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Excellent analysis - and it must be unique, connecting human consciousness (the lack thereof) with the pervading lack of interest in and understanding of the oceans among most humans.

One aspect is particularly stark: the growth imperative. It seems to me that this imperative is the basic foundation of how "we" operate as a species. The superstructure on top of this is capitalism. Just as textbook capitalism spouts the orthodox mantra that companies must keep expanding (i.e. grabbing increasingly large amounts of money from the market place) or they will go out of business, so the human species is addicted to permanent growth as an unconscious buttress against decline, decay and death.

How ironic and how fitting that this incessant dash for growth is au contraire hastening our decline.

Good work, maestro.


Thanks Dave. I check the DOTE website periodically and am always glad to see your latest in-depth essay.

I hope you won't be annoyed by a comment that strays from today's topic but one thing that is troubling me now is the risk of nuclear accident. As the drama at Fukushima slowly unfolds and as hundreds of nuclear power plants around the world continue to age, it seems that catastrophic nuclear accidents are certain to happen. Perhaps soon.

Is nuclear risk a topic to which you might devote future essays? It seems an ideal topic for your research style.

Eric Thurston

Another excellent piece on the oceans, Dave. The oceans are, to me, the primeval source of all life, our origins. and watching their demise is unbearably painful.

I was reading on Paul Chefurka's blog http://www.paulchefurka.ca/index.html
and he has a similar outlook on the state of the world with a "ladder of awareness" as he calls the process of coming to terms with this state (or not). It is similar to what Oliver was talking about on his comment in the last post and what you have described in past posts. He even figures about the same proportion of people 'get it' as I think you do, Dave. His is a more abstract overview, whereas you flesh out the details in a compelling way.

Anyway, I'm there, and I will continue to benefit from reading your writing.


Mike Roberts

Another great piece, Dave. Minor problem with the quoted Ecologist and NOAA articles (I can't check the latter due to the government shutdown). How can both of these statements be true: "Nearly two-thirds of the world’s population now lives within 40 miles of the coast" and "about 3.2 billion people — lives and works in a coastal strip just 200 kilometers wide (120 miles)), while a full two-thirds, 4 billion, are found within 400 kilometers of a coast"?

I can't imagine a world with a dead ocean but almost everyone else can. So long at it looks beautiful, no-one will care, especially when they see an increasing "catch" of farmed fish (an unsustainable enterprise). If we can "grow" what we need, who cares about what's under the ocean waves? Me. I do mention it fairly often in on-line forums and think about it a lot.

I'm not sure your estimation of the 2100 temperature level (between 2 and 4 degrees warmer than preindustrial - is that right?) is as likely as you think. It all depends, for me, on positive feedbacks which can amplify the warming. But further on than 2100, warming will likely head on up to a higher level still, particularly if significant positive feedbacks kick in and don't play themselves out. However, I guess this is largely irrelevant as the oceans will be essentially dead by then, or contain a very different species mix than now.

Regarding Dennis's comment, it worries me that nuclear is advocated by so many people as an answer to AGW. Environmental damage will likely have a significant detrimental impact on our global societies. Without stable societies with the resources to safely operate and decommission nuclear reactors, plus deal with the waste, what is likely to be the outcome for our nuclear facilities?

Alexander Ač


Roger Harrabin must have been reading your excellent article, since a day later he writes:

"Health of oceans 'declining fast'"

A review from the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO), warns that the oceans are facing multiple threats.

They are being heated by climate change, turned slowly less alkaline by absorbing CO2, and suffering from overfishing and pollution.

The report warns that dead zones formed by fertiliser run-off are a problem.

It says conditions are ripe for the sort of mass extinction event that has afflicted the oceans in the past.


Dave Cohen

@Alex, all --

Yes, the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) came out with their own "mini-summary for policymakers" because the oceans are ignored by the global warming crowd.


summary (pdf)

-- Dave


Dave, thanks for another great essay.

@Mike - "I can't imagine a world with a dead ocean but almost everyone else can."

I'm not sure it's true that everyone else can. Imagining something requires actually thinking about it. Imagination is a conscious act. As Dave points out, humanity, as a whole, seems only to have the ocean in its collective unconscious (if at all). We do not imagine a lifeless ocean because we don't think about an ocean with "life". We think of the ocean (when we think of it at all) as a source of an economic commodity (seafood) or an economic service (tourism) or an economic cost (transportation) or an economic benefit (cheap waste "disposal"). Of course, this is not what the ocean is, but what we do to it (or take from it). But this is where our conscious (and, probably, a lot of our unconscious) thought lies, with what it means to us in the short term.

