UNITY, Maine — An international filmmaker and environmentalist urged the 146 graduates of Unity College to go out and spread the word about protecting the environment, which she warned is facing numerous challenges, the foremost being climate change.
Celine Cousteau, the granddaughter of filmmaker Jacques Cousteau, spoke at the 45th annual commencement ceremony for the environmental college located in rural Waldo County.
Cousteau said she had not been familiar with Unity College prior to being contacted about being the commencement speaker. She said, however, after learning about the college and meeting with administrators, faculty and staff, she has great admiration for the work they accomplish.
“I am truly impressed by a small group of powerful and brilliant people,” Cousteau said. “This is a future-minded institution. You should be proud.”
Cousteau is founder and director of CauseCentric Productions, a nonprofit organization that works on various causes. She is working on a multimedia project that focuses on indigenous tribes in the Brazilian Amazon and the threats to their world.
In an interview following graduation, she said that a global effort is needed to address the many threats facing the planet but individuals can make a difference. She made that comment during her commencement speech as well as quoting anthropologist Margaret Mead.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has,” she said.
Cousteau said that because of her grandfather’s legacy, people assume that her full attention will be on the ocean.
“The ocean is a phenomenal, beautiful place and not enough of us are defending it,” she said.
The oceans are threatened by climate change, acidification, overfishing and over-consumption of seafood that she said is unsustainable and runoff of chemicals into the waters.
“All of those are issues that we can actually find solutions to. Things that are very easy to do,” she said.
One of those is to only eat seafood that is sustainable. She said there is a computer application known as seafood watch app that will show which fish are still abundant.
“Whenever we talk about changing our behavior, we mean there is always a better choice to make,” she said.
But while her love for the oceans is strong, Cousteau said she devotes most of her attention to the Amazon.
It has both a personal and professional importance for her, she said. The Amazon is where, at the age of 9, her grandfather took her aboard the Calypso, a former mine sweeper that Jacques Cousteau had converted into an oceanographic research vessel. He explored the oceans, seas and rivers over the next four decades, chronicling the impact of human development on the waters.
“It was the whole experience, the people I met, the animals I saw,” she said.
She said she has gone back there many times and respects the way the people there live.
“That is where my heart is,” she said.
Celine Cousteau told graduates that she took her formal education in intercultural relations and psychology in order to help people better understand what their human connection is to the natural world.
She recounted the story of meeting the leader of one of the indigenous tribes in the Amazon, where she asked the elder about how they maintain a sustainable environment. She said he could not initially understand her question, but he finally told her that when he cuts a tree, he plants one, and when he hunts, he only shoots enough to feed his family.
Cousteau urged the graduates to spread the message of sustainable living.
College President Stephen Mulkey said climate change will affect every aspect of lives. Unity has provided students with an education to help them deal with that issue. He said Unity College is virtually unique in that it has embraced sustainable science for its programs.
“You have learned that environmental issues are not black and white but usually ethically complex. You’ve also learned that the future of humanity depends utterly on how we address these issues,” the college president said.
Sam Longo, student senate president, praised Unity for being the first college to divest its investments from fossil fuels.
“When we go out in the real world, remember to fight for what you believe in and spread environmental preservation,” Longo said.
The gowns worn by the graduates were made of 100 percent recycled bottles.