World Ocean Weekly

Soul of the Sea In the Age of the Algorithm

At the UN Ocean Conference in New York this June, a copy of a new book – SOUL OF THE SEA IN THE AGE OF THE ALGORITHM, How Tech Start-Ups Can Heal Our Oceans – was presented to each attending delegation by General Assembly President, Peter Thomson, who in his Introduction, describes the ocean challenge as follows:

“Our next challenge lies in formulating and applying effective, holistic solutions that can adapt themselves to the task as it evolves. The same power we wield to exploit and modify our world can be used to solve the problems we created along the way. The solutions we looking for are not simply an extension or fine=tuning of the traditional ideas, tools, technologies, and ways of thinking surrounding traditional resource conservation management…Static, linear solutions for a dynamic, non-linear system will not work...Our economic systems, our governance, our environmental interventions must be rethought, reorganized, and retooled. We need radically new ways of thinking and behaving.”

The authors of SOUL OF THE SEA are Dr. Gregory S. Stone, Executive Vice President for Oceans at Conservation International, an ocean scientist, diver, and explorer, advocate implementer of novel projects in marine protected areas, aquaculture, the ocean health index, climate adaptation, and deep seamount environment, and prolific author with a fulsome catalogue of publications in marine science, marine policy, and human ecology; and Nishan Degnarain, co-leader with Dr. Stone of the World Economic Forum Special Initiative on Oceans, chair of the Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Oceans, economist with the World Bank on UN Sustainable Development Goal for Oceans and new models for ocean-related economic growth in emerging markets, and advisor to leading technology companies in the fields of artificial intelligence, big data, satellite technology, autonomous vessels, and bio-technology. The authors are an extraordinary complementary team – in age, experience, and understanding of the “radically new ways of thinking and behaving” that Ambassador Thomson asserts as the requirement for the benefit of the future ocean and its essential contribution to our global future.

The book surveys the evolution of ocean exploration and exploitation through three definable “revolutions” or phases of global change by the cause and effect of population growth, mass production, global consumption, science and technology, and augmentation of computerization, miniaturization, and unpredictable financial and geo-political events. The focus, however, is on solutions for the ocean in the context of a “fourth industrial revolution,” characterized by a range of astonishing new technologies that “are fusing the physical, digital, and biological worlds, impacting all disciplines, economies, and industries, and even challenging ideas about what it means to be human.” The book examines these new platforms and explores their implication for a new economics, a new politics, and a new social contract.

The authors see the ocean as “a springboard for ocean innovation” where big data creates a digital avatar of our ocean that creates models and trials by which to test ideas through simulation, projected outcomes, and risk management: autonomous vessels for exploration, transportation, and trade; a new approach to aquaculture to feed burgeoning population, marine biological engineering, deep-ocean energy, and many other new methods for engaging the ocean responsibly, ethically, and sustainably for human purpose and global health.

Ultimately the authors see our time as a “leadership moment,” when stresses must be addressed by innovation in the form of a next generation of leaders and organizations; instrumentation and metrics; core communities, crowd engagement, and distributed trust; augmented ocean monitoring systems; trained staff on demand for anticipated, planned response; assets leveraged efficiently multiple uses; and new, transparent communications to build a more vital integrated and international ocean constituency.

What is the framework in which all this can happen? Here are some suggested premises:

  • A healthy ocean delivers vital benefits to people.
  • All decisions we make and actions we take must not impinge on those benefits.
  • The benefits resulting from Ocean Equity, whether financial, spiritual, or otherwise are equally shared.
  • We adopt the principle of Seven Generation Stewardship, the assumption that every decision is to be taken in the context of long-term generational continuity and sustainability.
  • We must restore natural capital and ensure that we live off the interest alone.

Each of these will be a challenge, confronted with the intent, as defined by Buckminster Fuller, to “make the world work, for 100% of humanity, in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation, without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone.”

SOUL OF THE SEA is the second volume in a series of provocative, transformational publications about the ocean released by the World Ocean Observatory. To pre-order your copy, contact your local independent bookstore or visit amazon.com.

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Soul of the Sea first appeared as a 5-minute audio episode on World Ocean Radio. Learn more at /World-Ocean-Radio.

Water And Conflict: Fighting Wars Over A Precious Resource

We speak today of water wars as if they are a new development in history. But as the most valuable natural resource on earth, water has long been the focus of conflict over territory, supply, and equitable distribution for all its essential purpose as source of sustainability and survival.

