[Coral-List] Ocean reality

Steve Mussman sealab at earthlink.net
Mon Mar 19 07:52:10 EDT 2018

Dear Charles,  

> I would take your perspective a step further by suggesting that an “Ocean Reality” approach is what is called for on all levels. Here in the United States we are edging ever closer to establishing the political will necessary for taking meaningful action on climate change. If I were opposed and wanted to maintain the status quo, one tactic I would consider would be to sew seeds of doubt regarding the need for change by issuing rose colored glasses. Optimistic spin may be good for the psyche, but it can also lead to complacency by obscuring the gravity of the situation at hand. Seems to me that a more effective strategy for keeping spirits high would be to emphasize the fact that straightforward solutions exist. Those young students should be encouraged and emboldened by the realization that we know what to do.. It needs to be stressed that conservation works, but that we just haven’t been doing enough. Maybe we never will, but its hard to see where understating the essence and magnitude of the problem will lead to a suitable remedy. A reality-based approach reflects optimism too in that it requires a significant level of faith in humanity. It requires that we hold to the ideal that somehow societies, if well informed, will come around and react appropriately to offset any number of assaults on the natural world.

> Sincere regards,  

Sent from my iPad  

On Mar 15, 2018, at 5:26 PM, Sheppard, Charles <Charles.Sheppard at warwick.ac.uk> wrote:  

The thread on ocean optimism has been hugely interesting to people like myself who want optimism but are getting pretty desperate for significant success in any aspect of reef conservation. Yes, of course there are successes, but they remain buried in the avalanche of decline.  

Pessimism does indeed switch people off – all the proponents of Ocean Optimism note that clearly. But there are different groups of people. I have found many times that it is optimism that switches off the politicians and decision makers. Several times when I have offered a glimmer of a solution to solve a coastal problem, the decision maker basically says, well, that’s alright then, and leaves it. Conversely, if something is desperate, like this or than village being abandoned, or a fuel farm or road being wave-undercut (both real examples I have dealt with) then s/he is forced into doing something significant or else would have some awkward explaining to do..  

Nancy Knowlton has said that she is “…continually amazed by the number of marine conservation professionals who are unaware of the successes that have been achieved…” I think that many, like myself, ARE very aware but, the trouble is, we are equally aware that the disasters and system collapses are so much greater. On this list we focus on reefs of course, but reefs are just one system. The same is happening to mangroves and seagrasses, kelps and mud flats, sea mounts and of course pelagic systems too, all on similar downward trajectories. Reefs (maybe polar regions too) may win the downhill race, but others are not far behind. Certainly there are good stories, nobody denies that, but my own experience is that politicians will jump too easily on the vicarious publicity of a small good news story and say in effect: well that’s all right then, it’s sorted. And do nothing..  

I am afraid therefore ‘ocean reality’ is far more essential than ocean optimism for those who decide things. It might discourage students, as come have complained, but that is really too bad. A solution might be to not merely discourage them but to scare the wet-suits off them. It is them who will take the biggest hit, after all, so it might be doing them a favour. Historically, it is concerned and active young people have been the great shakers and eventual movers. Britain's ambassador to the UN, later an college chief, said in a lecture I was at, something to the effect of:" You cant change most leaders' views. They have to die off and be replaced by those with a different view."  

Ocean optimism remains essential for psychological reasons and for most people; but ocean reality is essential for politicians if anything is going to change.  

Best wishes  
Professor Charles Sheppard  

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