I’m Peter Neill, Director of the World Ocean Observatory.
Sustainability is the word we hear most often in discussions of how to deal progressively with the social and economic challenges resulting from the world’s radical population growth, global economy, and voracious appetite for non-renewable natural resources to meet those needs over time. The most common usage derives from the 1987 United Nations Brutland Commission Report that defined sustainable development as that ”which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” From this has emerged an industry of academic proposals, new standards and accreditations, non-governmental organizations and policy institutes devoted to full amplification of the concept in the form of environmental management, financial analyses, planning processes, and the inclusion of the alleviation of poverty, social justice, human rights, and cultural traditions as factors also essential to the response. In some cases, sustainability may be expressed by a formula relating population, affluence and technology as measurable elements of an equation, or to a newly inclusive accounting system, or to a calculation of previously ignored factors reduced to an index; in others, it seems more like an idealistic, unobtainable philosophical concept that at least offers hope, however illusionary and elusive.
From the specific perspective of the ocean, sustainability as a doctrine may at first seem beyond the more narrow and obvious applications regarding fisheries and sustainable seafood-- species protection, regional quotas, gear restrictions, and regulated market forces – or aquaculture -- a means to increase alternative supply against insatiable demand -- or coastal management and marine protected areas -- schemes to protect inshore artisanal fishing, coral reefs, seed ground, and sheltering habitat against extreme weather, sea level rise, and the predations of resort and high rise developers.
But if you step back, and take the broadest ecosystem view, the ocean then becomes an enormous contributor to any new strategy of resilience, maintenance, and enhancement of global bio-diversity and capacity, essential to the life-support system of the earth from the beginning, but ever so much more needed now. As we continue to deplete underground aquifers, to increase irrigated land, to disrupt and pollute streams and rivers, the ocean becomes even more valuable as a primary component of the world water cycle, a necessary circulation, filtration, and purification system, and an inevitable source of desalinated drinking water to meet future global demand. As the ocean is essential to our need for fresh water, as water security and food security are linked, as food security and the alleviation of poverty are linked, and as alleviation of poverty is key to civilization, justice and peace, the ocean simply cannot go the way of the earth, be brutalized, ignored, taken for granted, or abandoned.
The ocean is the true commons, a vast reservoir of natural capital without which the mechanics of the earth will break down. There is much talk of a “green” economy, a shift away from relentless growth fueled by forests, minerals, and fossil fuels, -- resources stolen from the past and the future -- toward renewable energy, pricing that incorporates the true value of ecosystem service, and development based not on consumption but rather on utility and quality of life. All those new ideas for changed behavior on land are welcome and must be supported. But the green economy will not succeed without the “blue economy” that includes in the calculation the ocean as a redeeming source of renewable protein, energy, fresh water, and biodiversity with unimagined implication for the future of human survival.
The blue economy has a chance to succeed because it is open and free. No one owns it; no one can fence it; no one can master it no matter how hard they try. Oh, to be sure, governments will still assert their exclusive economic rights along their coasts, corporations will still seek to impose their extraction values offshore, but it will not be enough; it will only postpone the inevitable and prolong the decline. When we learn to see the ocean as integral to the land, when we design physical places, make financial and social decisions, and take political action based on that symbiosis, then we may well have achieved the means by which to build a world that is truly sustainable.
We will discuss these issues, and more, in future editions of World Ocean Radio.
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THE EARTH OPTIMISM SERIES IS BROUGHT TO YOU BY THE WORLD OCEAN OBSERVATORY IN PARTNERSHIP WITH THE SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION’S OCEAN PORTAL, TO RAISE AWARENESS OF THE GLOBAL EARTH OPTIMISM SUMMIT DURING EARTH DAY WEEKEND, APRIL 21ST THROUGH 23RD, 2017. SHARE YOUR IDEAS AT EARTH OPTIMISM DOT SI DOT EDU.
This week we continue the Earth Optimism Series, a 24-episode project in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution's Ocean Portal, to celebrate ocean solutions and innovative projects in the context of the Earth Optimism Summit, April 2017. In this episode of World Ocean Radio we argue for the ocean as contributor to the resilience, enhancement, biodiversity, and health of the planet. And we assert that the green economy does not succeed without the blue economy, and when we begin to see the ocean as integral to the land rather than a place apart from it, we may begin to build a world that is truly sustainable.
Resource from this Episode
About the Earth Optimism Summit
April 21 - 23, 2017
The Earth Optimism Summit, sponsored by the Smithsonian Institute’s Ocean Portal, will be an unprecedented gathering of thought leaders, practitioners, pioneering scientists and researchers, major civic and industry participants, national and international media, and philanthropists who make up the conservation-minded citizens of our world. They will convene to discuss and share solutions – what are the best minds, boldest experiments, and most innovative community practices telling us about how to preserve biodiversity, protect natural resources, and address climate change?
The Earth Optimism Series is brought to you by the World Ocean Observatory in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution’s Ocean Portal, to raise awareness of the Earth Optimism Summit during Earth Day weekend, April 21-23, 2017 in Washington, D.C. and around the world. Share your ideas at earthoptimism.si.edu.
About World Ocean Radio
Peter Neill, Director of the World Ocean Observatory and host of World Ocean Radio, provides coverage of a broad spectrum of ocean issues from science and education to advocacy and exemplary projects. World Ocean Radio, a project of the World Ocean Observatory, is a weekly series of five-minute audio essays available for syndicated use at no cost by college and community radio stations worldwide. A selection of episodes is now available in Portuguese, Spanish, French, Swahili, and Mandarin, enabling us to reach 75% of the world's population. For more information, visit WorldOceanObservatory.org/world-ocean-radio-global.
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