I write this in my last day working for International Rivers, an organization I have loved since my first day on the job. I am leaving just shy of my 20-year anniversary, with a deep bank of memories and not a few tears. The good news is I’ll still be engaged in the world of water, as communications manager for the Water Policy Center, a new project of the venerable Public Policy Institute of California. I’m eager to engage with my home state’s many water issues – especially now, during this historic drought, which is bringing us closer to the edge of our limits and forcing us to confront our priorities. It was an opportunity I could not pass up.
Working for International Rivers has been a huge privilege. Even after two decades, I still find the issues we tackle to be complex, challenging, and incredibly important. The work is about rivers, of course, but at its heart it’s about people – from our incredible staff to the wide circle of partners and supporters I’ve come to know over the years. I’ve learned a lot about how much people love their rivers, and to what lengths they’ll go to protect them from concrete walls that would divide and conquer them. I’ve known people to devote years to an effort to protect a river from damming, giving up precious personal time to take on powerful interests, often at risk for their personal safety. It’s as if peoples’ spirits rise to match the wild and beautiful spirit of the rivers that course through their lives. Thank you to all of you who are seeking to elevate and raise awareness about the issues, build solidarity for the cause, and support the people and creatures who depend so directly on our planetary lifelines for their existence.
Engaging with both the big-dam industry as it marches on the world’s rivers, and with the communities that bravely defend those rivers, has opened my eyes to huge gaps in our current approach to development, and the shocking blind eye to injustices that too often mars the process. It’s been an absorbing “school of life” that taught me about the harsh inequities that pervade the world of infrastructure development, the amazing cultures and remarkable landscapes associated with rivers, and most happily, the boundless energy and love that the peoples’ movement to protect rivers brings to the world stage. Just this week, two river defenders facing large dams in their homelands won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize – just the latest in a line of dam-fighting prize winners going back to the first year the Prize was awarded. But beyond the prize winners are dozens of remarkable people who’ve inspired me and helped open my eyes.
Having spent two decades working on African dam issues means my heart particularly belongs to that continent’s amazing rivers. To the Omo, the Nile, the Zambezi, the Orange, and the Kunene, I won’t forget you! I know that the people who love you will continue to do everything they can to ensure you flow into future generations.
Two other topics I’ve focused on in my time here will continue to intrigue me, and I know I’ll be following International Rivers’ progress in these areas. First is the growing role of clean renewable technologies in the global energy sector. International Rivers is rightly working to show how such solutions can better bridge the world’s energy divide, especially in places where large dams are being sold as a way to greatly increase energy access for the world’s poor. And second is climate change, and the risks that dammed rivers face in an increasingly unstable climate. Only International Rivers is covering this work with the persective of how these issues relate to rivers and dams.
I know International Rivers will continue to find new and creative ways to work on these issues, as well as document our amazing movement and put voice to the stories of people and their rivers. I look forward to taking that journey with them, and ask you to continue your support for this agile, smart, and deeply engaged organization. I would be especially honored if you were to join me in supporting our Africa program at International Rivers (you can donate online here). Our dedicated staff in South Africa have a full plate and a limited budget, and they make every dollar travel far and effectively.
Thank you, my friends, for the opportunity to serve you, and the world’s rivers!