Monday, February 23, 2009

The Oceans: Why Should We Care?


Dr Sylvia Earle is a legend in the world of marine biology and conservation, respected and revered and affectionately known as "Her Royal Deepness". But does she make her case in this speech at TED? I was fascinated not only by the presentation, but also by some of the comments beneath. If even the most distinguished underwater explorer in the US cannot convincingly argue that the ocean is essential to the health of the planet, then where did she go wrong - if, indeed, she did? Or are the doubters the kind of people who would doubt anything?

Next month I will be taking part in a panel discussion at the Blue Vision Summit in Washington DC, alongside Sylvia Earle and Philippe Cousteau, among others. The topic will be how we can communicate so as to make people care about what is happening in the oceans. What will make them sit up and take notice?

Rising temperatures?
Rising oceans?
Population displacement?
No more seafood?
Extinction of species?

I would really welcome comments on this blog, if you can give me any suggestions as to what is most likely to increase knowledge and motivate action. My perception is that education is not the way. There is plenty of information available if people are interested. But most of them are not interested, because the oceans are not perceived as relevant.

Yet all life on earth - including ours - depends on the oceans. How to convey this? And then, once they care, what should people DO?

I have my own ideas, of course, but I would welcome input from all quarters so I can better gauge public opinion and the view of the man on the street. Help me out here - and help me to help the oceans!


Other stuff:

This weekend I made four presentations to around 600 people during the San Francisco Ocean Film Festival. The photograph shows me at the Opening Night Gala at the Aquarium of the Bay, indulging in two of my favourite activities - admiring underwater sealife and drinking champagne - not easily combined under usual circumstances, the scuba regulator with inbuilt champagne straw not yet having been invented.

Today I finished the final, final, final round of edits to the manuscript of my book about the Atlantic row. Despite my initial opposition, I have been persuaded to acquiesce to the wishes of my publisher and accept the title "Rowing The Atlantic". It was certainly not my first choice, but I guess I have to pick my battles. Thank you to all who contributed to the long list of fascinating alternatives. A few will make appearances as chapter headings.

The book is due to be published by Simon & Schuster in early October. Hopefully we will be setting up a facility for you to reserve your signed copy. And look out for details of the book tour.

Work continues on the Brocade in Hawaii. Scott has been making good progress, with a view to having the boat almost shipshape by the time I return in April. Thank you Scott!

Nicole and I are currently in San Francisco, working hard and meeting lots of people in connection with PR, fundraising, media, speaking engagements, films and books. We are investigating the logistics of setting up a foundation - tentatively called The Ripple Effect. If anybody is or knows a California-based lawyer or accountant specializing in nonprofits, who might be willing to work pro bono, please let us know!


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14 comments:

  1. John Kay6:00 am GMT

    Watched it 3 times and it certainly made an impression on me!
    I prioritise your topics thus:
    1. Population Displacement - it affects everyone directly; those who are displaced and those who have to find space for them.
    2. No More Seafood - it is also used as a feedstock for the land animals that we eat.
    3. Species Extinction - it reduces our eating options as well as the merely cute.
    4. Rising Oceans and
    5. Rising Temperatures - there's a lot of disagreement over whether mankind a) causes them and b) can do anything to change them. The Sun cycle predominates.
    Hope this helps.

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  2. John Kay6:03 am GMT

    Roz; their title sucks! Anything would be better than that! Do they really think it will sell books?

    How about "By Rowboat to Antigua" or "Rowing to Myself" or "The Advent of an Adventurer"

    You can do better than that: Don't let them bully you!!

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  3. did you at least get your feet back? :)

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  4. It seems that for most, it is someone else's problem, and that it will be someone else who will fix the problem and that it is easy to give advice and not be part of the solution. How can I help? What can I do? Should be the questions. There is absolutely no question that climate change is man made, yet some are willing to believe that it could be the result of something natural. Let us begin/continue the discussion with action, instead of hollow banter.

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  5. Telling people what they can't eat seems to be unproductive. I haven't eaten seafood for over 2 years, and I live oceanside where seafood is fresh and plentiful and supports the local economy. People are weird when you tell them they shouldn't eat fish or animals. They dig their heels in deeper and relish watching your discomfort when they slop down an animal still alive with no voice to scream (raw oysters). I think a start would be to stop calling them "seafood" and start calling them by their actual names. At least stop thinking of them as seafood. Change your mind, and the rest will follow.

