Science and Compassion Needed to Save Oceans
Carl Safina believes humanity’s relationship with the marine world is out of whack.
This fall Colby announced a new Mellon Distinguished Fellowship in Environmental Studies that will bring conservation scientists, authors, and activists to campus each year as scholars in residence. This year Safina is the first. At a talk this fall he described himself as “a guy who really loves to go fishing,” though in fact he’s an author, host of the PBS show Saving the Oceans, and one of the world’s best-known crusading marine scientists.
After facing his first “strategic dilemma”—not wanting to grow up—Safina chose to study ecology in graduate school. You could still see the child within as he signed copies of his bestseller, The View from Lazy Point, with drawings of tiny birds and fish.
“Over the course of my lifetime, the oceans have done one gigantic flip,” said Safina. Witnessing a world where around two thirds of fish species are overexploited, Safina strove to protect the oceans. Safina told somber tales of how thousands of marine organisms were killed in a shrimp catch and how an albatross traveled 8,000 miles only to bring back a meal of a plastic screw cap to its young. “This is not the relationship with the world that we are supposed to have,” he said. “You just look at this and say it’s so wrong.”
There are a lot of moral and political hurdles to overcome; scientists are trained to be observers, but Safina suggested scientists should not stand idly by. If a racing car was about to crash into a child, one would not rush to the editor with the news and express no opinions.
“Although I am a scientist and secular person, I believe that our relationship with the living world must be mainly religious,” he said. “I mean religious in the sense of being reverent, revolutionary, spiritual, and inspired.”
Safina believes compassion, common to many religions, teaches humans to address the sources of suffering. “We can’t take infinitely more from, or indefinitely add people to, a finite planet,” said Safina. “If we can get these simple things under control, I think we could be okay.”