World Ocean Forum
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World Ocean Forum

The Once and Future Ocean

“I want to change the way we see the world…”
~ Peter Neill

Exhausted land. Drought. Acidification. Wildfires. Intercontinental smoke. Extreme weather. Torrential rain. Flood. Erosion. Water scarcity. Water conflict. Pollution. Social disruption. Migrants. Refugees. Pandemic. Corruption. Political paralysis. All are climate related. All are urgent challenges demanding immediate response. What will it take to confront these realities and meet these challenges — now?

We need a new paradigm, a new operating system for organizing how we sustain our natural resources, our communities and ourselves. We must immediately define and execute a new strategy for the next generation.

The most essential, indeed the only natural system remaining by which to survive is the freshwater-ocean continuum, the affirmation of the water cycle as an organizing principle around which all economic, social, and political action revolves. This understanding, as a consistent guide to governance and the application of existing technology, is the sole way forward remaining.

Consider hydraulic society as that paradigm. Consider how we cannot endure, as individuals, families, communities, and nation states, without adequate water to sustain us. No other natural resource ultimately matters. And if we have exhausted the land and its aquifer, then there is only the ocean to provide freshwater, energy, food, health, and the other indispensable needs for life. It is there for the saving.

If you have a better idea, say so. But denial or indifference or procrastination are no longer viable options; inaction is no longer acceptable.

The Once and Future Ocean — Notes toward a New Hydraulic Society presents a context and framework of a plan for survival.

What will it take?

Notes Toward a New Hydraulic Society

by Peter Neill
With a foreword by Dr. Paul Mayewski, Director,
Climate Change Institute, University of Maine
Leete’s Island Books, April, 2016
398 Pages. Formats: Hardcover, Trade Paper, Mobipocket
and EPub. Hardcover: $24.95, Trade Paper: $18.95, EPub: $9.99.
ISBN 9780918172563

Available through your favorite local bookstore, on,, and at


The ocean holds the key to humanity’s survival. At a time when the world faces a multitude of potential calamities, from climate change to a struggling oil industry to rapid population growth, author and environmentalist Peter Neill of the World Ocean Observatory argues that the time is now to begin organizing our social, financial and political order around water in all its forms, places and uses.

Neill’s new book offers a bold vision for a practical and possible future, based on a revolutionary paradigm shift toward a new hydraulic society that can be implemented through the political will of individuals who understand the necessity for change, the logic of a new moral alternative, and the reality of the consequences if we fail to act in time. Ambitious in scope yet grounded in actionable, specific ideas and solutions for preserving the health of the world ocean, it aspires to do nothing less than transform our relationship with the world’s most promising and imperiled natural element: the ocean and the inter-connected cycles of water, essential for all aspects of human survival.

THE ONCE AND FUTURE OCEAN relies heavily on the scientific community’s contribution to information about the world ocean and is written with a deep familiarity with ocean policy. It is presented as a personal realization — equally rewarding read in one sitting or in segments — and is not intended for a limited audience of experts, academics, or policy-makers. Accessible, powerful, persuasive, and lyrical, THE ONCE AND FUTURE OCEAN argues for invention and new solutions, for new answers to fundamental questions, and for a new relationship built around the ocean as a source for new modes of living that are within our grasp if only we have the courage to take hold.

PETER NEILL is founder and director of the World Ocean Observatory, a web-based place of exchange for information and education about the health of the ocean. Neill previously served 20 years as President of the South Street Seaport Museum, New York, is co-founder of The Sound School and The Harbor School, and has dedicated his career to marine affairs. He lives downeast in Maine with his partner Mary.




Fresh ideas, new solutions, serious, provocative, and imaginative conversations about the future of the ocean. An active forum of unexpected ideas, opinion, ideas, proposals for change in ocean policy and action worldwide.

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World Ocean Forum

World Ocean Forum

Dedicated to proposals for change in ocean policy and action worldwide, linking unexpected people with unexpected ideas about the ocean.

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