Can Hope Replace Fear in Managing the Ocean

Can Hope Replace Fear in Managing the Ocean?

A reCan Hope Replace Fear in Managing the Oceancent article in Forbes carried the headline “Make Money from Fear” and suggested investors protect themselves against stock market declines by buying securities coined “crash insurance.”

Like the Forbes article about investing, our nation’s political strategies often use fear to focus attention. In fact, as Franklin Roosevelt said in his first inaugural address, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” There is no black and white answer to many issues. There are choices. Fear often drives decisions that miss the mark on what the problems are and result in the loss of options for a more hopeful future.

With ocean-related decisions, the choices are particularly contentious, primarily because of a lack of information or commonly-held goals. Without information, fear is an easy weapon to wield.  As the CEO of an ocean environmental organization in the 1980s, I often complained that California had lost 90 percent of its coastal wetlands, implying that we should be afraid of losing more.  Wetlands play an important role in assuring a healthy marine environment.  I have yet to see an authoritative map showing historical wetlands (i.e. 100 percent) compared to what is left (i.e. the ten percent).  Not long ago, I heard an environmental representative say the same words I used 25 years earlier.  If I could turn the clock back, I wouldn’t have used the fear card, I would have asked these questions:  what percentage of coastal wetlands can we hope to restore?  Five percent? Ten percent?  At some point, we have to focus on what can be, instead of what we fear losing.

A start would be a map of existing wetlands, historical wetlands, and locations that could be restored for scientifically sound reasons that would benefit the environment and the economy.  If not, then maybe we maintaining 10 percent of historical wetlands is our only choice.

With fisheries there is an equally confounding problem.  It’s easy to imagine a world with no fish.  We can also imagine what overfished means, but how can we imagine how large populations must be to sustain harvests at an optimal level into perpetuity?   If we could imagine that, we could develop goals and have hope for sustainable sources of seafood.

Instead, the focus is often on fear of the loss of fish species.  The Magnuson Fisheries Conservation and Management Act seeks to address overfishing but is often hampered by a lack of data.  How many fish are there?  How many can there be? How can we share accurate information in a way understood by the public and decision makers?

OpenOceans Global was founded to gather, archive, and creatively present the world’s ocean data so we can understand what we know and don’t know about the ocean and make more informed decisions not driven by fear.  This data could address not only wetlands and fisheries, but sea level, pH levels, salinity, water temperature, or any other physical, chemical or biological data.

Last December, former President Bill Clinton keynoted the international Eye on Earth conference.  He knows better environmental data are needed even as global efforts to coordinate that data have come a long way. But, he said, “We have only just begun.”

OpenOceans Global also recognizes we are just beginning to understand the ocean. David Gallo from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute says “Today we’ve only explored 3 percent of what’s out in the oceans … which tells us that we don’t know much about this planet at all” (TED Talks, March 2007). To advance that understanding, OpenOceans Global is implementing a two-step unification process to help move the planet from fear of loss of the ocean’s resources to the hope that the sea will be a sustainable source of food, water, energy, recreation, and economic and environmental well-being.

This article first appeared in the September/October 2012 issue of Air2Air Magazine.

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