The Anthropogenic Decline of the Oceans

A recent study on the current state of the oceans blames human activity for the decline in the condition of coral reefs and the extinction of marine species. It compiled hundreds of oceanic studies to arrive at the alarming conclusion that humans are causing enormous damage to the entity that covers seventy percent of our planet (Zimmer 2015). As humans place heavy reliance on the oceans for existence, the concern of the study displays its contradictory use. The multitudes of resources humans gain from oceans include clean air, food, and medicine (The Nature Conservancy). These necessities make it imperative that humans refrain from further harming the oceans, if not for any reason other than to ensure human survival. Human life depends on the oceans, yet technological advances are invasive and threaten the longevity of our oceans. The study brings up points that are central to different theoretical frameworks about how we view our environment.

The study notes that as technology advances, the oceans continue to face more drastic losses (Zimmer 2015). For example, bottom trawlers are a fishing technique that allow for the capture of benthic species that would otherwise not be an abundant food source (FAO 2001). This technique reflects the mindset of Prometheans, who believe that human advancements are the answer to the shortages of environmental resources (Smith 2004, 27). Bottom trawling is at fault, however, because it destroys the sea floor and removes crucial habitats of many marine ecosystems (FAO 2001). In theory, humans are terrestrial creatures who should not exploit marine systems in the way that we have, yet human exploration and advances have caused ocean pollution, habitat loss, and species extinctions (Zimmer 2015). When considering the causes of marine habitat destruction from the article’s context, it is evident that the Promethean framework has the potential to threaten the environment, because it implies that constant development allows for the endless extraction of resources (Smith 2004, 27).

Scientists involved in the comprehensive study suggest “limiting the industrialization of the oceans,” in order to allow them to heal themselves, as they have the capacity to do so (Zimmer 2015). They also warn that technological advances are not the solution to the oceans’ deterioration, as such advancements often result in carbon emissions in which oceans act as a sink (Zimmer 2015). The solution to this problem would be an Ecological Modernization approach, as it advocates for the current protection of the oceans, and hence limited use of the oceans, in order to ensure its future use (Smith 2004, 30). This is a less extreme solution that synthesizes current political and economic systems to protect the environment; the viability of the economy and the environment are reliant on one another (Smith 2004, 30). A challenge that accompanies implementation of this framework is that it is difficult to make the case a priority for businesses, which often view short term rather than long term gains to be in their interest (Smith 2004, 30).

Methods that prioritize the oceans as a valuable human necessity should be considered above more damaging alternatives, for resource extraction. While this article does find fault with technological advances that are the cause of habitat loss and general ecosystem destruction, not mentioned is the inherit value that nature possesses, or the moral necessity humans have to sustain the environment. Thus, in line with the theory of Green Romanticism, this framework would blame the current politic and economic systems as threats to the purity of our environment (Smith 2004, 30). The article instead finds fault in the Promethean framework and suggests an Ecological Modernization solution, in order to allow humans the opportunity to halt and correct the damage they have caused.


Works Cited:

FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Department. 2001. “Fishing Gear types. Bottom trawls. Technology Fact Sheets.”

Smith, Zachary A. 2004. The environmental policy paradox (pg27-31). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

The Nature Conservancy. “Five Reasons We Are All Connected to Oceans.”

Zimmer, Carl. 2015. “Ocean Life Faces Mass Extinction, Broad Study Says.” The New York Times.

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