Take the Plunge, Environmentalists!

Mark Spalding is a senior marine scientist with The Nature Conservancy’s Global Marine Team.

Sometimes I feel that we environmentalists are like penguins huddled together on a melting ice-floe. We know that there is something urgent to be done, really urgent, but we don’t seem to be able to take the plunge, OFF the ice-floe, to convince anyone else.

I’ve spent my life writing books and reports that are almost always written for my own people. I tell them what they already know — I finesse the model, I update the stats, I polish the words. “Success” is counted by the number of web-hits, book sales, citations…whatever. But what I don’t realize is that my readers are all fellow penguins. I feel proud, my friend’s flippers slap me on the back, I bow, then shuffle back to the middle of the gang with my fellows nodding approval. Someone else shuffles to the edge of the ice-flow, peers into the ocean beyond and decides to do another report.

I had two relatively unimportant interviews last month. One for the Naked Oceans podcast: I did the job, talked the talk and I think came across okay. But I was struck by the contrast between that interview and one I did with a media studies student in London. I don’t think he had any environmental expertise, but he’d had the gumption to interview an impressive list of reef scientists. I played back his project and was entranced — here was a set of interviews all spliced about. He’d cut out all the answers that were too technical, but still managed to tell us about the symbiotic relationship of corals with algae: using rapid cuts between “Finding Nemo,” Bill Withers’ “Just the Two of Us,” various marine experts…and then Queen singing “You’re My Best Friend” (more specifically, “Oooh, you make me live”!” It was depressing, but somehow still upbeat. It ends with Jedi Yoda saying: “Do…or do not…there is no try.”

Sadly, the latter interview can’t be broadcast or made available because of copyright.

But maybe its time we invited some new creatures up onto our ice-floe. Ones with a different view, a fresh perspective, and a longing to get back to tell their friends in the ocean.

(Image credit: The Pug Father/Flickr through a Creative Commons license.)

If you believe in the work we’re doing, please lend a hand.


  1. Mark,
    You are dead right here. I am a graduate student and just got done hashing out peer reviewed articles/journals with fellow students and my prof. My biggest gripe about them is that they are not reaching the general public. Academics are preaching to the choir when it comes to the science while the general public is tuning in to cable news for their information and then voting for politicians bent on getting elected. If you have ever tried talking to a “non-believer” it is like trying to convert someone to your faith. It is hard in other words. We are penguins, but we need to become foot soldiers willing to invest in people. Environmentalism is humanism.

  2. Mark, its me again!

    I only read the first paragraph to know that you should be connecting more with your art side… and then I read on. Of course and dang, as an artist i would have liked to see/hear the interview.

    I’ve written a bit about culture and climate change… there are moves afoot, though very slowly to connect culture to those on other ice floes, its a passion of mine.

    Love the photo by the way!


    Unfortunately not many in the arts share my background in science so many as yet still unaware of the urgency of so many environmental issues. If you have time I reviewed the first int. climate and culture conference at Copenhagen http://ecoartnotebook.com/?tag=climate-change, just scroll down on the link page.

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