I just returned from the inaugural first day of the Life on the Edge Symposium, a three-day environmental event in Laguna Beach, CA, put together by Endangered Planet.net. Covering a range of topics from fuel cells and solar to air quality and sustainability, the event features a wide range of distinguished speakers and environmental experts. Of course with my particular interests in marine conservation, I have been trying to buttonhole as many dignataries as possible to get their ideas and feedback on moving marine conservation issues forward.
I had the opportunity to talk with the symposium chair, Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury, former Under-Secretary-General to the U.N. Being a worldwide political figure, he had something very interesting to say, "Governments will do nothing if left alone; they must be motivated." Motivated by commerce (the military-industrial complex) and/or (believe it or not) motivated by the people. This spoke to my interest in communicating marine conservation issues to the broadest possible audience; translating scientific data into usable issues, implications, and solutions that can add to a potential groundswell of public opinion; and trying to reach those, unlike you, who have not yet expressed a commitment or even interest in marine conservation.
I also spoke with Peter Bowler, Ph.D., professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California, Irvine, about the cultural issues surrounding shark conservation. Shark conservation is less pragmatic than other marine conservation issues - for the most part, there are no issues of nutrition vs. overfishing (like, say, bluefin tuna, wherein you try to provide alternatives through aquaculture, different fishing techniques, or species rotation). The challenge here is cultural. The long-standing culture behind the demand for shark fins or other shark products, the culture behind trophy fishing, and in a larger sense, the long-standing culture of fear about sharks. Changing culture is always a more challenging task. Dr. Bowler's thoughts focused more on reaching the younger generation, the next generation that hopefully can be enlightened to a new culture, one that respects sharks and other marine animals, so many of whom are now poised on the edge of extinction.
I had a moment to bend the ear of Chris Jordan, world-renowned photographer and Eco-Ambassador for National Geographic. Chris has produced some amazing large-scale works, many of which are featured on his web site, that place our consumerism and environmental waste in glaring perspective. Though Chris' work highlights our ecological waste, he can be a very engaging individual to listen to, full of hope and encouragement. And sometimes you need that, to rev up your engine and keep moving forward.
This is Endangered Planet's first major event. It's a good start and hopefully many more will follow.