As my frustration builds over the continuing degradation of the world ocean, and the outrageous indifference and unwillingness of many governments and other vested interests to do anything about it, I search for ways to reach into peoples' minds and consequent actions to make a difference.
Harsh statistical description is one strategy. The repetition of facts concerning climate, acidification, persistent ocean pollutants, the poisoning of marine species and their habitats, over-fishing, all forms of waste from manufacturing, accident, and deliberate disposal, and so many other factors, would seem to be a powerful motivator for engagement. And for some it is. But dire description can intimidate and dissuade as much as it can motivate, and in so many conversations about the ocean I hear so often a resultant despair and helplessness expressed by those who see no individual way to make a difference. What can I possibly do about it?
Political and community action is another strategy. There are numerous organizations fully engaged in ocean conservation and the promotion of regulatory structures to define and contain the abusive practice, financial subsidy, and lack of enforcement of existing laws and treaties that enable degrading conditions to continue. By joining these organizations and collectivizing concern and financial capacity, some steps can be effectively taken, but when the effect is calculated today through connection to and awareness of specific ocean issues, the outcome is wanting, almost negligible.
A third strategy is an attempt to motivate action through an emotional, rather than only logical, connection. On World Ocean Radio I have described the idea of reciprocity as such a concept, the notion that as a recipient of the ocean's bounty of water, food, energy, health, and spiritual sustenance, you are obligated to give back, to return the favor, to accept the gift of responsibility for the ability of the gift to keep on giving. A recent radio broadcast on the Blue Marble objectifies this idea by using a blue glass marble as a symbol not just of our water planet but also of such reciprocal exchange, a physical reminder toward continuous, amplified commitment to its survival.
Finally, there is the concept of empathy, an emotional sympathy and understanding heretofore considered ephemeral but now subject of study by neuroscientists that can locate and measure chemical reaction in the brain coincident with feelings of sympathetic identification with some one, some thing, or some idea expressed by both mental and physical response. If one can empathize with the ocean and its creatures, one can define and exploit new and different motivational strength to catalyze behavioral change.
Whatever works! Whichever strategy advances the engagement, so be it. But why not all four? Why not an over-lapping consensus of empathetic response, leading to reciprocal obligation, leading to individual, political and community action, leading to a new measurements of the reversal of outlawed practice, invigorated enforcement rule of law, newly sustained species and revivified habitat, conserved resources, and alternative perspectives and technologies that will save the ocean from ourselves. How to make this so?
Here is a poem by the late Irish poet and Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney that distills the meaning of the ocean to a few clear words, both measurable and emotional:
"Lovers on Aran"
The timeless waves, bright, sifting, broken glass,
Came dazzling around, into the rocks,
Came glinting, sifting from the Americas
To possess Aran. Or did Aran rush
To throw wide arms of rock around a tide
That yielded with an ebb, with a soft crash?
Did sea define the land or land the sea?
Each drew new meaning from the waves' collision.
Sea broke on land to full identity.