Importance of Natural Resources

OceanMOOC | 1.2 | Our Ocean: a Finite Resource


Welcome to a reflection about the special
role that our ocean plays for the earth system and humanity. When humans first arrived on
the planet, they were looking at the ocean as a source for them for food, but really
also as this vast, open space. They were curious about it. They were thinking about sea monsters
coming out of the ocean, the ocean connecting them to eternity, but on the other hand they
also had mermaids and the beautiful creatures of the ocean that keep them inspired. But
the ocean was vast, big, unfathomable, seemingly endless.
Now as ocean discovery advanced, we’ve been charting the oceans, we’re seeing that the
world is a planet, a circle, not a disk anymore, there seemed to be a bit of finiteness to
the ocean, but the way we behave and interact with the ocean is we thought we could take
out of the ocean whatever we wanted and put back into the ocean what we don’t need without
any limits. This interaction with the ocean certainly worked okay when there were just
a few of us, but as industrial capabilities grew, more toxic substances showed up, this
certainty led to some challenges. At the same time at about the middle of the
20th Century people thought about wow, maybe there might actually be a limit to growth.
The planet is finite. So we were thinking about planetary boundaries, these areas around
our planet that you don’t want to cross, you don’t want to overuse certain aspects,
you don’t over want to use the food, the water, you don’t want to pollute the environment,
so there are limits to what we can do as humanity with our planet before it becomes not supporting
anymore of our life forms. On the other hand, during my lifetime the
number of people on our planet has doubled already. We’re now at 7 billion people,
soon we’ll be approaching 9, 10, 11 and the big question is, is there a safe and just
operating space that is confined on the outside by our one planet or one ocean, and on the
inside ever growing populations with more affluence needing food, water, air, energy,
all the things that make our modern life possible. And sometimes we forget that it’s the ecosystem
services that really support our life on the planet. We need the ecosystem for water, food,
air that we breathe. We don’t need it in a pristine way. We can use it, we can perturb
it, but not too much. So it still is able as a healthy system to support us with important
functions. When we think about the ecosystem, we tried to classify the things they do for
us. The first class is what sometimes we call the regulating services of the environment.
So for…when you think about the ocean, it regulates the climate system that allows us
to live on our planet. The oceans in particular with their big heat capacity keep climate
fluctuation at bay. Climate has been very stable over the last 20,000 years and allowing
civilization to grow, our business to be very finely tuned on a certain climate regime,
and it allowed us to operate. On the other hand, there’s provisioning services. Provisioning
services are these things that we take out of the ocean to support us. Half of the oxygen
we breathe comes from the ocean. Fifteen percent of the food we eat comes from the ocean that
helps us in particular in coastal societies. Most of the rain that makes agriculture possible
has its source in the ocean and certainly an increasing number of raw materials like
sands, oil and gas, copper, is coming out of the earth system and including more and
more from the ocean. These same provisional services also have
positive sides. The ocean is potentially capable of providing us renewable energy. There’s
an estimate that about 15% of that could come out of the ocean from green energy like tidal
plants, like ocean waves or wind farms. Last but not least, the ocean supports us in their
cultural services. We go to the ocean to enjoy the seascape. We have religious practice around
the ocean, we really love the ocean for the culture that they allow for us.
But let’s talk about the economy for a little bit because that’s really what drives our
societies. It is estimated that three to six trillion U.S. dollars is the economic worth
of our planet ocean. Ninety percent of the global trades goes across the oceans, 95%
of all the telecommunications including this video segment comes through sea cables. Fisheries
and aquaculture provide half of the population with food. Coastal tourism is the largest
market segment that we have on the planet right now. It’s about 5% of the GDP and
6% of global employment. The expanding knowledge about the ocean gives us access to new substances,
pharmaceuticals, food substitutes and many other things that we get from the coastal
ocean but also increasing the deep sea. Thirteen of the twenty mega cities are in
coastal regions and really have a tight interaction with the ocean system. But on the other hand,
our interaction with the ocean has also led to some level of decline and it’s because
the governance of the ocean is rather weak. You could kind of say the way we interact
on the ocean is like a rogue wave, there’s not much controlling us there. The ocean is
under threat by the growing number of people and the way we interact with them. In some
ways you could say it’s benign neglect of most of us, but a few actors who are really
disruptively and recklessly using the ocean which gives us that cycle of decline.
The World Ocean Commission has identified five elements that really were the main reasons
for that declining ocean ability to provide the ecosystems. It’s the demand for resources,
minerals, oil and gas, energy, sand, living resources. It’s technology advances that
we have to access the ocean in ever new ways with drill rigs, big fishing fleets, big infrastructure.
And certainly it’s over-fishing that is a big concern for us and that is in many ways
only possible because of heavy subsidies that allow over-capacities of the fishing industry
to evermore fish and cause damage to our environment. Climate change, the loss of biodiversity,
and habitat loss in general are the other aspects that provide an ocean that is more
seen as being in decline. Weak high seas governance, its patchwork,
sectoral, individual, nations don’t cooperate. They don’t have systems so they can cooperate
and have good governance for an ocean that we think about tomorrow. At the same time
I see a ray of hope on the horizon. In September 2015 the world’s nations around the world
came together to think about a concept for sustainable development. They have agreed
on 17 ambitious sustainable development goals and it was the small island states of our
nations that really said we must have a sustainable development goal for the ocean. The ocean
is our livelihood, how can we have goals without the ocean and that really led to an ambitious
goal on the ocean. Overall, I think this reminds us that all
people of our planet depend on the ocean. We should think of the ecosystems that support
our life and we should think about how we can keep them healthy, productive, and be
good stewards about them and conserve them. At the same time, we’ve seen rapid decline
of our ecosystems because of more affluent and growing society. We have excessive pressures
on fish stocks, on the coastal zone, on sand, on pollution, plastics. But at the same time,
I think together it units us, the scientific and intellectual quest, what is the biggest
challenge of our times? To me, the biggest challenge of our times is to think about how
can we take the turn, transform our lifestyles to become more sustainable, to get towards
a sustainable pathway that allows us to occupy that safe and just operating space for humanity.
So from my point of view, we should really think about that we have one planet to go
around and that planet has only one ocean.


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