These Researchers Say It Only Takes One Crucial Step To Save Our Oceans

It’s just a really, really big step

“The Earth’s fifth mass extinction 65 million years ago wiped out the dinosaurs. Today’s sixth mass extinction, which is currently underway, is caused by humans. Twenty to 50 percent of all species will be extinct or committed to extinction within the next 35 years.”

That’s how Bill Blakemore, a correspondent for ABC, introduced a panel of some of the world’s leading environmental researchers at the World Science Festival earlier this month. This particular event, dubbed “Stewards of Earth: Hope for our Planet,” examined how humans have failed at their task of being the only species on the planet coherent enough to care for it—and what can be done to reverse the damage.

Marine biologist Sylvia Earle, a National Geographic Explorer in Residence and the first female scientist to work for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), said what concerns her the most about the current conditions of the oceans is human complacency.

“People don’t understand that our lives depend on maintaining the planet pretty much the way it was when we humans came along 10,000 years ago,” Earle explains. “The world is not what it used to be. In the last ten years the pace [of change on Earth] is picking up. We have the technological capacity to destroy and unravel the systems that have taken all of previous history to make. We’re changing the nature of nature.”

[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]The world is a trillion ton system. There are environmental consequences to the loss of biodiversity.[/quote]

Ever since we started industrialized trawling (a fishing method that involves dragging a net across the seafloor) in the 1960s, humans have removed 20 million tons of wildlife from the world’s oceans. We hear a lot about the damage done to our land-based animals, but Earle says that doesn’t even come close to the ways in which we’ve decimated sea habitats. “We’re clearcutting the ocean,” she says, adding that thanks to satellites, GPS, and sonar, “Fish no longer have a place to hide. Ninety percent of the big fish have been extracted from the world’s global ocean.”

Because of this Earle says she no longer eats fish. “I used to. Not anymore. I know too much.”

Carl Safina, founder of the Blue Ocean Institute and author of Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel, echoed Earle’s statements, noting how strange it is that humans don’t have the same level of compassion for fish and ocean animals that they do for their land-based cousins. “If we want to exploit fish we just say they’re unconscious and can’t feel pain. But they have pain receptors. They feel panic, alarm, stress, and shock.”

There’s also the common—and false—assumption that the ocean is a place of great abundance. But as Safina points out, that attitude is a relic of world that existed before massive fishing programs, when the ocean was an entirely different place. “Things that were abundant [in the past] are scarce,” he says. “We’re watching really, really big systems falling apart. The scale is different now.”

And it’s the decline of those large systems that is especially troubling. Shahid Naeem, an ecologist on the panel who serves as Director of the Earth Institute Center for Environmental Sustainability at Columbia University, says that humans aren’t great at wrapping their brains around the scale of the issue, which is perhaps part of the reason why we have let the planet decline so far.

“The problem that we’re facing is that our Earth systems are changing dramatically,” he says. “That requires a holistic thinking that’s hard to do. I always think about all 8.7 million species at one time. We can accommodate all those different interests from systems level to individual species level, but we need to start thinking about atmosphere and ocean chemistry as well. Then we’ll get the kind of thinking we need.”

[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]We have the technological capacity to destroy and unravel the systems that have taken all of previous history to make. We’re changing the nature of nature.[/quote]

Put simply: Everything on Earth affects everything else on Earth. But we’re so used to thinking about the environment in small sections—save the rainforests, save the whales, save us from rising sea levels—that we don’t consider the complexity and interconnectedness of how we live our lives. Even science itself struggles to overcome the broadness of our interconnected ecological reality.

“The world is a trillion ton system,” said Shahid. “There are environmental consequences to the loss of biodiversity.” And a big reason there’s no whole-Earth blueprint of geological and ecological systems, he says, is because scientists love to specialize and focus on specific areas of research. People don’t typically pursue a field of research with the intention of wanting to know everything about everything. Thinking bigger—like, way bigger­—is obviously a difficult task, but the scientists agreed it’s not impossible. Humans understand a whole series of complex ideas in their daily lives—the global economy, massive social networks, even the universe itself—so they believe in our capacity to digest the whole scope of our living world, too.

