Writer and environmentalist Peter Neill will speak on his new book, The Once and Future Ocean, at College of the Atlantic's Human Ecology Forum Jan. 26. Writer and environmentalist Peter Neill will speak on his new book, The Once and Future Ocean, at College of the Atlantic's Human Ecology Forum Jan. 26. Credit: W2O

Peter Neill’s The Once and Future Ocean aspires to do nothing less than transform our relationship with the world’s most promising and imperiled natural element: the ocean and the inter-connected cycles of water.

A successor to Rachael Carson’s The Sea Around Us, Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac, and Jonathan Schell’s The Fate of the Earth, The Once and Future Ocean is ambitious in scope yet grounded in actionable, specific ideas and solutions for preserving the health of the world ocean and its impact on climate, fresh water, food, energy, health, security, sustainable development, community living, and cultural traditions.

“Water, that is hydraulic society, is the new paradigm” - Peter Neill.

On Tuesday, Jan. 26, at College of the Atlantic’s Human Ecology Forum, Neill will present his work and share his optimistic message that change is possible. The forum begins at 7 p.m. in Gates Community Center. It is free and open to the public.

A new organizational principle

“Water, that is hydraulic society, is the new paradigm,” Neill says. “And if you accept that, and see how it works on the ground, you suddenly realize that all kinds of existing technologies and organizational structures can be reapplied authentically and work. So, we could make radically different choices if we were to accept the new organizational principle.”

Neill, a resident of Blue Hill, is the founder and director of the World Ocean Observatory (W2O), an online place of exchange of information and educational services about the ocean. W2O is visited annually by over 1 million users from 125 nations, produces the World Ocean Radio podcast, and publishes World Ocean Journal, a digital magazine on ocean solutions.

Neill’s writings and blog entries have been published in the New York Times, Huffington Post Green, Medium, and many other publications with maritime and environmental interest. He has published several volumes on maritime art, edited the Library of America anthology on American Sea Writing, published three novels, and directed the South Street Seaport Museum in New York from 1985- 2005.

Why the ocean matters

Beginning with a discursive analysis of the most pertinent issues relating to the present condition of both land and sea, The Once and Future Ocean provides a persuasive argument for “why the ocean matters” and how its sustainability and careful use, from mountain-top to abyssal plain, can establish a new paradigm for value and social behavior around which to build a new post-industrial, post-consumption global community.

This fundamental shift is directed toward the creation of a “new hydraulic society” wherein water in all its cycles and conveyances will determine how we live – from our buildings and cities to the structures of governance by which we succeed in an increasingly populated world. Neill calls for a new ocean ethic and offers concrete examples of technologies and applications that already exist but have been suppressed by complacency and political subversion financed by exhausted vested interests.

A question of political will

“It’s not that we don’t know what to do. It’s the question of whether we have the political will to do it. And in the United States, it’s particularly complicated by our inability to govern ourselves at the top,” he says. “But this is something that can be implemented from the bottom up. You’re already seeing it being done in watershed associations, land trust and conservation organizations, the whole educational system that has brought environmental values into secondary school curricula, and the banning of plastic bags from local city governments. All of these things are part and parcel of a series of actions that we can all take, and can make a huge difference. And the amplification of that, if we are all doing it, essentially would guarantee the change.”