This is the seventh in a series of guest posts by Joel Barkan, a previous contributor to “The Intersection” and a graduate student at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. The renowned Scripps marine biologist Jeremy Jackson is teaching his famed “Marine Science, Economics, and Policy” course for what may be the last time this year (along with Jennifer Jacquet), and Joel will be reporting each week on the contents of the course.
I don’t want to write a post all about climate change on Chris and Sheril’s blog because my fire-retardant suit is at the cleaners. So I won’t. But I will write about what marine scientists can learn from what climate scientists are doing (no “Oceangate” jokes, please).
Each week, I write in this space about a different threat that will inevitably doom our oceans if we fail to act. But which threat is the most critical? At least climate scientists have agreed on a general consensus: most of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely due to increased greenhouse gas concentrations as a result of human activities. UC San Diego’s own Naomi Oreskes, in a 2004 Science essay, analyzed nearly a thousand abstracts published in the ISI database between 1993 and 2003 that contained the keywords “climate change.” Three-quarters of them accepted the consensus view and not a single one challenged it. This means climate scientists know the problem (greenhouse gas emissions) and how to address it (reduce emissions). Of course, it’s not that simple, but it’s a basic cause and effect that advocates can rally behind.
It’s not quite so straightforward for marine scientists. Ask one why the oceans are in danger and he’ll say it’s because of overfishing. Ask another and she’ll say it’s because of pollution. Ask a third and the reason will be coastal development. We know we have problems, but we struggle to agree on the most pressing. Marine scientists also don’t have something like the Keeling Curve to present as a simple, obvious symbol of human impacts on the oceans. Most importantly, the world lacks something like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to assess ocean health and inform policy decisions. As a result, the marine conservation movement often feels as unorganized and unfocused as a third grade recess.
Dr. Jackson and Dr. Jacquet have challenged us to brainstorm creative solutions for marine management. The student presenters in this week’s class offered some thought-provoking ideas. They cooked up the “Intergovernmental Panel on the Degradation of the Marine Environment,” though Dr. Jacquet suggested substituting “Ocean” for “Marine Environment” to create the snazzy acronym IPDO. Like IPCC does for climate change, IPDO would evaluate the state of the marine environment as a basis for informed policy action. IPDO would also consolidate marine management into a single group, as opposed to the current bewildering myriad of agencies with jurisdiction. The students gave IPDO the hypothetical power to sanction or fine countries for violating certain standards of marine ecosystem health. IPDO would also maintain a points system to evaluate countries based on their protection (or abuse) of the oceans. Every five years or so, IPDO would publish a report on the state of our oceans, much like the IPCC’s Synthesis Report, and reveal which nations were champions of ocean conservation and which were the culprits for ocean degradation. Could the public, international shame of such a ranking motivate the offending countries to change their ways?
At one point, it was suggested that the IPDO could even collaborate with the International Olympic Committee to ban countries from the Games for particularly brazen acts of ocean destruction. Can you imagine if China had been barred from the Vancouver Games for its taste for shark fin soup, or Iceland for its high seas bottom trawling? It’s a crazy idea, but it’s going to take a lot of crazy ideas to thwart the barrage of threats to our oceans.