    I've seriously thought about devoting my life to saving animals, but
    I have to make a living, so I just keep plugging on. The only thing people as individuals and nations are motivated by is money, and the ability to feed their families. It seems simple enough, don't generate a demand for the product. Find another hobby other than fishing. Donate to organizations devoted to helping the oceans. Take your investments out of corportations that pollute and destroy oceans, and kill sea life.

    It seems to me that Asians are the worst offenders, the Japanese will bludgeon dolphins to death and turn the sea red with their blood. The Chinese are extincting shark species to satisfy their craving for shark fin soup (which tastes disgusting, I tried it 25 years ago). All of asians, Thailand, Taiwan, China and Japan are wiping out turtle species. It just goes on and on. In Canada we are so enlightened that we allow Americans to come up and hunt polar bears! Polar bears! WTF?! We also have a yearly seal hunt, where they tear off the skins of baby seals while they're still alive infront of their mothers! Humans have no soul. We know this is going on and we just look the other way and whistle. I refuse to invest in Canadian savings bonds for this reason. Victoria which is populated by sweet, nature loving citizens dumps their raw sewage into the ocean, because they don't want to spend the money on a sewage treatment plant. How messed up is that? And they live next to it.

    My ideas in priortity:
    1. Take your savings and investments out of sea life for food companies and polluting companies and put them in companies that help the oceans, such as plastics recycling or vegan food products.

    2. Stop with the seafood language and thinking.

    3. Stop eating sea animals no matter how small, and sustainable and blah blah. Just be a mensch and eat something else. Eat flax and walnuts for your Omega 3s

    4. Take a look at your own life and start making sacrifices that you can handle to save the oceans, such as using nature friendly cosmetics and cleaning products.

    5. Get politically active, join groups that are organized and out there working for the causes you believe in. Maybe Green peace? Peta? Clean water groups? Around here there are lots of salmon saving groups, (because they like to later catch and eat them tho, it's weird).

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  6. Thank you to everybody who has commented on this blog - both here and via email and Facebook. I've had some very detailed comments, and really appreciate you taking the time.

    But I wonder if I can just clarify my question? What I really need is not so much suggestions as to what people should be doing - rather, I need suggestions as to what is most likely to increase knowledge and motivate action.

    Before people change their behavior, they need to feel that change is necessary. And it is that first step that the green movement has always struggled with. Once they know that change is necessary, the rest is easy. But how to get them to that realization?!

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  7. Hey Roz,
    Thanks for this post, I found it a really interesting talk and Sylvia certainly has the wealth of knowledge and experience to spread such a message.
    As far as the delivery of the message, I feel that it was very informative, but perhaps too broad to really drive action.

    My view is that the most effective ways to communicate a message and create change are;

    1. Communicate the message and the urgency, but avoid spreading fear. Fear is a poor motivator, people will avoid it at all costs even if it means sticking their heads in the sand.

    2. Keep it simple, focus on less information and less areas to tackle. The most interesting point I got out of Sylvia's talk was the fact that we have progressed quite a long way with protecting areas of the earth by creating national parks etc, but haven't done the same with the oceans. A simple concept to communicate and for me to understand.

    3. Empower people by spreading hope and by providing practical steps that we can all undertake to really make a difference. There are so many people (and groups) communicating the message and I believe that the general consensus is that change is needed now, but too few suggesting practical steps that everyday people can take. Maybe you could come up with a list of five things that anyone can (must) do to make a difference to our oceans, I.e stop using plastic bags, pick up 3 pieces of rubbish on your daily walks, start a monthly clean up the beaches club (currently happens yearly in Melbourne), join a conservation group that is lobbying for ocean protection etc.

    4. Get people involved. Eco tourism has proven to be a great educator and motivator for the environment. Getting out into nature inspires you to take an interest in its preservation. The challenge with the ocean is that it is largely "out of site, out of mind". Although it is all around us, most of us hardly venture beyond our shore lines or beneath the surface to explore what's beyond. Those that do partake in ocean hobbies, sailors, surfers and divers appreciate the ocean and have an interest in its protection.

    5. Lead by example and acknowledge participation. Seeing and hearing about others getting involved and also receiving credit for taking steps themselves (no matter how small) can motivate more than anything else. I don't think that you need too many tips on this, you are certainly leading by example and its great to hear from you about some of the others out there spreading the work and making an impact.

    Keep up the great work!

