It's official, we'll be back on January 3 with a new phase for Shifting Baselines. After spending the first two years focused mostly on the issue of over-fishing, we're going to make 2005 the Year of the Beach for SB with a new, specific collaboration titled, "Shifting Baselines in the Surf."
We met last week with the good folks at Surfrider Foundation, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and the Wyland Foundation to formalize the plans. From the very beginning of Shifting Baselines 2.5 years ago there were some groups who were openly skeptical of Shifting Baselines ("the term is too sciency, too technical, all you're going to do is confuse the public"), some groups who were scared (two partner groups quit SB in 2003 out of fear we were too radical, which proved to be rather silly as one came back), some groups were apathetic ("whatever, you guys have no official communications credentials therefore you can't possibly have any understanding of communications"), and then there was Surfrider, the group that began our initial discussion with, "Are you kidding, we've been working on this subject for ten years, we just haven't had an official term for it, how great that you're putting this project together, let's team up." After two years of kicking around ideas, everything came into focus in September at their 20th Anniversary Summit Conference, which has now led to a whole project we'll be putting together in the first half of next year.
So tune back in on January 3 for the details of "Shifting Baselines inthe Surf," and until then, have a great holiday season and give some thought to the Shifting Baselines (and waistlines) in your own lives.
Time to take a little breather for the Holidays. It's been an excellent and productive year for The Shifting Baselines Ocean Media Project. From the Rotten Jellyfish Awards to Hollywood Ocean Night to the Tiny Fish PSA, the Shifting Baselines network of volunteers have helped us have a really productive and fascinating year.
We want to end the year with a few sincere and specific SB thanks to Christy Mahaffey (for editing the RJAs), Tyrone Carlisle (running the SB Office), Linette Ancha (developing SB Teaching Materials), Stevo Polyi (actor extraordinaire), Amy Schoenfeld (tireless SB Blog and Photo Contest Coordinator who somehow fits it in between journalism classes at Columbia), Tom Chan (our sound guru at Raleigh), Dave Allen (world's best Naked Trucker), Sara Townsend (MPA feature researcher), Anna Cummins (bright light of ocean inspiration), The Tree Media Folks (who know how to make the oceans un-boring on the internet), Jon Rusho (landlocked SB voice in Utah), Sharon Lawrence (#1 most reliable celebrity, good sport, with the smile that deserves a word as unique as dazzling), Ruben Aronin (recipient of an individual "gets it" Award), Christi Allen (person most likely to play a major role in SB for next year), Muffy Moose (my mother, whom we honored with her 80th birthday party in Hollywood last year but had to pull her off the dance floor at 1:00 a.m.), Lawrance Bailey (tireless Scripps guiding light), the amazing Scripps Donors (who have bravely and defiantly said to themselves, "we're mad as hell at ocean decline and we're not going to take it any more"), Phillip Martin (for services above and beyond the call of duty at NPR), Margaret Easley (who really looks smart like she could have been a marine biologist instead of a lovely and talented actress), Paul Cummins and his merry family (our guardian angels who truly know the value of good education), Jason Ensler (the puppetmaster pulling the strings behind my directing efforts), Patti Malone (for bringing Hollywood Ocean Night life in its beginning stages), Pete Farnon and Blue Room Events (for accompanying me into battle), Steven Miller (who flipped the first switch 2.5 years ago to start the SB ball rolling and is still the number one switch flipper), Raleigh Studios in Hollywood (home of our windowless office -- come visit us, we've got nothing to show you, but we're real lonely), Surfrider Foundation (winners of the SB "they get it" Award), The Groundlings (bravely going where no comic group has ever gone -- the oceans), Jeremy Rowley and Roy Jenkins (who like alchemists know how to turn the flatline tedium of ocean conservation into comedy), The Ocean Conservancy (for flipping the second major switch), World Wildlife Fund (for sponsoring the most interesting night of ocean conservation that Hollywood has ever seen), Gale Anne Hurd (for defying Hollywood stereotypes and coming through for SB in spite of the demands of producing $100 million Hollywood movies), Daniel Pauly (who mesmerized the Hollywood Ocean Night audience and proved, in his own words, "we're not as boring as most people think"), and last, but undoubtedly not least, the grandson of the man Bertoldt Brecht called, "the greatest storyteller I've ever met," the man I saw fall in the swimming pool at the 1987 Benthic Ecology Meetings, the 61 year old who can out-drink and out-converse the best of my Hollywood friends, and the speaker who can still give a rabble-rousing, bible thumping, jump-up-and-shout-hallelujah speech about the fate of the world's oceans, Dr. Jeremy Jackson!
