The scope of the problems we are currently facing can be illustrated with catchwords such as global warming, sea level rise, soil degradation, potable water shortages, and the loss of species and biotope diversity. It is obvious that an ecologically focused structural change is needed. The adaptive capacity of the economic and social systems, and the confined possibilities of using the environment, must be considered.
Too many people still believe that the future will be much like the past, with the task of avoiding disaster falling to markets and technologies. But think about this: the earth is stable; it does not grow. The input of the sun likewise remains constant. Much of the wealth, derived from that input and stored over tens of millions of years in fossil fuels, has already been consumed in less than two centuries. No technology in the world can alter this equation.
Obviously, our activities, especially all-harvesting of natural resources, has tremendous impact on the ecosystem. But there is also a widespread consensus that non-sustainable harvesting, and causing the extinction of species, is ethically unacceptable and unjustifiable. And we all need nature; for food, health and scientific innovation, the prevention of floods, droughts and epidemics, and of course we need wild places, animals and plants for recreation, renewal, and inspiration.
Our steadily narrowing spectrum of consumed products from agriculture, forestry and fisheries, and the concentration on a few economically valuable species, has resulted in a specialization of land and marine food harvesting systems. Combined with the conversion of habitats, these are prime causes of species loss within any particular ecosystem. The greatest problem may be the illusion that subtle changes in course direction could guide us towards a good life that will include both a ‘conserved’ nature and cozy shopping malls.
It may be useful to realize that we are dealing with the conservation of Man in nature, which requires us take Man’s cultural identity into consideration as well. If people are denied their culture, nature and the environment will also suffer. Cultural diversity must be considered part of biodiversity, and like other aspects of biodiversity, cultural diversity helps people adapt to changing conditions.
I believe, given the complexity of the challenges, only a cross-disciplinary approach with a very close and intense collaboration between science, business and all other stakeholders promises to fulfill our hopes for a better, common future. Corporations, being the dominant institutions on the planet, must squarely address the social and environmental problems that affect mankind. Science must provide the information needed to make sensible choices and decisions. Together they must rewrite economics texts and fine-tune the notion of sustainability, as only then can they create an enduring society with a system of commerce and production where each and every act is inherently sustainable and restorative. Where economics, biology, and human systems are integrated and profitable, and expandable companies created that do not destroy, directly or indirectly, the world around them.
A scientist is primarily concerned with understanding the world. That commitment must, in turn, lead to the scrutiny of some aspects of nature in great empirical detail. The reward comes at the split second of time when something new has been learned. The results need then to be communicated in a timely and comprehensible fashion, so that knowledge is expanded, and trust and confidence prevail.
A corporate leader is primarily concerned with quarterly earnings and shareholder equity, often forsaking the curiosity for new things and foresight of a long-term time line. As Dow Chemical manager Fussler said in an interview many years ago, corporate leaders have to re-direct their thinking, away from short-term costs arguments, into new directions, including the invention of products that are completely different from what we know today. In fact, we need to re-discover a horizon, one that goes beyond a single generation, one that ensures that our actions are based on knowledge and not on public opinion, polls or junk science. And we need to subordinate the present-day advantage under the long-term necessity of the future. In the words of Charles F. Kettering, ‘We should all be interested in the future because we will have to spend the rest of our lives there’.
We all depend on a healthy ocean; a healthy ocean depends on us. Let us be the change we would like to see in the world. Our new Ocean Sentinels Club is proof that conservation can be fun, rewarding and effective. The Club unites and empowers citizens to advocate for the conservation of dolphins and the marine environment across Palm Beach County, and beyond. Join us. The time is now. It begins with you.