What makes you tick? What gets you up in the morning? What is the thing that forces you to face the day even when the skies are covered in darkness, and it seems like there’s no point to anything? Is it the new iPhone you got for Christmas? Is it a new episode of Grey’s Anatomy being released? Perhaps on an ordinary day, that might just be enough. Perhaps with the sun shining through our window on a beach resort in the middle of the holidays that might be all you need. But what about when the going gets tough? When it seems like nothing is going your way? What is it that truly drives you?
I think there are very few of us that will answer with all the thousands of little worries that fuel our day to day lives. How many of us, dedicate our lives to earning enough money to afford a new game console? Is that truly enough? I think for most of us it simply isn’t. The pursuit of material belongings is simply a façade, a mask to hide our true callings. For some, they might settle for a lackluster job that merely pays the bills, but even then, something else is motivating us. Perhaps you’ll disagree with me, but I think for many of us the answer to those questions is love. Whether that be love for a family you wish to support, love for those you help at your job, or in the case of OceanCare, a love for the planet. And with the Advent of Love having just passed us, I think there is no better time than the present to spend a moment thinking about just how fortunate we really are.
I interviewed the president of OceanCare, Sigrid Lueber, who instead of simply admiring the beauty of our oceans, decided to dedicate her life to saving it. It’s funny how such seemingly small events in our lives can so fundamentally change them. To others it might sound like folly, or over-imagination, but truly, it is the little things that make a difference. It can be as simple as a couple of words exchanged with a stranger, a sight you never thought you’d see, or like for me, a single documentary that swings your life in a completely different direction. For Lueber, that life-changing moment happened in 1989, when she was scuba diving with her husband (Ed) on the Maldives Islands, “During the dive we heard the dolphins talking all the time. But we didn’t see them. Towards the end of the dive Ed gave me the sign to move into the open ocean. And there was a huge group, maybe 50-60 animals that were swimming towards us, and then all around us. I cannot say if it was 20 seconds or 2 minutes, for me it felt like an eternity.” That one powerful moment that only two people witnessed was the start of something truly amazing. Lueber came back to Switzerland, and founded OceanCare, and as the saying goes, the rest is history.
Unlike many of the conservation organizations at the time, Lueber wanted to go at it from a different angle, “I didn’t want to work on the symptoms, I wanted to work on the policy level, to create the laws and regulations to protect these animals.” While so many others resorted to mere protests and emotionally fueled arguments, Lueber decided instead to, “Bring the science to the policy makers. That is our main purpose, and our main work. Because our arguments need to be based on science, we cannot simply go in there and say whatever we want to, because then they will just laugh at us.”
We think that the biggest issue is solving climate change, or finding a solution to carbon dioxide emissions, but I think these are merely symptoms of the bigger issue. We’ve known for decades that our economic growth is proceeding at an environmentally unsustainable rate, and yet here we are today, with our hands in our hair still trying to come up with answers. The issue is not how, what or even when, it’s our inability to communicate with one another. The scientists sprout incomprehensible jargon at the politicians, who then conveniently get to ignore everything they are saying in favor of their own political agendas. What OceanCare is trying to do is bridge that divide, by being a strong voice for the oceans. Instead of allowing these thinly veiled excuses to continue, they are fighting for the voice of our planet to be heard and answered. Lueber aptly said, “I think we know a lot today, but what we shouldn’t do is lose time in asking for more and more science. I think we need to act now.”
I think what we need to begin to understand is that it doesn’t matter how big or how small you start. The only thing that does matter is that we do something. That we don’t just sit back and tell ourselves others will do it for us, because we can’t possibly know that. Like with everything else, it needs to start somewhere. For Lueber one of the first big accomplishments was attending the IWC meeting in 1992, “I had a big suitcase with 48,000 signatures for a petition against Norwegian whaling, and this was quite something. After lots of back and forth arranging a meeting with the chair of the IWC, I finally managed to deliver it. And that’s how I got started, learning by doing.” I think one of the most amazing things to see is an idea turn into action. To see something that is only in your mind suddenly spring into fruition. To see it become tangible to others. One inspired mind, managed to bring together so many other like-minded people, and together possibility is seemingly endless.