To you folks and every wonderful person who has written us wonderful e-mails asking for copies of our materials to use in enlightening and motivating the general public on the sad state of ocean decline, we wish you a Happy Holiday season and a truly great New Year!
A number of friends have asked me if I've seen the upcoming movie, "The Life Aquatic," from Wes Anderson with Bill Murray. I'll let the critics do the talking. It currently has an overall rotten tomato splat on the website Rotten Tomatoes, with a score of 54%. The trailer looked terrible -- I saw it before three movies, everyone just said, "Hunh?" Here is the most accurate review thus far:
"Wes Anderson follows Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums with ... the same film for the third time."
The Life Aquatic: why nobody in Hollywood smiles when you say you're
trying to do ocean-based comedy.
On the subject of the Crichton book (which today got a favorable review in USA Today), I just had a long chat with an old scientist friend who works in climate change and just returned from Antarctica. Here is his up-to-the-minute scoop on how he sees the climate change issue today.
THERE'S NO DOUBTING there remains a great deal of uncertainty in understanding and predicting change in the global climate (which is what Crichton is taking advantage of with his novel). The first big thing my friend mentions is that we have been in a 10,000 year period of relative stability for the climate. For hundreds of years previous the climate bounced all over the place and hominids ran around in fear. For reasons unknown, everything settled down 10,000 years ago and has been pretty stable. But that could be ending, for reasons unknown.
THERE'S NO DOUBTING there's a major warming trend occurring on the planet. Crichton says in his novel that only 2% of Antarctica is getting warmer while the continent as a whole is getting colder. My friend has no major problem with that statement. He says there are some major glacier decline events occurring in "East Antarctica" (the area around Palmer Peninsula), but the entire of "West Antarctica" (the bigger other piece of the continent) is actually very stable and
probably getting a little colder.
On the other hand, THERE'S NO DOUBTING that 40% of the ice at the North Pole has vanished.
Furthermore, a recent paper in Nature reported that over the course of the past 700,000 years (data from new ice cores that provide the longest record ever) the correlation between temperature and carbon dioxide levels is extremely tight. However, no one can still decide this chicken-or-egg problem of which causes which.
But THERE'S NO DOUBTING that carbon dioxide levels have risen steadily since the 1950's, meaning we are definitely conducting an experiment like nothing ever before.
He also mentions there is good reason to have a fair amount of confidence in the scientific establishment's ability to deal with major global problems, based on what happened with the Ozone Hole problem discovered 20 years ago. A number of international accords, such as the Montreal Accord, directly addressed the problem, hugely reduced therelease of CFC's, and as a result, though the hole is still up there, it appears to have been a crisis averted. A recent paper projected how things would be today if not for those accords -- it would be a genuine catastrophe.
And lastly, a personal note on Crichton. He has done a lot to make science fun, but at heart, he lacks a fundamental understanding of human nature. You can read this in the critiques of his books. You can read it in the books themselves which are made up of stick figure characters. Understanding the current questions swirling around climate change requires an understanding of one key word, VARIATION.
It is a complex concept, and one that he does not seem to be comfortable with. Which is why his current attacks on environmentalism focus on the QUANTITATIVE side of environmental problems (the hard numbers that he is comfortable with), but show little grasp of the QUALITATIVE side (i.e. biology). And these are exactly the same problems that his buddy Bjorn Lomborg ("The Skeptical Environmentalist") whom he now so vigorously defends, suffers from.
What drew Crichton into the fray: when 6 prominent scientists attacked "The Skeptical Environmentalist" in Scientific American, Crichton compared it to the heresy trials of Galileo.
He's six foot ten and apparently the air gets a little thin up there. I told you about his wacky ideas last spring, giving you the link to his odd Michelin Lecture at Cal Tech that left scientists miffed. Now he's going to the general public with his belief that global warming alerts by environmentalists are alarmist exaggerations.
There's no doubting it's a complex issue, but why in the world does this highly credentialed former doctor feel the need to throw all his mass communications clout AGAINST the environmental movement? He's just plain wrong in much of what he says (can anyone deny the correlation between elevated temperatures and elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide? not that its causative, but it does justify concern). And given the obstinance of the Bush Administration to climate science in general, who needs him feeding their fires? He was on ABC's 20/20 last week talking about his new novel in which he uses narrative fiction to communicate his anti-global warming argument.
The only thing worse than his ill logic is the wussy response of the Union of Concerned Scientists who say, "We hope Michael Crichton fans enjoy his new science fiction thriller, while keeping in mind ..." Oh, come on, have some balls and say, "Michael Crichton is writing hogwash." This is why nobody wants to support the Democratic party, because they use this same sort of spineless indirect language. Give us straight talk.
Oh, and as the final compliment to Michael Crichton, he now has ABC consumer bean brain John Stossel as his biggest fan. That's something to be proud of.
Michael Crichton: apparently he DOES need a weatherman to know which
way the wind blows.
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has placed the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) as the centerpiece of his administration environmental agenda. But does he know what he's in for? The future of Marine Protected Areas in the U.S. is probably going to hinge what transpires around this. It's becoming clear that the Governator/Oceanator is in for yet another major challenge to his leadership skills as fishermen of all kinds begin to band together in opposition, as reflected by the excerpt from an article in the Fish Sniffer:
At the meeting, it was decided that we would form the "California Fisheries Coalition" with the specific purpose of defending ourselves in the MLPA process. This historic coalition brings together fishing interests that are traditionally antagonistic - not only between sportfishing and commercial fishing sectors, but between commercial fishermen and processors, aquaculturalists and fishermen - and it presents a special challenge as well as a unique opportunity for
The #1 newspaper in the West dedicated entirely to the fisherman.
Gotta love articles that say it clearly:
"As millions of holidaymakers will testify, the Mediterranean is uniquely clear – and blue – unlike the cloudy grey of many coastal waters. But how many of its grateful bathers realise that the Med is so crystal clear because it’s the ocean equivalent of the Sahara desert?"
The Mediterranean: Increasingly safer because there's nothing left to
The other night on Comedy Central's Daily Show, Jon Stewart made his most profound statement ever. Former Secretary of Treasury Paul O'Neill was telling about the laziness of the media who prefer their stories to be pre-written and were irked with him when he told the truth instead of the usual fluff they are more comfortable presenting. Jon Stewart replied, "This is why fake news is the wave of the future." Which isn't just funny, it's sadly true.
The relevance of this to ocean conservation is that we are living in a society that is deeply ensconced in the comfort of a wide range of delusions, and central among those is that nature is pretty much doing okay (not great, but okay). As for Jon Stewart, there is good reason why the brightest minds in our society today, from Pulitzer Prize winners to former Presidents, are now beating a path to his couch. The days of real, hard news are over. Entertainment is king.
The voice of reality?
Rather than rework what Jason Lefkowitz presents really nicely on the Oceana blog, just take a look at what he reports under, "Britain Sounds the Alarm on Oceans." And the commentary from the Prince of Wales is really sad. Some days you wonder whether things really are that bad in the oceans and if we're just a bunch of alarmists, but then you read something like that and realize ocean decline is for real.
The Oceana Blog: add it to your daily reading list
It has taken a while to develop, but clearly a worldwide trend has begun to materialize of opposition to bottom trawling. A major factor in this has clearly been SB partner group Oceana. Last spring when I was organizing our Hollywood Ocean Night one of the seafood suppliers from Alaska refused to join in because they noticed Oceana is a partner group, and said they their protests against trawling in Alaska had caused them problems.
I watched the excellent movie, "Super Size Me," recently. Anyone concerned about the environment should see it. The film is a major piece of commentary on American society. And it invites the making of a companion film titled, "Entertain Me," that takes the same approach to what the entertainment industry is doing with the minds of today's children.
A key moment in the film is when the narrator mentions that virtually every major junk food label employs a Washington lobbyist whose full time job is to make sure that congress NEVER legislates against the increased consumption of their product. The exact same thing could be said for the television/video gaming/movie making industry.
If any environmental group were to ever begin to speak the heresy of, "Get your kids out of the living room and into nature," do you think any video game maker, animated filmmaker, theme park company, or television programmer would support such a message? It would be the same as expecting Nestle to support a campaign to stop kids from eating junk food.
So many people think of a movie like, "Finding Nemo," as being educational for kids because it supposedly teaches them a love for the oceans. But I don't see it. What it teaches them is a love for animated movies. Taking kids to the ocean teaches them a love for the oceans.
People ask me, "don't you think you could create a really good video game that would give kids a love for ocean conservation?" All a video game gives to kids is a love for video games. Let's keep these experiences straight. It's no coincidence that the generation of kids raised on the largest amount of television ever has far less interest and concern for nature than their parents who grew up much more out in nature (who make up the backbone of the environmental world today).
So the bottom line is, "Stop eating junk food and get out into nature," is a tandem message you won't see our federal government communicating any time soon. Not that it needs to. We might as well have some fun and enjoy our society of crap (no need to be like Debbie Downer on SNL), but its also important to be a realist in terms of what the possibilities are for mass communication of messages.
For a little bit of introduction to the subject of the trivialization of nature, read the book, "Flight Maps," by Jennifer Price that is on our reading list and is calling out for someone to take it the next step with a movie like "Supersize Me" for nature.
"Finding Nemo": Teaching children to love and respect animated movies
(that use nature to make a lot of money for the creators).
How in the world, given that Congress right now cannot even pass legislation for restructuring of the intelligence community -- THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT ISSUE IN THE NATION -- can anyone naively think that next year is going to be a banner year for ocean conservation? Admiral James Watkins, head of the U.S. Oceans Commission, has already publicly stated his pessimism that the current administration is not going to listen to much of their 200 recommendations for protecting the oceans.
Here is a "Brookings Briefing" on "The Future of Oceans Policy," that states, "Major new oceans legislation is expected in Congress next year."
What everyone needs to keep in mind are the surveys by the Biodiversity Institute (I think that is their name, I can't seem to find the study on-line that I came across last year) that showed something along the lines of 2/3 of the public in 1990 felt that "we have enough environmental legislation today," and that number rose to 3/4 by 2002.
The general public -- the average person on the street -- the people who elected the Republicans into majorities in both sides of Congress and the White House -- they just don't feel the need to clutter our society with more legislation protecting nature. How in the world can anyone be expecting that audience to suddenly catch fire on the oceans next year?
Just curious how some people can think this way.
Okay, all in favor of saving the oceans say, "haaayyyy" and gimme two snaps.
People complain about environmentalists being alarmists, but what about this -- an official from the World Health Organization recently told the world to get ready for 100 million deaths from the upcoming influenza pandemic. And he's not even the biggest alarmist:
Henry L. Niman, a medical researcher in Pittsburgh, who tends toward gloomy predictions and is a strong critic of W.H.O. for being too conservative, said that with more than 70 percent of the human victims of the disease dying so far, the death toll could in theory exceed a billion people if the disease were to spread rapidly among people with little if any reduction in current mortality rates.
Red States and their corresponding flu viruses.
There was once a time, 25 years ago, when St. Croix, the largest of the U.S. Virgin Islands, was one of the gems of the Caribbean, especially for the study of marine biology. Farleigh Dickinson had a thriving marine biological laboratory and the Hydrolab undersea research facility was housing teams of research divers spending a week at 60 foot depth (I did a very memorable mission in 1984). Today the place is a mess, as reported in this article that says a few cruise ships are going to try coming back:
"The return of Royal Caribbean comes two years after most major cruise lines suspended visits to St. Croix, citing crime and saying there wasn't enough for passengers to do. St. Croix went from hosting an average of 230,000 passengers annually to 2,300 from smaller cruise companies."
Hydrolab, the predecessor to Aquarius, remains the most used underwater laboratory in the history of underwater habitats. Approximately 180 Hydrolab missions were conducted; 100 missions in the Bahamas during the early to mid 1970s, and 80 missions in St. Croix, USVI, from 1977 to 1985.
Some people feel anglers and divers are being victimized by MPA plans in South Florida:
The presentation by Carl Beaver of FWC's Florida Marine Research Institute in St. Petersburg made it sound like the reefs are roamed by ruthless bands of anglers and divers who break the law every chance they get. Besides making law enforcement more efficient, the plan calls for marine protected areas in which no fishing or diving would be allowed because the areas are "easier to enforce" and might help the reef and the fish that live there. "We have an obligation to look at all management techniques," Beaver said. "The problem with MPAs is that once they're established, they never go away. If they work - and it's doubtful they would off Broward and Palm Beach counties - they'll stay in place. If they don't work, bureaucrats will come back and ask to make them bigger."
Everybody Go Away: Those misanthropic creators of MPAs.
Last week we cited Admiral James Watkins' fears that the 200 or so recommendations of his U.S. Oceans Commission report would be largely ignored by the Bush administration using the excuse of, "we're pretty much already doing all these things," which is a matter of opinion. Now they are getting ready to do exactly this by rolling back 90% ...um, did you hear that correctly -- NINETY PERCENT of the established protections for salmon critical habitat, offering up the same excuse (that they are already doing enough to protect salmon).
From the front page article in yesterday's LA Times by our buddy Ken Weiss, one of the best ocean journalists around:
The Bush administration on Tuesday proposed dramatically rolling back protections for salmon and steelhead trout streams from Southern California to the Canadian border, saying the rare and endangered fish are sufficiently protected in other ways.
It's the age old refrain of ocean conservation dreamers -- "We need another Jacques Cousteau who can mesmerize the public and get them to fall in love with the oceans again." As if a single messiah might be the true hope, the savior of our declining oceans.
I guess the first question to ask about this is, "Do you see any individual managing to do this for any major issue these days?"
What people are saying with this is basically, "We need a hero for the oceans." Well, I hate to throw a wet blanket on such hopefulness, but there's an article in the December issue of Harpers (on newstands now, unfortunately they don't post the article on their website) titled, "Attack of the Superzeros: Why Washington, Einstein, and Madonna can't compete with you," by Thomas de Zengotita, that tells you why the public is no longer looking for true heros (even though they claim they are). The article is a little vague, but does make the general point -- people see themselves as their own heros.
What they are saying is the same basic thing I've been trying to get ocean conservationists to realize, which is that THE AUDIENCE HAS CHANGED. We're not dealing with the same human beings who were so moved by Jacques Cousteau in the 1950's and 60's. As the article says, today's mass audience is so enamored with themselves that, though they talk about wanting heros, the fact is most people have been led to believe that they themselves are the true heros, which makes it hard to compete.
If you get a chance, check out the article. It's fairly interesting. And its certainly relevant to ocean conservation -- its time to accept that not only do we not need another Jacques Cousteau, but the man himself would be largely ridiculed and parodied today if he were just getting started. The audience has changed, there is a need for new approaches in order to save the oceans.
Check out the article by Thomas de Zengotita. It's pretty cynical, but