To imagine a dead ocean, one must first actually think about the ocean, and then one must think about the ocean as a living ecosystem, and then one must think about what that ecosystem provides for the planet, and then, finally, one must think about how human behavior is impacting the ability of the ocean to provide those services to the planet. We are, as a species, a long way from that as far as I can tell.

Alexander Ač


that page is more depressing than most of the others. Thanks for the link,



Excellent essay, again, Dave. Similar dynamics played out during the Gulf oil spill, where the concern was more to remove the appearance of the oil spill than the ecology around it. Disperse it, sink it, pour incredible amounts of chemical agents around it. As long as the humans can't see it, it's gone.

Lisa-ann Gershwin

Good article Dave! Thanks for bringing it together so clearly! It was intriguing to me that one of the commonest comments I received on my seminar tour for my book "Stung! On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean" was about this very issue you highlight. People had no idea, and they were shocked when they found out, that the oceans are in such poor shape. The single most frequent comment I received, by the way, was an emphatic plea for information on what we can do to slow or reverse the damage... so perhaps humanity is not the lost cause that we appear to be at face value. But alas, we don't actually have the answer of how to fix it... Well, not a realistic answer anyway. We need to care enough to invest in brilliant people and high-quality research, but how the hell are we gonna get the govt to do that? Keep raising hell, Dave.

Dave Cohen

I highly recommend Lisa-ann's book.

Stung! -- On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean


I sent her an e-mail today, and I am pleased that she responded by making a comment (just above) on this website.

Lisa-ann is one of the few people on Earth who knows what's going on in the oceans.

As most of you know by now, I am not sanguine about our prospects for making things right, and neither is she.

-- Dave

Mike Roberts

Brian, good point. I guess I wrote before I thought, again. Of course, you're right, almost no-one thinks about an ocean in terms of an ecosystem (or several) and so don't imagine it. I guess what I meant was the almost everyone, if confronted with the issue would probably think someone will deal with it, perhaps by farming the resources we like to eat.

However, Lisa-ann says that a common reaction is "what can I do?" suggesting that some people might not take the above view. I suspect, though, that if there is a theoretical solution it would involve actions that almost everyone would baulk at - and so the "solution" would not be implemented. Or am I writing without thinking, again?


@Mike Roberts - I have a daily struggle not to come across as a wet blanket, and I greatly admire prescient people like Dave and Lisa-ann for daring to speaketh the truth, but in my too-long experience as a resident of Planet 3, I am convinced that even if the solution meant giving up just one TV per household across the developed world, Homo callidus would collectively yawn, burb, scratch their protruding bellies and continue channel hopping in search of frippery.


Well done again Dave. I am so glad you're out there doing what you do and relieved the much-feared TOTP Permanent Shutdown never came to pass!

Deep respect.

I want to subscribe in a reader but since the demise of Google Reader, I haven't found a suitable replacement. Can you recommend one?


@Oliver: too funny, too true.

@Mike: If people were asked to cut a check to help save the oceans, about 5% would (and happily) and then they'd wipe their hands, thinking they did their part.

But when you start to tell people they can't do something (unless it has widespread public support already, like the beginning of Prohibition), they freak out. Democracies aren't built well to handle it. Any politician willing to stand up for it will soon be replaced. People protest like crazy and they do it illegally anyway.

I have a strong suspicion that denial is an unconscious preemption to the withdrawal of something desired. Why do people deny climate change? They rather like the physical comforts of this lifestyle and they don't want to see it go away.

Added to that is the financial incentive. There is simply no immediate monetary interest in not extracting from nature. It's very rare where a natural resource is declared off limits, and it's even rarer when a previously accessible natural resource gains protection. If you're asking people to voluntarily give $50 every once in a while to a cause, that's one thing. If you're telling them they can't make the money in the first place, that's another.

There's a really interesting scene in 'End of the Line' (http://endoftheline.com/) where Canadian cod fishermen are storming a government office around the early 1980s because they just declared a halt to cod fishing. They were furious that the government would dare do such a thing. But the cod was already gone, wiped out by overfishing, and they still haven't recovered.

Alexander Ač

First, we finished off and acidified oceans, jellyfish took advantage and are overpopulated - now they pose a treat to humans. Now, we start to kill off the jellyfish...:


Technology solves every fuc*ng problem, eh?


Mike Roberts

Just as our oceans are filling with plastic, so our freshwater lakes are filling with plastic.



Well, for Newsweek, I guess better late than never. Although, for many if not most of the species they talk about (possibly including us), it may well turn out that the practical difference between late and never is more or less immaterial at this point.

T e Cho

Thanks for the re-post...a classic. Good to review the basics of this aspect of the ongoing descent into ... Whatever you want to call it...

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