sealab at earthlink.net sealab at earthlink.net
Sun Aug 9 18:44:44 UTC 2020

Hi Mike,

I appreciate your candor in pointing out the forces at play that make it difficult for coral scientists to speak with one voice. The irony is that you go on to exemplify yet another source of division, the discordance that sometimes arises between the organic and inorganic sciences. All the while, as an outside observer, it seems to me that such turf wars are unnecessary. Why must asserting emphasis on one particular stressor have to divide us? I have yet to talk to a coral reef biologist that thinks that climate change is the only threat. If future generations are going to clean up the mess we’ve made of coral reefs they’re ultimately going to have to deal intently with a myriad of stressors.

Which brings me to Doug’s appeal for hope and optimism.

It just so happens that I’m deep into a good read on Thomas Jefferson. Beyond causing me to wonder what it might have been like to explore coral reefs in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, I think Jefferson proposed a tenet that at this point may provide our last best hope. In this portrait of our third president, the authors touch on Jefferson’s “Principle of Generational Sovereignty” in which he suggests that “the earth belongs in usufruct to the living”. Jefferson asserted that no generation of any era has total ownership of the earth (or its ecosystems). We merely have the right to use the land, and to do so in a way that does not negatively affect the generations to come. In a sense Jefferson believed that often the best hope for dealing with the most pressing issues the day lay in future generations. He thought that “by the law of nature” every subsequent generation should exercise its sovereignty by totally reconstituting itself and under the influence of “the light of science”, develop completely new and informed values.

I know it’s a stretch, but our only hope may be that somehow Jefferson’s “Principle of Generational Sovereignty” is miraculously resurrected and embraced and that in the future scientists will come to speak with one voice, devoid of personal agendas and with a true sense of empowerment brought on by enlightened values that reflect forthcoming societies’ newfound determination to protect the earth’s ecosystems for generations to come.

I know, I can hear you laughing all the way from Canada. Sounds like the theme from John Lennon’s “Imagine”, but it’s just too painful to think that we’ll just sit by and let it all slip away.


Steve Mussman

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