The Economist on the dire state of the world’s oceans

2009-01-11

in Economics, Politics, Science, The environment

Mosque and power lines

A recent issue of The Economist features a leader and a special report on the state of the world’s oceans. As with a lot of their environmental coverage, it sits awkwardly beside the rest of their analysis. It is astonishing that the newspaper can argue that “the mass extinction, however remote, that should be concentrating minds is that of mankind” while not doing a lot more to advocate effective action. Like most of the policy-making community, they haven’t really internalized the fact that climate change is an issue of over-riding importance, and that nothing else can be durably achieved until it has been addressed. In addition to highlighting the dangers of climate change, their coverage includes discussion of how overfising risks rendering sharks and tuna extinct; how the oceans would require tens of thousands of years to recover from the pollution already released into them; how the Greenland is “on track” to melt completely, raising sea levels by seven metres; and how acidification, pollution, and climate change threaten to eliminate coral reefs.

Clearly, it is one thing to have accepted the collective judgment of the scientific community. It is quite another to have fully incorporated the consequences of that judgment into your structure of beliefs and behaviour.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Milan January 11, 2009 at 2:02 pm

A related previous post:

The Economist’s varied shades of green
April 15, 2008

Litty January 11, 2009 at 5:23 pm

A cross and a minaret? I like it.

Tristan January 11, 2009 at 6:03 pm

“Like most of the policy-making community, they haven’t really internalized the fact that climate change is an issue of over-riding importance, and that nothing else can be durably achieved until it has been addressed.”

Do you think this problem can be addressed with more technical information about how to combat climate change? In other words, can people be made to appropriately value the need to combat climate change with information about how to technically achieve the mitigation of climate change? Or, is it an entirely different sort of problem?

R.K. January 12, 2009 at 10:09 am

Clearly, it is one thing to have accepted the collective judgment of the scientific community. It is quite another to have fully incorporated the consequences of that judgment into your structure of beliefs and behaviour.

It is also easier to slip a few environmentally aware articles past the editorial board than it is to change the overall philosophy of an organization or newspaper.

Milan January 12, 2009 at 11:07 am

Tristan,

It is important for policymakers to understand both the risks associated with climate change and the mechanisms through which it can be mitigated.

What is most lacking now is the will to learn about either. To a considerable extent, that is the result of how a solid understanding of climate change isn’t demanded of politicians.

It is a very tricky problem. We don’t normally demand that politicians be experts, since matters requiring technical expertise are generally decided outside the political realm. That being said, dealing with climate change requires so many value choices and so much change that politicians are inevitably going to be involved.

. January 12, 2009 at 1:41 pm

Move Over, Thoreau
Rationalist environmentalism better prevail, and fast.
By Johann HariPosted Monday, Jan. 12, 2009, at 6:55 AM ET

American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau by Bill McKibben.I have just swallowed my greens—1,000 pages of them—and I am torn. If the planet warms by 6 degrees in my lifetime, as the climatologists say it really could, we will face vast and violent weather of mass destruction. The last time the world warmed so much, so fast, was 251 million years ago—and almost everything on Earth died. So I have no doubt environmentalism is the most urgent ideology left standing, reducing every other disagreement to a second-rank squabble. Yet it is—as an intellectual tradition—muddled and messy.

. January 12, 2009 at 1:45 pm

“The rational environmentalists stand at the midpoint between the utopian delusions of the global-warming deniers—something will come along to save us!—and the utopian fantasies of the romantics. They believe our crisis is not spiritual at all, but physical. Human beings didn’t unleash warming gases into the atmosphere out of malice or stupidity or spiritual defect: They did it because they wanted their children to be less cold and less hungry and less prone to disease. The moral failing comes only very late in the story—when we chose to ignore the scientific evidence of where wanton fossil-fuel burning would take us. This failing must be put right by changing our fuel sources, not altering our souls.”

Tristan January 13, 2009 at 9:29 am

You didn’t address my question. My question is, if the will to learn is lacking, how can this be solved with more technical data?

Milan January 13, 2009 at 10:13 am

Well, from a certain perspective, the ongoing Australian drought is data. The pine beetle epidemic is data.

Data of that variety have more capacity to instil the will to learn that satellite measurements of mean surface temperature do – at least for most people.

. July 31, 2009 at 12:12 pm

Fresh hope for world’s fisheries
By Mark Kinver
Science and environment reporter, BBC News

There is fresh hope that the world’s depleted fisheries can be saved from collapse, say a team of researchers.

They said that efforts introduced to halt overfishing in five of the 10 large marine ecosystems they examined were showing signs of success.

A combination of measures – such as catch quotas, no-take zones, and selective fishing gear – had helped fish stocks recover, they added.

Details of the two-year study by 19 marine scientists appear in Science.

However, the team warned, a large percentage of the world’s fisheries remained unmanaged, so much work still had to be done to halt the damage caused by overfishing.

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