Journey.
Frank White, a scholar on space exploration and development, has written about the “Overview Effect”. The Overview Effect describes a cognitive shift that occurs among astronauts, who have the chance to see the earth from far away and become systematically more inclined to care deeply about the environment. The outer space perspective allows astronauts to see our world as a whole, instead of as disconnected nations and tribes, and that perspective causes astronauts to change the way they view our relationship with our planet.
A retired Apollo 14 astronaut, Edgar Mitchell, said “we went up as technicians and came down as humanitarians.”
During my time at Bodhi Surf, I also learned from one of the co-founders/owners, Travis, about Dr. Wallace J. Nichols’s incredibly fascinating research on the blue mind. Through neuroscience and psychology, Dr. Nichols shows the positive effects of water on our lives and our minds, and thus shows the importance of conserving and protecting our oceans.
The Blue Marble symbolizes for me the oceans of our earth and why my Ocean Guardian Journey can help me cultivate a deeper and more meaningful relationship with our earth.
My concrete actions
The combination of history and humanity, social and generational justice, neuroscience and psychology, and my own lived experiences motivated me to embark on my own Ocean Guardian Journey.
Since my time at Bodhi Surf, I have moved to Chicago — a large metropolis where it is sometimes easy to forget about nature, which is why it is all the more important to consciously think about my Ocean Guardian Journey. I also want to share here how it is possible to implement concrete, ocean-guarding actions in our lives, no matter where we are. Here are a few of the actions I have implemented:
- Sharing my commitment with those around me: Since moving to Chicago, I started to live with my boyfriend, and told him all about what I learned from Bodhi Surf. We now encourage, or even supervise, each other to continue on our Ocean Guardian Journey.
- Using reusable bags: I always carry a reusable bag in my purse or pocket when I go out, in case I decide to get some groceries on my way home. Something that everyone in my city is now doing, as Chicago passed a ban on plastic bags in retail chains that went into effect last year, showcasing the power of collective action.
- Carrying a beverage containers: I almost never leave the house without my reusable water bottle. I also leave a mug at my office so I never use a paper cup for coffee or oatmeal at the office.
- Utilizing energy-saving cooking shortcuts: I have also started to plan my cooking more efficiently. For example, I bake multiple things in the oven since the whole oven needs to be heated up anyways. I also steam vegetables on top of a pot that is boiling rice or pasta, so I can utilize the escaping steam. This saves me time and money.
- Being conscious about temperature control: Chicago is not lucky enough to get the kind of weather that Costa Rica has. As I am writing this right now, it is roughly -8 Celsius outside, dropping to a low of -14 later tonight — a temperature difficult for survival without heating. As part of my Ocean Guardian Journey, I have been more mindful in adjusting the temperature to the optimal level depending on my schedule and outside temperature.
- Starting an indoor garden: For reasons illustrated by that lovely graph above, Chicago is currently not ideal for outdoor gardening, though I do plan to partake in a community garden space in the summer. For now, I am resorting to growing some herbs indoor. My basil plant has yielded great success, providing us so far with several servings of pesto sauce and continuing to grow taller and wider.
- Using LED Bulbs: LED bulbs, and other energy-efficient electronics and appliances, are becoming the household and industry standard. They are long-lasting and money-saving.
- Understanding where my food comes from: The long supply chain and large distribution networks that exist in our cities have enabled us to think of our food just as a source of nutrient and deliciousness, instead of as a once living, breathing being that is part of our planet and that passed through the hands of many people. I have just begun to think about my food source more consciously, and I am very excited to have La Colombe cafe open just down the street from me, which is not only a place that is deeply committed to the environment and to ethics, but also purposely does not provide wifi in order to cultivate a more open and interactive environment.
- Most importantly, trying to understand where everything comes from: The above does not just stop at food. Much of our clothing has significant environmental impact, from color dyes to insecticides used on cotton to unfair wages to water pollution, and requires us to care, to research, and to make informed decisions with our dollars.
I am excited to constantly find new ways to continue my Ocean Guardian Journey. It is a Journey because there is always more I can do and learn, and in that continued and renewed effort, my life is further enriched, my spirit lifted, and my relationship with my planet nurtured.
Read about the next “Ocean Guardian We Admire” here
Written by Shengxiao Yu