The Ocean is the dominant life support system on the planet and is central to our quality of life on earth. Unfortunately, there is a profound, widespread ignorance about the Ocean and its vital importance to everyone, everywhere, all of the time. Even what is known to scientists is not widely appreciated by the public, and certainly not by most policymaking officials. You can rarely prove something to someone who does not want to see it proven, or has financial or ideological reasons to not see it proven.
The oceans provide 97% of our planet’s living space, yet less than 5% of the Ocean has been seen, let alone explored. Marine ecosystems hold far more biological and genetic diversity and density than the tropical rainforests which tells us that we don’t know much about this planet at all. The world register of marine species found that up to three-quarters of the world’s marine animals and plants are yet to be discovered which means it may well be the next rainforest for pharmaceuticals.
Since the science of marine biotechnology was kick-started five years ago, scientists have found micro-organisms that contain millions of previously unknown genes and thousands of new families of proteins that could be used to create innovative medicines, industrial solvents, chemical treatments and other processes. For example, a cancer drug Halaven was derived from sponges, a particularly promising marine resource.
But tragically, we are destroying marine biodiversity 1,000 times faster than normal, before we’ve even had a chance to benefit from it. Overfishing, pollution and climate change are all interacting in a way that may prevent the Ocean from ever recovering. But the problem isn’t about overfishing, pollution or climate change. It’s about our need for growth and our greed and our inability to imagine the world as different to the selfish world we live in today.
The problem that we are seemingly unable to countenance is the end of growth. Today’s system is predicated on the progressive conversion of nature into products, people into consumers, cultures into markets and time into money. We are trying to extend that growth for a few more years by fracking and deep-sea oil drilling, but only at a higher and higher cost to future generations. Now that most of the best, easy to access oil is running out it is becoming less and less economically viable to extract crude oil to the extent that the average price per barrel has tripled from around £20 to £60 in just 7 years. This has increased the cost of everything and helped place most Western economies into an on-going recession.
Sooner or later we will have to transition towards a de-growth economy. Today that means recession, with its unemployment, inequality and desperation. But it need not be that way. Unemployment could translate into greater leisure for all. Lower consumption could translate into reclaiming life from money, re-skilling, reconnecting and sharing. The transition to a low-carbon world can inspire us to create new technologies that can become drivers of economic growth as well as save our planet from catastrophe.
Sadly, many people need to endure something themselves before it touches them. It may well be that only disaster will effectuate change. It may take a cataclysmic example of extreme weather for people to wake up to global warming.
The future of the Ocean, the creatures who live there, and our own future are inextricably linked. The future of life depends on us doing something. The next 40 years may be the most important in the next 10 thousand. In the end, our snippet of time representing the human race will be defined not only by what we create, but by what we refuse to destroy.
By Jack Wilson, The Reef Doctor
Featured Photo: © Steve Morgan / Greenpeace