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David Holloway and Sylvia Earle December 2009

Green Drinks NYC Blogger

David Holloway is a freelance writer and a media consultant based in New York City. A native Australian, David is passionate about a range of environmental causes, in particular the ocean, climate change and endangered wildlife, and about developing and deepening the environmentally-conscious community.

The most important time in all of history is the time we now share. The next ten years may be the most important in the next 10,000 years – either because of what we do or because of what we don’t do.

Dr Sylvia Earle.

“Our Oceans” was the theme of the Green Drinks NYC Annual Holiday Party held at Prince George Ballroom on December 8.

I would like to speak more about the awesome live performances by the Buglisi Dance Theatre, about the open bar serving organic sprits, about the silent auctions and private book signings and the festive atmosphere and the huge variety of people in attendance. I would like to include some of the interviews I did and share some of the fun with you. But there are too many other important things to do, I’m afraid. I have to share with you what I learnt that night about the crisis faced by our oceans. This may hurt a little.

Imagine a “pollution island”, a mess of connected plastic refuse (also called “The Great Pacific Garbage Patch”), floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, at least twice the size of Texas and possibly as large as twice the size of the United States.

Imagine “bottom trawling” – vast nets dragged along the seabed behind giant trawlers – decimating everything on the ocean floor in order to extract a few specific types of seafood (the rest of it being discarded), creating dead zones on the ocean floor which could remain there for thousands of years.

Imagine the vast ocean becoming more acidic, solely as a result of human activities, and imagine lawmakers not being aware of it. Imagine vast species distress, the extraction of 90% of the big fish from our oceans. Imagine a shark slowly drowning in agony, cast off a boat still alive, its fin hacked off to make soup. Imagine a human species oblivious to the damage it was doing to itself as it damaged something else.

Oh, that it could be imaginary. It’s all real. We learnt this sobering news from the four ocean conservation experts who spoke during the evening.

Sarah Chasis and Adrienne Esposito addressed a small gathering for the media before the main Green Drinks event. Sarah directs the oceans program at the Natural Resources Defense Council (www.nrdc.org), an organization that aims to abolish destructive fishing practices, advocates for the creation of new marine protection areas and lobbies for comprehensive ocean protection regimes. The NRDC has developed a movie about ocean acidification and the impact of climate change upon it, narrated by Sigourney Weaver (www.acidtestmovie.com or http://www.nrdc.org/oceans/acidification/aboutthefilm.asp).

Adrienne is the Executive Director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment (CCE) (http://www.citizenscampaign.org), an organization aiming to connect the public directly to its elected officials, allowing the voices of people to be heard in the corridors of power on issues of environmental conservation. In speaking about the work of her organization, Adrienne made clear the key challenge she faces: The public takes the oceans for granted. Hold that thought as you read the rest of this.

Sarah and Adrienne were followed, during the main event, by speeches from two of the leaders of the global environmental movement.

Carl Safina is a well-known environmental thinker and writer, author of titles such as Song for the Blue Ocean, Voyage of the Turtle and Eye of the Albatross. His organization, the Blue Ocean Institute http://blueocean.org operates at the “creative end of the spectrum of environmental groups working on the ocean”. They produce books, films and even iPhone applications on a variety of issues, for example on sustainable seafood consumption (also available at: http://blueocean.org/seafood/seafood-guide). Carl spoke in detail about acidification, highlighting it as one of the least understood and most dangerous challenges facing the ocean.

Dr Sylvia Earle, the keynote speaker of the evening, is a superstar in the ocean conservation movement. A renowned oceanographer, her work has earned her over 100 international prizes, including the 2009 TED prize (http://www.ted.com/pages/view/id/6). She has made the deepest untethered ocean dive ever (1250 feet) and has logged over 6500 hours underwater.  Currently, she is the National Geographic “Explorer in Residence.”

“We are the first generation to have both the knowledge and the power to cause change,” Sylvia said. “We are the most important generation of people ever to inhabit the planet. No-one before us has known what to do. No-one after us will have the opportunity to do it, because by then, it could well be too late. And we have to be clear about this. Without Blue, there is no Green.”

Sylvia’s words were an indictment of the past, a lesson for the future, and a study in considered optimism. She described how her love for the water grew during a time when government policy was to extract every imaginable resource from the ocean, a time when we thought the ocean could give us everything we wanted and take everything that we didn’t want. In those times, Sylvia said, “humankind just didn’t know how urgent things were. But now we do”. Here are some of the other key points she made:

  • 90% of the big fish – sharks, marlin, whales, blue fin tuna – are missing from the ocean now due to extraction by fishing.
  • Whilst 12% of the earth’s land mass is subject to conservation protection, a tiny fraction of 1% of the ocean is protected.
  • We’ve learnt more about the ocean in the last 50 years than in all preceding history, but still less than 5% of the ocean has even been seen by humans, much less explored.
  • The ocean is what keeps the rest of the planet alive. 99% of the biosphere and 97% of the planet’s water is in the ocean. The ocean is the principal source of the planet’s oxygen and it absorbs most of the carbon dioxide our species generates. It drives climate and weather, regulates temperature and supplies precipitation.

Yet we pollute the ocean and abuse it and exploit it senselessly.

If you are alarmed, even depressed, by this information, you are not alone. But all of the speakers, without exception, voiced optimism about the future, stressing the opportunities that remain. Sylvia, in particular, emphasized that it is not yet too late to do something. She encouraged people to download Google Earth 5.0 (http://earth.google.com/ocean/) to explore more about the oceans. That resource, and the resources of the NRDC, the CCE and the Blue Ocean Institute are waiting for us to use them.

In closing, I’ll paraphrase Carl Safina. I’ll borrow what he described as a metaphor unique to 2009, the year in which our governments took dramatic steps to stabilize a stressed financial system which, for the most part, we take for granted. With our help and insistence, we can only hope that they will do the same thing soon for our critical natural systems which, overwhelmingly, we take for granted:

Our generation must stop borrowing from the future, living a life leveraged against people who aren’t even here yet to negotiate the terms of a loan with us. The oceans may be “too big to fail”, but who, if not us, can bail them out?

For pictures from this event please go to : http://jonvachon.smugmug.com/Greendrinksnyc/Holiday-Party-Prince-George/10609379_W8anc#737687552_EdhmE

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