The Pacific Institute, based in California, is a well-spring of information about water policy and water advocacy. A visit to their website, worldwater.org, and a like on their Facebook page provides an always changing and provocative source of information on the world’s freshwater resources.


Credit: Institute of Physics (iop.org)

A most interesting features is a chronology of water conflict with entries categorized by types to include:

  • Control of Water Resources: where water supplies or access to water is at the root of tensions.
  • Military Tool: where water resources, or water systems themselves, are used by a nation or state as a weapon during a military action.
  • Political Tool: where water resources, or water systems themselves, are used by a nation, state, or non-state actor for a political goal.
  • Terrorism: where water resources, or water systems, are either targets or tools of violence or coercion by non-state actors.
  • Military Target: where water resource systems are targets of military actions by nations or states.
  • Development Disputes: where water resources or water systems are a major source of contention and dispute in the context of economic and social development.

To give you some idea of the variety and historical extent of this history, let me provide a few quick, evocative examples quoted from the list:

3000 BC
Ancient Sumerian legend recounts the deeds of the deity Ea, who punished humanity for its sins by inflicting the Earth with a six-day storm. The Sumerian myth parallels the Biblical account of Noah and the deluge, although some details differ.

612 BC
A coalition of Egyptian, Median (Persian), and Babylonian forces attacks and destroys Ninevah, the capital of Assyria. Nebuchadnezzar’s father, Nebopolassar, leads the Babylonians. The converging armies divert the Khosr River to create a flood, which allows them to elevate their siege engines on rafts.

537 AD
As the Roman Empire begins to decline, the Goths besiege Rome and cut almost all of the aqueducts leading into the city. In 537 AD this siege was successful. The only aqueduct that continues to function is the Aqua Virgo, which runs almost entirely underground.

1573 AD
At the beginning of the eighty years war against Spain, the Dutch flood the land to break the siege of Spanish troops on the town Alkmaar. The same defense is used to protect Leiden in 1574. This strategy becomes known as the Dutch Water Line and is used frequently for defense in later years.

Dutch Water Line. A frequent defense involving the flooding of lands in the netherlands. aerial view of the fortified town of naarden. Credit: Wikipedia

1898 AD
Military conflict nearly ensues between Britain and France in 1898 when a French expedition attempted to gain control of the headwaters of the White Nile. While the parties ultimately negotiates a settlement of the dispute, the incident has been characterized as having “dramatized Egypt’s vulnerable dependence on the Nile, and fixed the attitude of Egyptian policy-makers ever since.”

Water Conflict Chronology. Credit: Pacific Institute

And now to jump to almost yesterday:

2017 AD
In response to the advance of the Syrian Arab Army, The Islamic State (ISIS) floods villages they control in the Deir Hafer Plain of east Aleppo by pumping water from Lake Assad into the Al-Jar channel.

The list goes on and on, can be searched by region and conflict type, as well as visualized through an interactive map that shows the extraordinary global distribution of water conflict over time. This history would not exist but for the indisputable value of water — its power, urgency, and requirement. All else pales — civilizing ideas, religious concepts, political boundaries, and questions of justice — when there is no resolution for water, when there is no water to drink.

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Water and Conflict first appeared as a 5-minute audio episode on World Ocean Radio. Online at worldoceanobservatory.org.

Life Below Water: Sustainable Development Goal 14

The Ocean Conference
United Nations, New York
June 5–9, 2017

 

At this moment, the UN has before it the challenge of its 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Goal 14 is Life Below Water, and it is the subject of a major UN Ocean Conference in June 2017 wherein all the nations, UN agencies, civil society and non-government organizations, the scientific community, financial institutions, and other interested parties will convene at the General Assembly in New York to exchange views, set objectives, seek funds, build partnerships, and otherwise focus specifically on the ocean and its relation to action toward sustainability in the 21st century. This conference, co-hosted by Sweden and Fiji, purports to be “a game changer that will reverse the decline of our ocean for people, planet, and prosperity.” There will be a final consensus declaration and call for action for the implementation of Goal 14 as part of an agenda targeted for success by 2030.

The United Nations is the world’s grand secret society. Its machinations are pervasive, sometime fraught, oftentimes successful, and in its hand is found in the middle of the mix of international policy, regulation, collaborative practice, and conflict resolution that affects our lives in ways the public does not fully perceive or understand. It is, nonetheless, a system based on voluntary funding and commitments and is subject to the limits of consensus, not to mention the veto power of certain individual nations that can defy the agreement among all the others.

