Videobreak: How we wrecked the ocean

H/T Ezra Klein.

Experiencing technical difficulties on my end. Hope to resolve by tomorrow.

[UPDATE: I see this was also posted at OIITFG, to which I plead ignorance. And I also note that MT has caught wind of a Callum Roberts paper I’m referencing in an upcoming post. That post also references the paper responsible for the comparison of trophy fish sizes from photos of the Florida Keys that Jackson uses in his TED talk. Ah, the perils of procrastination.]


8 responses to “Videobreak: How we wrecked the ocean

  1. Much more available, here for example:

    look up “shifting baselines”
    and look for text file transcripts going back quite a few years of his presentations. He’s devastating on this subject.

    • Very familiar w/ shifting baselines- this post should have that tag in fact. Will check links when I get to an actual computer (been posting via phone).

  2. and this from 2001, making the point that by the time science began studying them, the oceans had already changed greatly from human activity, but we didn’t realize it and mistook the rapidly degrading ecosystems for the natural baseline.

  3. I think this is some of the most shocking and alarming research I’ve seen to date.

  4. > shocking and alarming
    And old. This isn’t even new work from the researchers. It just took this long to get to us ordinary readers, despite heroic efforts like this:

    If we know the baseline for a degraded ecosystem, we can work to restore it. But if the baseline shifted before we really had a chance to chart it, then we can end up accepting a degraded state as normal — or even as an improvement.

    The number of salmon in the Pacific Northwest’s Columbia River today is twice what it was in the 1930s. That sounds great — if the 1930s are your baseline. But salmon in the Columbia River in the 1930s were only 10% of what they were in the 1800s. The 1930s numbers reflect a baseline that had already shifted.

    This is what most environmental groups are now struggling with. They are trying to decide: What do we want nature to look like in the future? And more important: What did nature look like in the past?

    These questions are particularly important to ask about oceans, my main research interest. Last year [2001/] Jeremy Jackson of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography brought the problem into focus with a cover article in Science that was chosen by Discover magazine as the most important discovery of the year.

    Jackson and his 18 co-authors pulled together data from around the world to make the case that overfishing had been the most important alteration to the oceans over the past millennium. Furthermore, humans have had such a strong effect on the oceans for so long that, in many locations, it is difficult to even imagine how full of life the oceans used to be.

    One of scientists’ biggest concerns is that the baselines have shifted for many ocean ecosystems. What this means is that people are now visiting degraded coastal environments and calling them beautiful, unaware of how they used to look….

  5. Another version; this has a list of the slides along the side tied to chunks of the audio, and a clear statement at the end about ocean pH change, and the anecdote about the chemist walking down the hall and looking at Jackson’s material:

    hat tip to

    An interview with Jeremy Jackson
    Posted by Cassandra Brooks on April 22, 2010

    Last few paragraphs of the interview:

    Tell me more about the “Beyond Obituaries” symposium you and your wife organized at AAAS.

    Nancy came back from AAAS the year before and told me there were 21 marine science symposia with nothing but doom and gloom. It was such a turn-off to her. We decided the time has come to strike and to do this beyond obituaries thing. We still need to tell the truth, but should people go away thinking there is nothing I can do? Or is there hope? And that’s why we did it.

    It seems you’ve had a bit of change of heart with this new symposium.

    It’s not a change of heart, it’s a strategy. Who the hell would care if we hadn’t pounded into them that the news is terrible? It was a big risk Nancy and I took to do a success stories thing because people ask, what’s the news? Nancy started off the press conference by saying that the good news never leads. People only write about the bad news, but doctors don’t just write obituaries of their living patients. The symposium worked, and we’re going to do it again.

    Are you hopeful we can take these success stories and learn from them?

    We both feel you have to be realistic, but you also have to have reason to hope. Ultimately, I wouldn’t be giving these talks if I didn’t have hope. Now my view of what the future is going to look like would be deeply depressing to most people because I am a scientist. I study this stuff so I see the reality of what’s happening, and it’s not a pretty picture. But if we tax the hell out of energy use and get a little bit smarter about the hog and chicken industry—which is just a crime—things might get better.

    So are you really hopeful that people can change and that the system as a whole will change?

    I think it’s going to take some catastrophes. I think President Obama gets it, and I think his inner circle gets it. I think they are doing enormously important things and working hard to move the center of the country subtly to the left toward a greater environmental awareness.

    If you could implement one thing today, what would you put into place immediately?

    As a quick thing that requires no technology, we should tax the hell out of energy use across the board. That one thing would be revolutionary. It would mean that trawling would become uneconomical. It would mean that going out to the middle of the ocean to catch fish would become uneconomical. It would mean using excess fertilizer made from natural gas, an enormous energy expense, would become uneconomical. It would mean that the manufacturing of a lot of things that are toxic would decrease, because it would become uneconomical. And it would mean less CO2 in the atmosphere. Isn’t it amazing that one thing, and one thing only, would change the world?

  7. Aha! More good work from the same interviewer here:

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