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  8. Hey Roz,
    Just read your last comment asking about how best to communicate the need to change. I don't totally agree with the notion that the key to change is to have the message accepted, call me naive but I think that we have come to a tipping point where the majority of the community accepts that climate change is a major issue that needs addressing, but I think that there is a big difference between knowing something and doing something about it (I accept that eating chocolate wont help me fit into last years jeans but this knowledge doesn't always change my behaviour!).

    I think that the real challenge with the green movement is that the message can end up preaching to the converted rather than focussing on what can be done. This is obviously a broad brush statement, and I certainly don't want to criticise the great work that a lot of these organisations do, I just think that the message is getting through and what we all need are some practical steps to change our habits.

    So maybe the key is to stop trying to convince everyone and focus on those that are already believers, put us to work first and the late adopters will eventually get the idea!

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  9. Thanks, Andrew, for the great input. I found it very reassuring - I have a big environmental initiative planned for this year, which is actually in disguise as a health/fun/row with Roz kind of initiative. I don't want to give away too much at this stage, as we're not ready to go public yet, but your words very much helped reassure me that I am on the right track. Thank you!!

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  10. Sounds like a great idea Roz, I think you are on the right track and I look forward to hearing all about it!

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  11. Maybe Al Gore can be convinced to do a sequel about saving oceans. That documentary had a huge impact, and it was the motivator to the current Green movement going on now.

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  12. Anonymous6:46 am GMT

    Roz, Janis here -- have not chimed in for awhile… Recall you were communicating with various school groups during the first leg of your Pac Row. I wish to second Andrew’s point #2 about keeping things simple, and further, to suggest gearing the message to school-aged children. You have a lovely way of communicating. Your earnest nature really comes through. Want to urge you to keep the dialog going with the kids: the younger, the better. And, give it all (planet/ocean/health/fitness) to them in bite size chunks (metaphorically speaking!) – or, to mix metaphors, bite size oar strokes!

    All the best to you as you continue pursuing your pupose-filled passion!

    Janis Hatlestad
    Woodland Hills, CA

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  13. John Kay6:08 pm GMT

    Good question, Roz and well put. Here's my contribution for what it's worth. In your place, my next step would be to seek professional advice.

     Give people unbiased factual information without the hysteria that accompanies (for example) much of Al Gore’s film.
     Avoid agressive or over-assertive statements and predictions. They tend to make people avoid worrying news and antagonise those with real expertise. For example, a growing number of climatologists are becoming increasingly skeptical about the anthropomorphic contribution to climate change and the part played by CO2 as compared to water-vapor in heat retention.
     Provide explanations so that people can make their own interpretations rather than simply telling them what to think.
     Give the information in an entertaining fashion rather than as lectures.
     People are motivated by rewards or the promise of rewards, and the more immediate the better. Those rewards can be as simple as the warm feeling of having helped the environment by eschewing polythene bags.
     Offer people the opportunities to take active part interesting events that promote the message. This could include, obviously, practical help to a campaigner such as you and the annual events sponsored by a number of local governments.
     Recognise that people are influenced in differing ways, as some are obsessed by TV game shows while others find them merely irritating, so your blog (for example) must appeal to differing audiences, including those who read carefully the main text but are baffled by Twitters, and those who respond happily to brief snappy text messages on their cell phones
     Nothing motivates like success. The business with polythene bags has had demonstrated success measured by the number of shops that now sell reusable bags and sometimes give a kind of discount for their use.
     Hold people’s attention with regular and interesting items in the print and TV media as well as on the internet. Your blog is an excellent example of the kind of opportunity for this as exemplified by the video of Sylvia Earle’s recent presentation.
     As regards oceans, people need to be shown their significance. Many people have never even seen an ocean and to some they are as unreal and remote as Mars. It looks as though the new version of Google Earth may be an ideal vehicle for this.
     Lectures and instructions, particularly by government agencies, are less effective than the entertainment approach typified by, for example, facilities such as the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
     Parallels may be drawn between the sort of atmospheric pollution that affects people immediately - such as dust, pollens, smoke or even unpleasant smells - and equivalent pollution in the sea affecting sea life.
     People will preferentially believe information given to them informally in preference to the same information given formally. This means that instructions and demands have far less effect than suggestions and requests.
    “A society must ask, seek and demand, that each individual give something of himself. From the sum of these small offerings. It can then build itself anew. If all of us light the candle of our souls, the world will be filled with light.” -Adin Steinsaltz

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  14. Thanks, Janis, for the input. We are putting together a strategy targeted at children, and hope to work with the folks at Google on this.

    Thanks also to John for his thoughtful input.

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