Environmentalist Finds Harvest Of Hope In A Far-off Land

Naveen Seeshumanity At Its Best In Antarctica

April 08, 1992|By Patrick L. Hickerson | Patrick L. Hickerson,Staff writer

Ron Naveen finds the model for the world of the 21st century in the South.

Way south.

Antarctica, to be specific.

For Naveen, 47, a self-proclaimed "Child of the '60s," Antarctica is a metaphor for what our fractious world could be: harmony and cooperation among nations.

Since 1982,Naveen, a Cooksville resident, has made annual pilgrimages to Antarctica. Before establishing his environmental organization, Oceanites, he traveled as either a tour leader or participant in scientific experiments.

"It's the only place on earth where I see so much cooperation," Naveen said. "If I'm in the South, and I break my leg, the doctor on board my ship is not likely to be an American. It could be a Peruvian; it could be a French person. He or she will set my leg, and I will be transported by a ship under Greek registry with German officers that take us to a science station that's Chilean, and I get flown out by an American plane.

"There's this incredibly warm, cooperative feeling that exists among all people who either work on tour ships, science ships, science stations or are just there as diplomats. It's just a dreamer's place. Everybody seems to realize that this is the best that humankind can put together."

Today, the leather-sandal-shod Naveen is president of Oceanites, a non-profit foundation dedicated to raising public consciousness on global environmental issues.It is primarily concerned with oceans, islands and native wildlife.

Founded by Naveen in 1987 and headquartered in a second-floor study of his 80-year-old home, Oceanites uses Antarctica in several ways -- beginning with the organization's name.

Oceanites -- pronounced"ocean-EYE-tees" -- is taken from the genus designation of the Wilson's storm petrel, or oceanites oceanicus. The bird breeds in Antarctica and migrates to all of the world's oceans. To the foundation, the bird represents a symbol of fraternity among the oceans and continents.

The foundation's newsletter, The Antarctic Century, is mailed to 3,400 members. The newsletter is written by Naveen and covers Antarctic topics from the varieties of birds on the continent, to amendments proposed to the Antarctic Treaty, to the implications of a growingtourism industry.

"This is the century of Antarctica. All of Antarctica was really discovered, learned and known in the century," Naveen said. "It all started with Scott and Amundsen racing to the pole in 1910-1912."

The group has a projected 1992 operating budget of $280,000 that comes from public and private donations.

Naveen likesto distance Oceanites from other, more flamboyant counterparts by stressing its function as an information clearinghouse, through discussions to students, scientists, travelers and politicians.

"There's little of the emotive nonsense that we find in other organizations. We're not an advocacy group," he said.

Naveen's mission as the front-man for Oceanites comes down to one statistic from a Roper poll he unceasingly cites: 24 percent.

That is the poll's percentage of people in the United State who consider "green" issues important.

"I'd just like to expand that 24 percent. . . . The Cold War has dominated our psyche for so many years now that, in the abstract, it's a global kind of phenomenon. We're worried about global nuclear destruction. Well how about global environmental destruction?"

To Naveen, the Antarctic Treaty stands as another example of international harmony. Signed 33 years ago by 12 nations, and with a total of 40 member nations today, the treaty compares to a document sealed 777 years ago,he said.

"In my view, it's the Magna Carta of modern times. It's about three pages long and 15 paragraphs. The kind of document that could never, never, in 1992, be signed by anyone -- we have too many lawyers now," said Naveen, a former marine mammal lawyer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"It lets everybody contribute. Nobody owns (Antarctica). . . . The treaty was the first nuclear test-ban agreement ever signed and put into effect.

"It's a system that requires unanimous consent. It's a consensus treaty."

Balancing Naveen's work with Oceanites is a writing and photography career that has yielded several contributions to naturalist handbooks and magazines such as National Geographic World. In November 1990, "Wild Ice," a collection of Antarctic photographs and narratives by Naveen and three other photojournalists, was published. Since then, it has been translated into German, Italian and Dutch with plans for a second printing and French and Japanese translations.

His next book,"All Things Changed," will address what Naveen calls "eco-philosophy," his own vision of nature's relationships through his travels from Alaska to Antarctica.

This month he travels to France to participate in the Tourism in Polar Areas Conference, where he will deliver three papers on the growing concern of tourism in Antarctica.

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