OceanCare was at the forefront of closing the dolphinariums in Switzerland, stopping a salt production plant to be run by Mitsubishi which was about to be built in a nursery for grey whales, and of course, the continued maintenance of the whaling moratorium. The whaling moratorium saves around 27,000 whales every year, and as Lueber said, “Of course it is still too many, but that is 27,000 whales every year whose lives are saved thanks to this moratorium.” The OceanCare team has been involved with countless other achievements such as mandatory environmental impact assessment for seismic surveys for oil and gas reserves into the EU EIA Directive and not only for drilling, and just last year they were involved in the mandate of a whale migration corridor from the Baleares to mainland Spain, where for three years no seismic surveys can occur in this area while a management plan is being worked out. What Lueber was clear to emphasize was that none of this would be possible without the people behind OceanCare, “We have an excellent team who are all dedicated to ocean issues, and I think we are where we are because of this. Doing good work based on science. Without this I don’t think we would have accomplished what we have.” Teamwork, dedication, and a love for what you are doing, can lead to truly unimaginable things. OceanCare certainly saw a big win in 2011 when they were awarded special consultative status at the UN, which is the most prestigious classification achievable.
And Lueber and team show no sign of stopping there. For the work of trying to save the sheer beauty of our planet never ends. One of their current projects is, “Working on a new legally binding agreement for the high seas. Because currently there is no legal framework providing conservation measures. And with the high seas being of great interest to a number of industries, including pharmaceuticals, fisheries, and energy production, this is a truly vital thing to address.” The Global Pact for the Environment is another focus, which will hopefully see a greater responsibility placed on the industries responsible for various forms of environmental degradation. This seeks to apply the economic principle of negative externalities, whereby industries face the “true cost” to production, and are no longer able to pawn off external costs such as pollution and recycling to the public and government.
Lueber was able to achieve something that so many of us are too afraid to. Instead of allowing her idea to remain just that, an idea. She had the courage to take action. To do something, to seize the day before it was too late. Her vision for the future is, “That human beings understand that everything we do has an impact. This would be the dream, if people start to realize how much impact they can or cannot have. And perhaps even more importantly to realize we don’t have to wait until the government makes a decision or a law that forces us into action, we can make our own choices. It’s always about supply and demand, and I think we really can make a change.”
Our children and grandchildren will not be complaining to us that there wasn’t another model of the iPhone, or that hover-boards are yet to be invented. They won’t sit there and bemoan us that there should have been a Lord of the Rings remake. No. They will look at the pictures of the reefs, the videos of pods of dolphins, and schools of hammerheads with tears in their eyes, and they will ask us why we didn’t save them. They will ask us why we thought the advancement of our own society was more important than the planet. Why we thought our present was more important than their future. We have besmirched the only inheritance that ever mattered so that we can hand them caves filled with radioactive waste, and landfills overflowing with scrap metal. The next time you decide to buy single use plastic or a disposable coffee cup, ask yourself this. How will I answer my grandchildren? Will I be able to look them in the eye and tell them I didn’t think their future was important enough? That I valued my own convenience over their home?
I will leave you with one final thought, namely Lueber’s favorite quote by Raymond Williams, “To be truly radical, is to make hope possible rather than despair convincing.” So instead of embracing the futility of the situation, instead, dare to dream. Dare to think that perhaps you can make a difference.
Sophie is currently a student at the University of Edinburgh studying environmental chemistry. She plans to specialise in marine chemistry, with a tentative focus in how ocean acidification affects marine megafauna during her graduate work. Sophie has been supporting OceanCare for many years – thanks a lot!