But Safina makes clear that even though we don’t know everything about how Earth’s systems interact with each other as a trillion-ton symbiotic wonder, we do know what NOT to do, and that is wait. “There’s no reason to delay,” he says. “We’re creating problems faster then we can fix them. We know mostly why we’re creating the problems even though we don’t know much about the systems,”

The good news is there is a solution to solving the problem of ocean devastation (as well as the loss of biodiversity on land), but it is something that many complacent humans might not want to take on. “Giving nature a break is the smartest thing we can do,” says Earle. And it’s a proven tactic. In many cases, parts of the world where humans have done severe damage to the ecosystem have sprung back once we went away and left those places alone. And that is a fact scientists use to remind us that when we talk about saving the Earth we’re actually talking about saving the human race. Once we’re gone, Earth will be just fine.

Fortunately, Earle has a very simple, if difficult, directive we can follow to help the planet bounce back, and it comes by way of biologist E.O. Wilson, who says that, “At least half the Earth should be left alone.” And Earle elaborates, “Let the Earth do her thing. Respect the ocean as if your life depends on it, because it does. The most important thing we should extract from nature is our existence. That’s the greatest value. If you like to breathe you will listen up.”

via The Howard Stern Show / YouTube

Former Secretary of State, first lady, and winner of the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton, sat own for an epic, two-and-a--half hour interview with Howard Stern on his SiriusXM show Wednesday.

She was there to promote "The Book of Gutsy Women," a book about heroic women co-written with her daughter, Chelsea Clinton.

In the far-reaching conversation, Clinton and the self-proclaimed "King of All Media" and, without a doubt, the best interviewer in America discussed everything from Donald Trump's inauguration to her sexuality.

Keep Reading Show less

Offering parental leave for new fathers could help close the gender gap, removing the unfair "motherhood penalty" women receive for taking time off after giving birth. However, a new study finds that parental leave also has a pay gap. Men are less likely to take time off, however, when they do, they're more likely to get paid for it.

A survey of 2,966 men and women conducted by New America found that men are more likely to receive paid parental leave. Over half (52%) of fathers had fully paid parental leave, and 14% of fathers had partially paid parental leave. In comparison, 33% of mothers had fully paid parental leave and 19% had partially paid parental leave.

Keep Reading Show less

Bans on plastic bags and straws can only go so far. Using disposable products, like grabbing a plastic fork when you're on the go, can be incredibly convenient. But these items also contribute to our growing plastic problem.

Fortunately, you can cut down on the amount of waste you produce by cutting down on disposable products. And even more fortunately, there are sustainable (and cute) replacements that won't damage the environment.

Coconut bowls


Who says sustainable can't also be stylish? These cute coconut bowls were handmade using reclaimed coconuts, making each piece one of a kind. Not only are they organic and biodegradable, but they're also durable, in case your dinner parties tend to get out of hand. The matching ebony wood spoons were polished with the same coconut oil as the bowls.

Cocostation Set of 2 Vietnamese Coconut Bowls and Spoons, $14.99; at Amazon

Solar powered phone charger


Why spend time looking around for an outlet when you can just harness the power of the sun? This solar powered phone charger will make sure your phone never dies as long as you can bask in the sun's rays. As an added bonus, this charger was made using eco-friendly silicone rubber. It's win-win all around.

Dizaul Solar Charger, 5000mAh Portable Solar Power Bank, $19.95; at Amazon, $19.95; at Amazon

Herb garden kit

Planter Pro

Put some green in your life with this herb planter. The kit comes with everything you need to get a garden growing, including a moisture meter that helps you determine if your herbs are getting the right amount of food to flourish. All the seeds included are certified to be non-GMO and non-hybrids, meaning you can have fresh, organic herbs right at your fingertips.

Planter Pro's Herb Garden Cedar Planter, $39.00; at Amazonedar Planter, $39.00; at Amazon

Reusable Keurig cups

K & J

Keurig cups are convenient, but they also create a ton of plastic waste. These Keurig-compatible plastic cups are an easy way to cut down on the amount of trash you create without cutting down on your caffeine. Additionally, you won't have to keep on buying K Cups, which means you'll be saving money and the environment.

K&J Reusable Filter Cups, $8.95 for a set of 4,; at Amazon

Low-flow shower head


Low-flow water fixtures can cut down your water consumption, which saves you money while also saving one of the Earth's resources. This shower head was designed with a lighter flow in mind, which means you'll be able to cut down on water usage without feeling like you're cutting down on your shower.

Speakman Low Flow Shower Head, $14.58; at Amazon

Bamboo safety razor


Instead of throwing away a disposable razor every time you shave, invest in an eco-friendly, reusable one. This unisex shaver isn't just sustainable, it's also sharp-looking, which means it would make a great gift for the holidays.

Zomchi Safety Razor, $16.99; at Amazon

The Planet