Transcript for the Piece Audio version of 155: The Exhausted Land We Live In
WOR 155 | The Exhausted Land We Live In
I’m Peter Neill, Director of the World Ocean Observatory.
To understand the crises affecting the world ocean, we must first understand the condition of the land around us. For decades, alarms have been sounded to alert us to the exhaustion of the earth. We have experienced a continuing increase in population, in demand for energy, food and fresh water, and in the pollutants derived from our physical, chemical, and biological responses to those requirements. We have come to expect an annual raise, ever increasing quality of life, and sustained returns on our investments unrealizable without undisciplined personal credit, under-collateralized debt, and unregulated consumption of natural and human resources. Like any Ponzi scheme, we have borrowed against assets once tangible, now increasingly limited, even ephemeral, and can no longer rationalize, postpone, or deny the consequences.
For me, pollution is excess: too much chocolate, too much alcohol, too much fertilizer, too many chemicals, too much waste, too much unregulated gain indifferent to the needs of an ever growing community. That we have become divided over money, land, resources, and power, locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally, by disputes over all of these is surely no surprise.
We can measure that excess now: in diminished wells and corrupted waterways, in the acidified air, in the price of fuel, in the exploitation of labor, and in the failed economic and social aspirations now impacting the entire world.
But what about the ocean? I submit that the ocean begins at the mountain-top, and descends to the alluvial plain; that is, everything that occurs on land -- be it development, manufacturing, agriculture, or financial enterprise – descends to the sea. It passes in, on, and above the earth in fluid streams of decision, action, and transaction, behaviors that reveal our system of values, be they economic, personal, social, political, or moral.
Thus, specifically, those behaviors impact the downstream, be it effluents that generate red tides along the beaches, or nitrate run-off that eutrophies and suffocates life on the ocean floor, or emissions that rise and fall into the sea to increase the acidity to modify the food chains and to disrupt the breeding and survival of marine plants and animals upon which the system depends. We often think of the ocean as a place apart, a maritime wilderness, infinitely self-healing and immune to our polluting excesses. But that is not so. Just as we know the situation on land, we now know through observation, research and experience that the ocean is also threatened by exhaustion, myriad organic pollutants, declining species, poisoned wildlife, excavated mangroves, developed wetlands, dead coral, and more. We know that the glaciers are melting at accelerated rates; we know that extreme weather is damaging our coasts in ways unforeseen by our designers and builders. We know coastal communities continue to grow into urban centers making exponential demands on supply of food, water, and energy. We know that many of those settlements have been devastated by tsunami, hurricane and typhoon, and shoreline inundation that has cost millions and displaced thousands of environmental refugees with no place to go.
To understand the crises affecting the world ocean, we must accept, not deny, these facts, and use this knowledge to mitigate and adapt short-term to these challenges. But long term, the problem is more demanding, and may require very different answers to the very difficult questions we face.
On what new premises will we base this response?
We will discuss these issues, and more, in future editions of World Ocean Radio.Back