An Alley-Oop for Nature

February Great Story by Matthew Kubasak, 2018-19 Sacramento Climate Fellow

At Saint Augustine High School, I heard a lot about the namesake. His most interesting story is about wandering a beach full of dying starfish after a terrible storm had washed them ashore. Augustine saw a kid running around throwing the starfish into the ocean. He confidently declared to said kid that there was no way it would be possible to save a significant proportion of the starfish, and that the effort would not matter. The kid responded by holding up a single starfish and saying “it matters to this one.” I think my experiences in service have been somewhat similar. It can be difficult to see macrocosmic effects, but to make a difference on a small scale is to make a difference. Sometimes, a single starfish friend would be more than one could expect.

I am conflicted when I see trash on the way to work, because I know it will take a while to pick up, and it always feels like such a small difference to be making. Yesterday, however, a loop of metal about a foot in diameter was in the bike lane, and it was too easy to imagine a sea turtle corset. A crime of environmentalism becoming a crime of fashion would be too much to bear, and I pulled over. When I arrived at work, I left the hoop on my bike lock, because I had no place to put it. I thought myself ridiculous for having put in the effort, and hopped onto the elevator without giving the experience a second thought.

Today, I was socializing with some new Fellows. One, an oceanographic invertebrate expert, was in the midst of explaining a starfish plague and the recent finding that its severity could have been due to warmer oceans. In the midst of our conversation, a PR rep for the Sacramento Kings came through the office throwing basketball-colored stress balls to all of us. “If only we had a hoop to shoot at,” my new colleague lamented. In the midst of yet another sea star die-off, a small victory was imminent. Perhaps no one has run to my building’s garage as excitedly as I did that day. And as we sat around the office shooting hoops for the next ten minutes, I realized the significance of my decision to do the right thing in a pretty arbitrary circumstance. I have my own starfish friend now.