The Oceans are dying. Just thought you ought to know.

People don’t like bad news. They get irritated with environmental scientists and advocates who hit them with warnings. “Alarmists!” is a favorite pejorative.

I don’t like upsetting my friends, either, so I have been cowardly, and stopped posting on the ongoing march of destruction of the planet’s species. But this table, posted at Deep-Sea News by science blogger Peter Etnoyer, was pulled from his colleague Jeremy B. C. Jackson’s recent publication in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The table really says it all, and people do need to know. Even if we don’t want to.

Kate Wilhelm has a short story called “The Chosen.” It depicts the forests of the future, which have fallen silent. And still we mine them. This table is a glimpse at the reality that story predicted.

We are devouring our world. We are devouring our children’s future. Just thought you should know.

12 thoughts on “The Oceans are dying. Just thought you ought to know.

  1. So much of this is caused by very specific fishing practices. Scallop fishing immediately comes to mind; they pretty much vacuum the ocean floor in order to harvest them. The result is an oceanic desert…

    Wasn’t there a C. M. Kornbluth story (Ah, yes, time to flip things back to the SF nerd demographic) about a future where the remains of mankind fished for plankton in the deep seas because they thought everything else was gone?

    One has to wonder just how this is all going to affect the oxygen cycle. I’ve read in various places that it depends on the tropical rainforests, the deep seas, or the littoral zones.

    None of ’em are doing so well… Let’s face it, conducting an industrial economy inside an ecosystem is a really bad idea.

  2. So true. If we can harness a cheap and abundant form of energy, we can move all our resource extraction and production off of Earth, and maintain this place as a garden…

  3. But of these fantasies novels are made…

    … not to mention plausible means of addressing the situation. You’ve got to start with a fantasy — what elese is there?

    I mean, who else but science fiction people have the option to be both realistic and optimistic?

    Lessee. We’ve got the new bio-based hydrogen fuel cells, zero-point energy, deep drilling to harness geothermal energy. And there’s always good old fashioned fusion. Of course, if we were to put a fraction of the money devoted to arms into space development…

    And honestly, the best option we have as a universal panacea is education — it addresses everything from economic hardships to the population bomb. And it doesn’t require any major technological breakthroughs. It provides them.

    Just because we’re paying attention doesn’t mean we have to feel doomed. Yeah, humans are vermin. But that ain’t all we are.

  4. I do agree with you regarding the value of education. I disagree with the notion of humans as vermin, though I certainly won’t argue with the idea that running ahead of our ability to successfully sustain our growth, and that there is going to be a terrible crash unless we do something about it, like SOON.

  5. Sorry about the vermin comment — I’ve got a bit of a misanthropic streak. While I’ve liked every individual I’ve gotten a chance to know, the contemplation of the species as a whole kinda creeps me out. It’s hard to watch housing developments go up without thinking about mold spreading over an orange…

    Still, when I stand on a hill at night and see the East Bay spread out below me and San Francisco glittering in the distance I always think to myself, “This is way cooler than anything ants or termites have done. Mankind is actually a pretty neat species.”

    Back to the subject at hand. One of the big issues for me surrounding large-scale human behaviors and policies is that of authority and control. Who’s going to tell Japan to eat less seafood? Who’s going to tell America to find a good use for its, uh. The effluents associated with animal husbandry?

    Right now so many of our interactions with the environment are determined by economic entities whose primary concern is the quarterly report and they just aren’t equipped to make long-range plans that benefit the species and the planet.

    So who do we trust to tell the species what it needs to do? Who do we trust with the power to enforce those decisions? When I contemplate the personalities of people drawn to positions of power I find no good answers.

  6. A very good summary of the problem, Sean. It’s a big messy issue with no easy solutions.

    I do take away some hope from the fact that when enough people become convinced that a problem is real and urgent, their support for widespread change can sweep political leaders into place who will effect real change. I place some (guarded) hope in this election (though I grant that if Obama wins, he and Congress will have their hands full with an awful lot of urgent problems).

    Mad, my basic approach on environmental issues is to give myself a sort of sustainability budget. I don’t try to do everything all at once, and I don’t beat myself up for not being “perfect.” But I try to stay informed and work greener choices into my life on a daily basis. (On the subject of seafood, here is a good website on species of sustainable fish…)

    Imo, the most important thing we can do is to support legislation for things like clean energy, endangered habitat protection, and sustainable fishing practices, for instance.

  7. Sean, it’s interesting that you should mention authority and control in the context of environmental concerns. I do think confidence in the abundance of nature seems to go hand-in-hand with the notion that individual liberties and democratic values are achievable. I sometimes wonder if we (the US) would have been able to develop a democracy, even as flawed as it has been, if we had not had a seemingly endless frontier at the time our nation was founded. (I am too neatly side-stepping a lot of considerations, here, I realize — not least that there were in fact already people here and that our ancestors engaged in genocide against them in order to have access to that frontier…and that other developed nations have also achieved democracy without a frontier of their own to divvy among themselves…)

  8. In other words, environmental devastation is a huge bad thing, but I would not want to see us trade away our core freedoms for the sake of efficiency…a police state is an evil in and of itself. So it all circles back to education, Sean, as you said before.

  9. I’m not a historian by any stretch of the imagination. That said, to the best of my knowledge the only really concerted effort that the federal government has made to ensure the well-being of the populace was the New Deal.

    And the New Deal would never have happened if the populace had been subjected to condition so intolerable as to bring them to the point of open revolt.

    Those in positions of power will act to preserve their best interest; under those kinds of conditions all of a sudden feeding and employing people is a necessity.

    But by the time the ecology has gotten bad enough to have that kind of impact on the decision makers there won’t be any quick and easy fixes. (As if there are now…)

    I think mankind will survive; we’re the most adaptable animal species ever. But most of us — or our children or grandchildren — probably won’t be lucky.

    But hey — right now my life is quite pleasant. And the oceans are in great shape if you’re a jellyfish!

  10. I will say, since I’m the only one in the family who eats fish, and Sarcasm Girl is the only one who can/will eat shrimp, we’re pretty good on this one issue. It’s hard not to feel that whatever I’m doing isn’t enough, which can lead to a sense of hopelessness to which I try not to get too close.

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