Making progress in such an organization requires understanding of the conflicting needs among nations, diplomacy, compromise, and integrity measured mostly by payment of dues, funds dedicated by certain nations for certain goals and objectives, and time. The schedule of events and the organizational structure is designed to allow for the process to unfold at the most practical level, hence a pace that is set not so much by the disinterested as by the capacity of every nation to live up to its best intentions. For a long time I misunderstood and fought against this apparently endless dialogue and practice, until I realized that it is the only way such a complicated set of interests and needs can be communicated and reconciled toward incremental achievement.

So for a week in New York, the ocean apparat will gather for The Ocean Conference: Our Oceans, Our Future — one of those seminal events where expectation is high and the urgency to move forward is palpable. The final report will include summaries of partnerships made, specific new projects and concrete action to advance Goal 14, and voluntary contributions committed. Toward this outcome I can only add an enthusiastic voice of support and the full participation of the World Ocean Observatory to communicate the outcome.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) were created as an attempt to organize a vast compendium of issues and needs, of knowledge and intent, into understandable goals, objectives and strategies. But what I continue to argue is that the ocean is the global commonality encompassing the entirety of this compendium. There is no other totally inclusive system that contains all the problems and all the solutions. The ocean cross-cuts them all, involves them all, integrates them all, and relates them all as the focus, the ecological commons that overlays all this effort and aspiration and informs all response at every level, from the consequence of indifference to the success of future action, from individual to local, regional, and global response. I assert that the ocean is the nexus for the true collaboration and realization of all these goals for worldwide sustainable development.

Follow the conversation using the hashtags #SaveOurOcean and #SDG14. Join the effort to save our ocean by registering your voluntary commitment at oceanconference.un.org/commitments.

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United Nations Ocean Conference: Our Oceans, Our Future first appeared as a 5-minute audio broadcast on World Ocean Radio.

The Law of Mother Earth

 

The Law of Mother Earth is a Bolivian law that sets forth a legal and ethical vision for the rights of the natural world.

Just when you think the world is impossible, the world surprises. Looking forward into the future one can easily despair over the scale of change required, the intractability of vested interests and governments, and the human energy and imagination required to make any change for the better. We talk of hope, but when specific actions are considered and expressed, all the reasons against often overwhelm the possibility.

Enter Bolivia. In December 2010, in response to an understanding of the impacts of climate change on the nation’s economic and community health, the National Congress voted to support The Law of Mother Earth, an act to protect the well-being of its citizens by protecting the natural world — its resources, sustainability, and value — as essential to the common good. The act was supported by Bolivian President Evo Morales; revisions of the national legal code were explored; over 2900 specific conservation programs and anti-pollution projects, conceived as expressions of the practical application of the Law, were implemented in all 327 municipalities; $118 million was invested; and full legislation enabling this new social and economic model is expected to be ratified soon.

The language is astonishing. Here are the binding principles that govern:

  1. Harmony: Human activities, within the framework of plurality and diversity, should achieve a dynamic balance with the cycles and processes inherent in Mother Earth;
  2. Collective Good: The interests of society, within the framework of the rights of Mother Earth, prevail in all human activities and any acquired right;
  3. Guarantee of Regeneration: The state, at its various levels, and society, in harmony with the common interest, must ensure the necessary conditions in order that the diverse living systems of Mother Earth may absorb damage, adapt to shocks, and regenerate without significantly altering their structural and functional characteristics, recognizing that living systems are limited in their ability to regenerate, and that humans are limited in their ability to undo their actions;
  4. Respect and defend the rights of Mother Earth: The state and any individual or collective person must respect, protect and guarantee the rights of Mother Earth for the well-being of current and future generations;
  5. No Commercialism: Neither living systems nor processes that sustain them may be commercialized, nor serve anyone’s private property:
  6. Multi-culturalism: The exercise of the rights of Mother Earth require the recognition, recovery, respect, protection, and dialogue of the diversity of feelings, values, knowledge, skills, practices, transcendence, science, technology and standards of all the culture of the world who seek to live in harmony with Nature.

The Legislation continues:

Mother Earth has the following rights: To life, to the diversity of life, to water, to clean air, to equilibrium, to restoration, and to pollution-free living. And it further outlines the obligations of the State and the people to these principles and rights as a binding societal duty.

