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Stern, Worm And The Special Committee On Sustainable Aquaculture

By Bill Henderson

16 November, 2006

Two new reports - one by an economist looking at climate change and the other by fisheries scientists looking at declining biodiversity in the world's oceans - have both captured the world's attention predicting humanity threatening disaster by mid-century without an immediate change of human behavior. Neither report though confronts our present inability to make change of a needed scale fast enough to ensure a sustainable future.

We have been so spectacularly successful as a species that, like yeast in fermenting wine, we risk impending massive die-off as our population expansion aided by fossil fuels and technology devours the ecosystem basis for life on Earth. Humanity's next generations should expect severe resource depletion and possibly runaway climate change because of this spectacular success.

In this context sustainability can no longer be flowery greenwashing language merely added on to business as usual, but the crucial choice of paths that allow survival.

We're not like yeast in wine. We have consciousness; we can learn from the past and control our actions in the future. If our scientific investigations find that we have been overfishing the oceans to such an extent that we face a future without seafood, we can change our behavior and let the ocean's biodiversity recover. Can't we?

But imagine Taiwanese or Japanese legislators investigating their driftnet fishery. Prodded by this new scientific knowledge can they choose sustainability as a survival path? In our now full, astronaut/spaceship world where stringent self-regulation is now necessary, old frontier economy practices such as industrial fishing down the ocean's foodchain are no longer acceptable - but could legislators recommend and mandate needed change? Or would job and investment 'balance' still trump and limit change to merely a more cosmetic but still business as usual fishery?

In BC on Canada's West Coast, coastal MLAs on a special legislative committee have been investigating an industry that feedlots a predator species - salmon - using feed from ocean overfishing. The salmon farming industry also negatively effects already overfished and otherwise threatened wild salmon stocks. But given the short term political need to balance environmental regulation with jobs and investment we can expect the MLAs to only recommend a more cosmetic salmon farming business as usual.

Hopefully, leaders in communities everywhere will learn from the widespread examples of path dependence continuing natural resource mis-management and demand governance innovation so that change of a needed scale becomes possible. So that healthy bountiful oceans supplying food for humanity remains possible.

We desperately need to learn the lessons of past failure so that critically needed change to a post-carbon energy economy becomes possible. Right now, even though new scientific discovery suggests that there is an increasing possibility of non-linear climate change that could rapidly lead to a world inhospitable to man, there is no serious debate anywhere considering possible necessary, non business as usual solutions except for Lester Brown's wartime-style coalition government Plan B

We urgently need governance innovation unblocking the structural impediments to needed change in fisheries, in forestry, in agriculture, in energy development, so that choosing sustainability as our only path to survival becomes possible.

Or else we just die-off like any other species.



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