Too Big To Fail

It’s what Napoleon said about his armies as he marched into Russia; it’s what stockholders said about the stocks whose plummets caused the Great Depression; and now, it’s what many people say about our blue ocean. “Too big to fail:” four words that simply aren’t true.

Two weeks ago, I had the privilege of going to the 2011 Gala Benefit of the Blue Ocean Institute. Located at Chelsea Peers, this benefit included slideshows, speakers, and a live auction fundraiser. Blue Ocean Institute is a non-profit organization that studies how everything we do affects the oceans, and through the use of technology, literature, and art, works to convey that information to millions of people. The organization was founded in 2003 by Dr. Carl Safina, the author of three best selling books and over one hundred articles. In the eight years since its dawning, Blue Ocean Institute has raised awareness and desire to act from every audience from religious leaders to school communities, to prevent a very probable, and very post-apocalyptic future. In the words of Eric Graham, chairman of the BOI board, “Blue Ocean Institute, and Carl Safina, serve to inspire all of us in the face of these truly huge realities.”

Before the live auction, Carl Safina made a speech, requesting “a merger” between science and religion—not a merge in which the two are one and the same, but a merge in which both share the same goal of bettering the world and a knowledge of why that goal is so prevalent now. He believes it is important to “harness science’s ability to find out what is really happening, with religion’s tendency to ask, ‘What is the right [thing] to do?’ Both halves are necessary…and without asking, ‘What is the right thing to do with our knowledge?’ scientific knowledge counts for little.”

I was aware of the dangers our ocean faces; every year we dump countless gallons of plastic, oil, mercury, and other deadly poisons into it. To make matters worse, we kill millions of organisms, decimate entire ecosystems, and heat up the atmosphere, changing the very chemistry of the planet’s waters and distorting the lives of an entire blue world of creatures that have taken millions of years of evolution to come into existence. I was aware that the ocean’s days of serene ecological equilibrium were numbered, because of our actions. However, I did not realize how soon our indifference and subversion would come back to haunt us. Dr. Safina explained that “in coming decades” we faced such threats as a “a world without seashells,” declining agriculture, and dropping marine life populations, “throwing more people into poverty and conflict over land, water, and food.” He went on to say that “Coasts would be eroding and coastal cities and even whole island nations would be threatened with inundation and displacement of hundreds of millions of people.”

This news is, of course, disturbing to say the least. It’s hard to grasp, because it sounds like the concept of a post-apocalyptic sci-fi movie—it’s so unbelievable. “That’s why I’d like to tell you that I think what we’ve been hearing about the climate changing, and how these changes are being caused by us burning fossil fuels—is wrong. But I can’t tell you that. Because it’s all true.” The chances are that you’ve heard something along the lines of this before, and have perhaps started to tune out such exclamations as the exaggerated rant of cynics. But as you read this article, I’d like you to rethink that. Dr. Safina assured that he was “not one to shy from good news…I don’t peddle pessimism. We celebrate good news and happy turnarounds. I want the problems to go away.” But mere desire for good does nothing. Dr. Safina has first hand witnessed animal populations–that once thrived–plummet and vanish altogether. He’s seen the ways in which such things can affect people. “We can’t live by wishful thinking; we will have to contend what’s really there.”

Dr. Safina also emphasized the puzzling truth of how “even though climate changes affect so much of nature and human security—and even though evolution drives all life—we live in a country where public understanding is plummeting and public denial is both rising and emboldened.” Humans are an optimistically bias people. We tend to favor good news. Recently, Dr. Safina met up with Dr. David P. Gushee, a distinguished professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University, who explained that “most people who step into a church on a Sunday do so in order to hear that God loves them… They want to here that they are okay.” This is an example of the power of devotion used selfishly. “They focus on the Creator yet ignore the creation,” Dr. Safina explained. While they put so much energy and faith into God, they do nothing to protect all that he designed. They leave it up to God to set things right. What they do not see is that things are not being set right, and will not be unless we step up to cease our own wrongdoing.
Our denial of scientific facts—no matter how negative they are—is something that we simply “can’t afford.” History shows us time and again that positive scientific breakthroughs are more often widely accepted than negative ones. Very few believed Galileo’s accurate astronomical findings, merely because they pushed heaven further from Earth and made us seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things, while the very inaccurate concept of eugenics in the nineteenth and early twentieth century was widely supported (despite evidence against it) because it gave people a justification for racism. I personally don’t see how downplaying the imminent danger faced by the world’s oceans is any different. And I doubt Dr. Safina would either.

Carl Safina further emphasized that “fantasy-mongering isn’t just shameful” when it comes to consciously overlooking facts. “It’s dangerous.” This is why he proposes a merger. An optimistic—though not delusional—course of action. “In our civic lives, our religious places, and our business dealings we must merge a scientific love of knowledge with a devotion as consistent and values-based as any religion.” Being proactive is something that anyone reading this article, and going to this school, is familiar with. So what are we waiting for? As Dr. Safina insisted, “we can’t just watch, and we can’t just wait; we must also do.” He went on to say that “the revolutionary, the conservationist, the reformer, is not the person who understands the problem. It’s the person who does something…so we must deploy, create the message, support solutions, and do all we reasonably can.”

Dr. Safina feels that we can do much more than we already do—that if truly unified, we could change the world, or rather, stop the world from changing for the worst. “If fully engaged by society,” he went on, “science would sweep our decks of the ignorance and shortsightedness that serve so many so well. It always has.” He wants us to “embody three things: Passion in how we care. Cool-headedness in how we evaluate. Devotion in how we act.”

Too Big to Fail’ are dangerous words. They are words that have, until recently, actually held very true for our ocean. But that is no longer the case. I agree with Dr. Safina, and I do not want the ocean to fail. I love the ocean. I’ve wanted to be a marine biologist for as long as I can remember. There’s something wonderful about going to the beach, going sailing, or scuba diving. Something that brings out a sort of wander-lust; a need to be explored. Something that relaxes you and inspires you. But beyond that, we need the ocean. Millions of people make a living by fishing, and trading, and countless other professional fields that demand a healthy ocean. Agriculture, and our already dwindling supply of fresh water depends on the ocean’s currents to run their natural course. Our weather is directly and negatively influenced by our envenoming of the oceans, and subsequently, storms and insect-borne diseases are continuously spreading and being augmented throughout the world. Entire cultures rely on the ocean as a source of food. Our world as we know it will face an unambiguous collapse once our oceans fail—once they’ve been so chemically and ecologically altered by our poisons and our garbage and our nets, that they can no longer grant us any of the magnificent sustenance they do today. Why can’t we stop this from happening? Why can’t we fix this? No, the better question is why won’t we fix this, because we can if we try. As I said before, I agree with Dr. Safina. I also believe that through a common devotion and understanding, we could save our blue planet, and thus save ourselves.

Caleb Gordon
Age 15, Grade 10
Berkeley Carroll School
Gold Key

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