Except for those living in coastal communities — or even inland if we’re talking freshwater species — for most people, eating fish is a choice, not a necessity. Some people believe that the sole purpose of fish is for us to eat them. They are seen as commodities. Yet wild fish, like wild birds, have a place in the natural ecosystem which outweighs their value as food. They’re part of the systems that make the planet function in our favor, and we should be protecting them because of their importance to the ocean. They are carbon-based units, conduits for nutrients, and critical elements in ocean food webs. If people really understood the methods being used to capture wild fish, they might think about choosing whether to eat them at all, because the methods are so destructive and wasteful. It isn’t just a matter of caring about the fish or the corals, but also about all the things that are destroyed in the process of capturing ocean wildlife. We have seen such a sharp decline in the fish that we consume in my lifetime that I personally choose not to eat any. In the end, it’s a choice.
There are few people on the planet who have thought more about that choice, so Earle is worth listening to (though she isn’t quite willing to tell people not to eat meat as well; attention Cowspiracy).
And, since we are on documentaries today, you can hear a lot more about her and her work in the Netflix doc Mission Blue.
If you’re inspired by Earle’s ability to pull this off at age 78, just wait: The real inspiration lies in her stunning plea for ocean conservation. In this episode of Inquiring Minds (click below to stream audio), Earle doesn’t shy away from giving us the really, really big picture. She explains that we’re the first generation of humans to even know what we’re doing to 96 percent of the Earth’s water—through assaults ranging from over-fishing to noise pollution to global warming’s evil twin, ocean acidification.
Older generations just didn’t get it; they simply had no idea they could have this effect. “We have been under the illusion for most of our history, thinking that the ocean is too big to fail,” Earle says. Now, thanks in large part to the work of ocean adventurer-scientists like Earle, we know better. And we’re right at that crucial moment where knowing something might actually help us make a difference.
Actually, I think knowing something about 50 years ago might have really helped us make a difference. We often don’t want to know until we are on the edge of disaster, and that is naturally very late in the game. Still…
The video totally nails the problem that traditional economics does not value or account for “natural capital,” the single greatest (and most catastrophic) flaw in the way we humans conduct our lives, cultures and economies. So thanks for getting that key point out.
But the video also irks me slightly because:
1) No value is placed on preserving the oceans simply because they are the most spectacular, beautiful, awesome, and life-nurturing resource on the planet (what I would call “existential capital”). Sure, those are intangibles, but not all value attached to the ocean can be expressed in dollars and cents, or benefits to the human race. And the lives of all the myriad species that live in the ocean are invaluable, even if they don’t directly benefit humans (or contribute to our cosmetics!). Even if the oceans didn’t protect our beach homes, provide us with a tourist destination, or regulate the climate so we don’t all overheat, I’d be in favor of protecting and defending the oceans. The oceans are the heart and soul of the planet.
2) The remedies are sorta lame. Go to a green resort? Buy “sustainable” fish, whatever that is? That won’t save the oceans. Saving the oceans, and stopping ocean acidification will require much more dramatic shifts in our behavior and culture. How about urging people to stop eating meat (the single greatest step any human can take to protect the planet)? And stop eating fish, period? Or stop living in humungous houses that are heated and cooled to ridiculous temperatures? Or to reduce their driving, and travel by airplane (the carbon emissions of that trip to the beach are significant)? Or stop using so much plastic? Or any number of the other 3,546 things that modern humans do that impact the oceans?
Maybe people should watch this video (and movie) instead, because Revolution really is the right response to the crisis of the oceans: