October 28, 2005

10/28 - Ocean Enemy #1: Congressman Richard Pombo (R-CA)

Hate to simplify things too much, so someone please correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems a pretty clear pattern has emerged. This knucklehead is chairman of the House Resources Committee, and he just got them to vote to lift the current moratorium against drilling along both coasts. Bad move. Our favorite (and the nation's only) Ocean PAC, Ocean Champions, is on the case and has a lot more details for you.

Posted by Randy Olson at 08:29 AM

October 25, 2005

10/25 - The Over-fished Menu: $347 for the jellyfish special?

Okay, we may have been joking in the Groundlings Restaurant Film, but a recent US study looked at seafood menus going back about 150 years and showed they reflect the increased scarcity of seafood. But even better than this to show it (and I wish I had photos of this) is the story of my British friend who sent me the link -- he says he can remember in the 1960's when you would order turbot at the best seafood restaurants in London and they would bring you a big crosscut of the popular fish. Today, they'll bring you the same amount of fish, but now its a lengthwise section of the fish.

What's (left) on the menu?

Posted by Randy Olson at 02:13 AM

October 23, 2005

10/23 - Chilean Sea Bass Debacle: a case study of the disorganization of ocean conservation

Yes, I know we're all supposed to project a positive image to the public that "We're winning!" so that people will want to be on a winning team and support ocean conservation, but at some level that becomes dishonest. Here's an excellent, excellent article in today's NY Times that provides a simple and clear picture of the sad state of world fisheries problems, complete with Daniel Pauly's honest and pessimistic assessments.

What I want to know is, "Why are they still selling Chilean sea bass at my local Mayfair Market down on Franklin Street in Los Angeles, California?" Why, after two years ago we told everyone at our Hollywood Ocean Night that Chilean sea bass is the worst fish to eat in terms of ocean conservation, and National Environmental Trust ran such a nice campaign on Take a Pass on Chilean Sea Bass, why is it still served at the Zen Grill down on 3rd Street? And why do I still mention this to environmentally interested people at parties and they all say, "Hunh?" because they've still never heard there's anything wrong with eating Chilean sea bass. And why haven't the major ocean conservation groups gotten together and dumped $1 million in a simple commercial telling people to stop eating Chilean sea bass and then run the hell out of it on television, so that at least a few million people could get this one, simple signal.

I just don't get it. And then I read in this article that, actually, the Marine Stewardship Council is on the verge of declaring South Georgia Island Chilean sea bass as "a sustainable fishery." Well then why have we been telling everyone to stop eating Chilean sea bass? This is truly the most discombobulated mass communications campaign ever waged. "We're asking you to not eat that delicious fish which is still being legally imported and is for sale at your local store is probably sustainably fished in South Georgia." And I've heard all along that NOAA has never felt the Chilean sea bass fishery to be in danger. Sheesh.

No explanations are needed. Only the awareness that mass communication is about three things -- simplicity, repetition and consistency. The Chilean seabass offered the possibility of the first two, its a shame to not see the third.

Chilean Seabass.jpg
With all due respect to N.E.T. for their fine work, the Chilean sea bass mass communication effort has been a mess

Posted by Randy Olson at 03:41 PM

October 17, 2005

10/17 - Got Milk? Got Steroids? Got Cojones?

This is what its all about -- the cutting edge -- the California Milk Processor Board has new commercials making fun of steroid abuse, which I guess is a little bit insensitive of them, but the ads are so clever and exact that they are effective. And its about nutrition for children so its not like its for some sugary cereal. Anyhow, here's the deal, its okay to be timid about mass communications, just don't complain when nobody hears you or cares about your cause.

got milk.jpg
Got ocean conservation?

Posted by Randy Olson at 09:30 AM | Comments (1439)

October 14, 2005

10/14 - Why N.E.T. Might Pass Surfrider on our MOST FAVORITE GROUP List: The Tiny Fish PSA Revision starts airing Monday

As much as we love Surfrider, the folks at National Environmental Trust, and specifically their COOL (Conserve Our Ocean Legacy) program, are making a late-in-the-year run at being our favorite group for 2005 by recycling the Tiny Fish PSA.

Check out the new cut of the Tiny Fish PSA -- it gets right to the heart of the over-fishing issue in the U.S. They're going to start running it in Washington D.C. on Monday during Fox News and CNN. We'll see if it rocks any NOAA boats.

Now what to make of the idea of recycling a PSA like this. Actually, I'll tell you in my not so humble opinion exactly what to make of it -- THIS is the way to communicate effectively. THIS is what the right wing figured out long ago. Take a simple message and repeat it over and over and over. A fisherman holding up a stringer of tiny fish is about as good of a simple, easily understood message as you can find for the over-fishing problem. So let's run with it.

And this illustrates the difference between education and entertainment. Not so long ago I heard a "communications" person from a large NGO talk about their "newest campaign" that they would be launching in the fall. The person spoke like it was part of the fall fashions -- a new season, time for a new message. Wouldn't want to get stuck saying the same old thing. The public wants to hear something fresh and new. Right?

Well, the heart of this conservation stuff is public education, and the bad news is, real genuine education isn't meant to be pretty. In fact, it often has to be painful if its going to be effective. Education and entertainment are polar opposites. I know its not cool to say this, but trust me, I've spent a lot of years thinking about it. Yes, I know many people buy into the myth that "we can have both!", but they're mostly wrong. The essence of effective education is repetition. Yes, we'd like to think everyone is so sharp they get it on the first try. But the real world is not so perfect. Things have to be repeated to be conveyed effectively.

Entertainment is the opposite of this. Repetition is the DEATH of entertainment. Try making a film and you'll learn this the hard way. You're not even allowed to show the same shot twice without the viewer getting annoyed. And this is why I've often said that film is a very weak educational medium. But the people who get paid large sums of money making "educational films" don't like to hear this, so I try not to push it too much.

But that's the bottom line. And the right wing figured it out long ago. They're good at being followers. They're willing to listen to the same message over and over. And as a result they run the entire country, and the left wing continues to be angry and snide. And environmental groups continue to come up with new messages as if it were their goal. Perhaps one day they will figure this out, and realize the best thing you can say is that, "Our new campaign is going to be our old campaign -- we're sticking with the same message this year."

I haven't seen fish this big in years!

Posted by Randy Olson at 12:02 AM

October 10, 2005

10/11 - Shifting Arctic Baselines: New salmon runs and defecting crabs?

What's this world coming to? Global warming is clearly upon us, not just with hurricane havoc, but also the rearrangement of the Arctic Sea that is now in progress. Here's an article in today's New York Times that highlights some of the upcoming chaos.

As the ice melts, salmon run up new rivers and crabs think about defecting to Russia

Posted by Randy Olson at 04:08 PM

October 04, 2005

10/5 - "Gonna get me sum oil": Congressman Richard Pombo (R-Ca) and his obsession with coastal oil drilling

I guess there's two options for responses to the effects of Hurricane Katrina's impact on oil supplies. One is to increase conservation efforts, the other is to squeeze harder on potential oil supplies. California congressman Richard Pombo is a fan of the latter. He's authored a bill that allows states to opt out of the current moratorium on offshore oil exploration. Some states support it, but Florida is one state that wants nothing to do with offshore oil and gas mining, and is fighting the bill.

The 168 page bill includes some rather fascinating details such as allowing anyone to collect up to $1000 of free fire wood per year from our National Forests. They should propose the same clause for our National art galleries and museums -- everybody gets to take home $1000 of stuff each year.

One more thing. I've heard from a number of enviros the long-standing myth that Latinos as a group are more concerned about the environment than the rest of the public. Well, Mr. Pombo doesn't seem to be conforming to that myth.

The Pombo Combo: offering up the mumbo and jumbo for coastal oil exploration

Posted by Randy Olson at 12:11 PM | Comments (1538)

October 03, 2005

10/3 - Gilgongo! Seals a hundred feet thick in California?

Anyone who's not familiar with Kurt Vonnegut's term "Gilgongo!" should probably learn about it soon as some people think it could be the future of the California coast, smothered by a layer of seals 100 feet thick. In "Breakfast of Champions," Vonnegut tells of the science fiction novel by Kilgore Trout titled, "Gilgongo!" Here's what he says about the word:

In the language in the planet, that meant "Extinct!" People were glad that the bears were gilgongo, because there were too many species on the planet already, and new ones were coming into being almost every hour. There was no way anybody could prepare for the bewildering diversity of creatures and plants he was likely to encounter. The people were doing their best to cut down on the number of species, so that life could be more predictable. But Nature was too creative for them. All life on the planet was suffocated at last by a living blanket one hundred feet thick. The blanket was composed of passenger pigeons and eagles and Bermuda Erns and whooping cranes.

In all seriousness, seals and sea lions are increasing in abundance on the California coast. In January I listened to the fishermen of the central coast complain about the abundance of these pinnipeds. I figured it was a classic case of shifting baselines -- that fishermen don't realize the baseline of 500 years ago is much higher than today's abundance. But at least one major sea mammal expert (who doesn't want to be named) said that for several of the species their abundance today probably exceeds what they were 500 years ago.

So what to do about 100 harbor seals that have taken over a popular beach in La Jolla or the recent increase in seals in Newport Beach keeping local residents up at night from their barking. Its easy to laugh at the locals and say "deal with it," but will there come a time when limits are reached, and will the public stand for culling in the way deer are controlled? I wouldn't want to be part of that decision.

Attack of the happy sea lions

Posted by Randy Olson at 03:05 AM | Comments (928)

October 01, 2005

10/1 - Ocean Champions Endorses Marilyn Brewer for U.S. Congress in Southern California

While so many ocean conservationists slave away on the short-term treadmill of combatting small scale problems, Ocean Champions is working for large scale, long term solutions to the decline of the oceans by using something called "politics" to effect change. Politics is a strange phenomenon that, according to the 2003 study "Turning the Tides" funded by the Packard Foundation, tends to be rather confusing to ocean conservationists. Ocean Champions have organized the FIRST EVER political action committee solely for the oceans. Its run by two very sharp guys, Jack Sterne and Dave Wilmot, who have grasped that the power in our society resides in the political system, and the way you channel that power in the right direction (i.e. saving the oceans) is not by turning your nose up at the messiness of politics, but by rolling up your sleeves and diving in.

In their latest effort to support politicians who are strong on the oceans they have identified Marilyn Brewer who is running for U.S. House of Representatives in California's 48th District which includes Laguna Beach, Dana Point, and Newport Beach, home to some of the best surfing in California. The primary is on October 4. If you want to support the oceans, she's a good person to support.

How to effect real change: Vote for the right people

Posted by Randy Olson at 11:51 AM