Elliott Norse, Founder and Chief Scientist, Marine Conservation Institute
Sometimes people do things that just feel really good. This week the Marine Conservation Institute’s President Lance Morgan asked me to start blogging several days a week.
For me that feels wonderful! Lance really understands what moves me.
By training I’m a marine biologist. Never mind that my first two books were about forests. Now I look at and think about people more than marine life. I’m also unusual in tending to see with my biologist’s eyes from both up-close and afar. I love learning, but, most of all, I love thinking about topics relevant to the biggest challenge that humankind faces: Saving the Earth. It’s a mission that’s occupied a lot of my life. I take it seriously.
Why do I? Since I’m in the United States, I’ll use a US example. A lot of humans know the local equivalents of every baseball statistic and every of winner of American Idol, yet very little about the place where we live. The Earth.
As both a human and as a scientist who’s been observing for a long time how people manage ourselves and our planet, I have to be candid enough to say that. We humans don’t know much about the big blue thing that keeps us alive. People think they can leave that to somebody else.
To me, Lance’s very kind invitation was akin to conferring on me a license to strive to take on that task. To cast an eye on the state of the Earth. Lance’s gift to me was not a Bondian 00 license. Not a license to kill. A license to save.
Why? People are anthropocentric. To most humans, “the world” means the world’s people. We are the world and the world is us.
To me, however, the world means a very large yet very small piece of shimmering blue, white, tan and green real estate, with its many features, most of all miraculous life, nonhuman and human.
Life is the distinguishing feature of the Earth. There’s only one place in the entire universe where we know for certain that life lives. Here on Earth.
Thanks to science fiction from 60 years ago and science today, a lot of people are now imagining lots of other planets out there that might be able to support them, planets we could invade and conquer (oops! explore and colonize).
Please allow me some uncommon candor. A biologist’s training shows him or her that people are animals. For many people, to be called an animal is to start a fight. But I’m not a normal person; I’m a biologist. You are animals. I am an animal. People are animals.
We are very unusual animals, true enough. We see ourselves as smarter than American eels, tree kangaroos and wildebeest. But we can’t live where they do without messing the places up a lot. Therein lies the problem. People mess up places. We change our environment to suit us. The problem is that we’re not doing a good job of it.
|A giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) forest in southern
California, 1971 (Robert Cimberg photo). Bob and I were
in the same year class in the biology graduate school at USC.
He was one of my best and most admired friends.
I see people in the same way I see heroic hummingbirds, sensuous pilot whales, perpetually POed swimming crabs and calculating cottonwood trees trying to endure this year’s weather. I see people as just another kind of living thing, displaying wonderful and not-so-wonderful aspects of living things. What makes humankind different is how many of us there are, and how much of us (in tons) there is. We are by far the most abundant large animals on the planet. And that has implications for what we need from our life-support system, aka the Earth.
The most important thing I see about humankind right now is that we’re being forced to make a big choice. A really big choice: Whether humans are going to survive.
Is that a topic of interest?
If it is, I invite you to read this blog.
It will examine ideas, evidence and potential solutions to the biggest challenge humankind faces.
It won’t be filled with recipes or scores or rumors.
It won’t be filled with hate.
It won’t be filled with words (I’ll try to confine myself to saying things that are important, so I hope you’ll indulge me for an occasional trivium).
It will be filled with observations and contemplations about whether or not we can maintain life on Earth.
Sometimes it’ll be about animals or plants.
Sometimes it’ll be about people.
Sometimes it’ll be about places.
Sometimes it’ll be scared or sad or angry; at other times it will be exultant.
Always I’ll strive to make it thought-provoking. Funny sometimes, clear as often as possible, but always as accurate as a scientist can be and still be thought-provoking to smart readers, scientists and nonscientists alike.