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With a surname that resonates across borders and generations, Alexandra Cousteau comes from a line of oceanic royalty. Her own work continues and expands upon this legacy, and she has forged her own path as a leading conservationist and environmental advocate. Earlier this month, Alexandra embarked on a series of voyages called Expedition: Blue Planet with her organization Blue Legacy to shed light on the plight of our planet’s waters and how it connects with our everyday lives.
I had the chance to catch up with Alexandra for a chat about the voyage and what we can be doing to help her save our precious waters. We will be posting periodic updates right here on ReGeneration.org on where Alexandra and her crew are located on the expedition, and what lessons they are learning along the way.
You come from a family of internationally esteemed explorers and naturalists. How did this help shape your perception of the world and the work you do today?
My grandfather Jacques-Yves Cousteau and father Philippe were certainly great influences in my life, as well as other extraordinary people such as Muhammad Yunus and Sylvia Earle. Exploration and discovery have always been part of my life, not only of places but also of ideas. While my grandfather’s generation traveled the world discovering new places, its up to our generation to deliver the innovations that conserve our resources and protect our planet.
Much of your work focuses on our hydrosphere. What is the biggest threat to our planet’s waters today, and how can we go about eliminating this threat?
We live on a water planet. It is a unique place in that it is the only planet we know of that supports life. Yet water, the primary life support system on this planet, is being mismanaged, polluted, and overused. In addition, water will be the primary vehicle through which climate change will be felt, whether through drought and desertification, floods and increased severity of storms, melting poles and glaciers as well as rising sea levels. The most important issue we are facing is redefining what it means to live on a water planet and engaging people around the world to be part of that solution.
What common practices or habits should people begin today to help save the Earth’s waters?
I challenge people to act in four areas: Source, Consumption, Impact and Vision.
- 1. Know the source of your water. I’m convinced that the more people learn about where the water in their life comes from—from the central source such as a municipal reservoir or well system to the water sheds, groundwater and weather systems that impact them—the more likely they are to get involve in local environmental issues. Everyone is an environmentalist when they have a glass of water in their hand.
- 2. Measure and monitor your personal consumption of water. Politics and local supply aside, there’s simply no excuse for wasting resources. I’m sure the Cousteau house wasn’t the only place where kids grew up hearing the constant reminder to shut off the lights and turn off the faucet. There are tons of great sites out there with ridiculously simple ways each of us can cut back. It’s always a little shocking when you really start monitoring how much goes down the drain.
- 3. When it comes to “impact,” knowledge is power. As responsible consumers and citizens, it’s up to each of us to know more about the water footprint of the products we buy and brands we shop and to reward those companies and brands that are working hard to invest in innovation and make a difference. I challenge my generation to step away from the protest signs of the past and speak up from their shopping carts, investment accounts, product reviews and social profiles. We have the great privilege of growing up in an era of almost unlimited information. I challenge today’s water advocates to make their product reviews, sustainable seafood discoveries, local recycling options, etc a part of their Tweets, Facebook, and overall social exchange.
- 4. Finally, I challenge people to look for an opportunity beyond their immediate circle to get involved—to contribute time, talent and/or resources to a water-related effort that fits their overall personal vision. For some, this means taking an alternative vacation and volunteering on a cleanup or water well project. For others, this involves financial support of a worthwhile waster-related NGO or non-profit. One of the key missions of Blue Legacy is to uncover the critical water issues of our times and then to help those who connect with us find creative and meaningful ways to get involved.
In 2008, you founded the Blue Legacy organization. Why did you establish this organization, and what sets it apart?
I created Blue Legacy to tell the story of our water planet to the world, to inspire people to take action on critical water issues in meaningful ways and to help shape society’s dialogue to include water as one of the defining issues of our century and the primary vehicle through which climate change will be felt.
That’s the mission statement. If you ask me to paint the picture, I’d tell you this: For too long those of us in environmental circles have asked people to protect things they’ve never experienced. My grandfather lived by the motto “let’s go and see.” I want to build on this legacy by “going and seeing” and also taking people along for the ride—helping my generation see first hand how fragile this amazing planet’s water resources truly are. When my father and grandfather would go into the field, they’d shoot for weeks and weeks and then return home for months of editing behind closed doors before the public ever got a chance to hear their story. As the third generation of Cousteau storytellers, I’m so lucky in that I can take my friends from Facebook, my followers on Twitter, my subscribers on YouTube and those who connect with me across so many other platforms right along with me into the field to explore critical issues. We get questions and suggestions from our audiences nearly every day that prompt us to explore a location or issue differently. It’s amazing to see people making a difference on the issue before I even clear security and get back on the plane to head home.
You are about to embark on an ambitious series of voyages called “Expedition: Blue Planet.” What is this expedition and what do you hope it will accomplish?
My goal for Expedition: Blue Planet is to chronicle the interconnectivity of water. A key aspect of the project will be its ability to show how individual stories are part of the larger, universal story of an interdependent, global water ecosystem. In this way, we will create a new vision for what it means to live in a world where water is our most precious resource, and a plan for what we must do to protect it.
Of your many accomplishments, which are you most proud of? Which do you think will have the most enduring legacy?
I get this question a lot and I always refuse to answer it directly. I am committed to live my life in a way that re-writes that “most proud of” banner every single day. A month ago I would have told you that I was so proud to have finally explored the Ganges and have been able to tell the story of that threatened goddess, but today I’m so excited to be with my team exploring the challenges and incredible innovations going on with water in the West Bank region of the world.
As a Board member of EarthEcho International and the Global Water Challenge, the International Advisory Council of Counterpart International, the advisory board of Jolkona Foundation the steering committee of the Shark Alliance, and the ReGeneration Advisory Council, you are clearly deeply entrenched in the environmental movement. What is next for Alexandra Cousteau?
Expedition: Blue Planet will keep us busy for the foreseeable future and I’ve got a book coming out next spring (on World Water Day!) on the Penguin label. Other than that, we’ll either be on expedition or designing interactive campaigns that allow people to be a part of what we are doing in meaningful ways. It’s all very exciting!!