NASA | Bolivia from space

The Bolivian economy does rely heavily on natural resource export activity, earning a significant part of its foreign exchange thereby. But this moves forward nonetheless, as an endeavor initiated and supported by Bolivian political groups representing some 3 million voters, is on its way to finalization and implementation as national law, supported by the local and national government, with an already existing ministry to implement revisions to the legal system and to continue the applicable programs already underway. Bolivia attempts to move forward, to show us another way, and nearby Ecuador, with similar intent, is right along side.

The Law of Mother Earth — not just an idea, more than a vision. Something new. Something real. Change must begin somewhere, sometime. Perhaps Bolivia is inventing the social model and role of governance that will demonstrate how we can transcend division and conflict, beyond the destruction and despair that we feel, toward a harmonious, effective, efficient, and equitable society connected by the true value of a sustained natural world. If so, should we not pay attention?

Read the complete text of the Law of Mother Earth here (with thanks to the World Future Fund.)

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This piece was rebroadcast for Earth Day, 2017.

A New Seaport for Gaza?

Gaza seaport. Credit: Reuters / Mohammed Salem

A port is a place for the exchange of goods, people, and ideas. From the beginning of time, when sailors left home in pursuit of commerce and trade, ports became hubs connecting land to sea to land through ships and maritime connection. When we think these days of ports, we think of big harbors – New York, Shanghai, Rotterdam, Hong Kong – the locus for massive worldwide transport of raw materials and manufactured goods that are the main asset of the export/import contribution to the regional, national, and global economy. Without ports, the world simply would stand still.

As a result of the geopolitical impact of these locations, ports also became financial and cultural centers where the concentration of wealth drove the development of financial institutions and instruments, architecture and urban design, the arts, universities and libraries, governments and diplomacy, and the many social achievements that are the aggregate what we call civilization.

There was also ensuing conflict. To deprive a nation of a port is an act of destruction. To blockade a port as a tactic of war slowly destroys the enemy from within by starvation, disease, political disruption, and social chaos.

In the early millennia of world history, the tiny port of Gaza on the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea, in what is now Palestine, played an enormous role in the trading of spice from east to west, the spice road by which herbs, incense, textiles, glass, and food stuffs were brought by caravan from the Arabian south and trans-shipped to Rome, Constantinople and other European markets. The value was fought over: early on, the Emperor of Pompeii incorporated Gaza as part of the Roman Empire to assure its possession and control over the lucrative connection.

In modern times, the port of Gaza continued as a minor regional center affected by the constant political and economic vicissitudes of that volatile area then conflicted by European governments competing for, acquiring, and controlling certain areas to augment imperial designs and financial return. Things in the Middle East have always been in flux, a continuing area of aspiration and despair, inhibited by a challenging climate and isolation. As modern transportation became global, the Suez Canal created a more efficient means for volume, transport, and the demands of Europe and the New World left the region behind.

Today, Gaza is a poor city in an even poorer territory, caught in the larger Israel-Palestine conflict with Egypt marginalized. As a result, the consequent Israeli blockade of the port of Gaza controls access and limits imports of food, water, health supplies, and more while the residents become more desperate day-by-day with little hope and no political solution in sight.

A March 2016 article in The Economist suggests interest in a long-planned and discussed project to build an artificial island three miles off the Gaza coast – a piece of “new” land to which no side can lay claim – for a modern port and airport, power and desalination plants that would enable a revival of imports, create employment, stabilize the social unrest in the region, reduce the blockade, and possibly break through the political paralysis in Israel and Palestine that serves no one.

The plan is of course fraught with obstacles. The $5 billion (US) projected cost presumably could be met by investors and donor nations, financing repaid, and operations underwritten by taxes and fees. The engineering is possible and the prospect optimistic, but given the volatility of internal politics, there is no guarantee that the project will ever get beyond a hypothetical solution for an insolvable problem. At best, the economics are marginal.

But what if the investment was calculated to include the savings of avoiding another war in the region? Of no further human loss and social break-down? Of renewed inter-action and cooperation between the nations — a true “peace dividend” of compelling financial, political, and cultural return? What if once more a port might assert its functionality as a place of exchange of goods, people, and ideas and serve again today as a powerful locus of resolution, reconciliation, and peace in a troubled place and a troubled time?

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"A Seaport in Gaza" first appeared as an audio broadcast on World Ocean Radio.