Harvard Seminar on Environmental Values

Thursday, 28 March 2002

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"Climate and Oceans: The Citizen-Scientist Response"

A Teleconference Panel Seminar Session
Led by

Paul Epstein1, Mike Connor2, Peter Frumhoff3

and Caroly Shumway2

1CHGE-Harvard Medical School, 2New England Aquarium, 3Union of Concerned Scientists

[Biographical Sketches of Presenters]

Dr Paul Epstein"Oceans on Overload: Marine Ecology and Health"

        The ocean is increasingly threatened by human activities -- including climate change, overfishing, bottom trawling, transformed coastlines, wastes, introduced species, altered discharge regimes, and increased UV radiation. An important indicator of these stresses is the appearance of  "new" diseases and the spread of old diseases affecting marine species. Humans are also experiencing marine-related illness through seafood consumption, swimming and other recreational activities. Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) are associated with many of the health effects occurring among plants and animals, including humans. As their increase is associated with local wastes and global change, HABs also serve as "leading and integral indicators" of local, regional and global environmental change. Of growing concern are the diseases affecting habitat like seagrasses and coral reefs itself. Loss of habitat can have long lasting impacts on the web of marine life.

        In 1998, the Center for Health and the Global Environment (CHGE) completed The Health, Ecological and Economic Dimension of Global Change (HEED) program funded by NOAA and NASA (http://www.med.harvard.edu/chge/resources.html). This 3-year GIS-based study collated causal conditions, consequences and costs of diseases emerging in the marine environment. Major marine disturbance events, including emerging diseases in a variety of species (marine mammals, shore birds, sea turtles, fish, etc.), were identified spatially and temporally over a 30-year span to better understand trends, influencing factors, and the assessment of risks posed to human health. The study found many disturbance events "clustered" during times of El Niño events and in coastal regions with significant nutrient discharge.

Mike Connor - "The Role of Aquariums in Promoting Citizen Climate Talks"

        Aquariums, zoos, and science museums--institutions providing informal science education--offer families, students, and adults the opportunity to learn about the science and policy of global climate change in an informal, non-threatening milieu. These institutions reach a wide audience. Estimates indicate that more people attend these institutions than attend major sports events. At the New England Aquarium, we have experimented with different mechanisms for explaining the science and policy of climate change to a variety of audiences. The techniques include public fora, classes for university docents, tabletop traveling exhibits for schools, conservations films, and large exhibits. The results of this experience may prove valuable to planners for citizen climate talks.


Peter Frumhoff"Should We Be Sinking Carbon into the Oceans to Slow Climate Change?"

        Marine carbon sequestration is an increasingly hot topic, both in the scientific community, the private sector and in policy circles, as the daunting task of tackling the global warming problem becomes ever more apparent. Oceans are the largest carbon reservoir on Earth, and they take up a considerable portion of the carbon dioxide emitted by humans. For this reason, the US government and several private institutions are funding major research projects on marine sequestration and various pilot tests are underway and rapidly growing in number and scope. Proposed technological approaches to promote additional sequestration of carbon by the world's oceans fall into two basic categories: 1) biological approaches -- enhancing the ocean's biological carbon uptake (marine photosynthesis) through fertilization; and 2) geophysical approaches -- the direct injection of liquid carbon compounds into the deep ocean.

        Existing scientific assessments make clear that biological approaches to enhancing marine carbon uptake have potentially severe negative environmental impacts. Current research on the direct injection of carbon into the deep ocean has not examined the potential environmental risk of this approach nor the extent to which it can serve as a permanent solution to carbon storage. UCS believes that any further research on deep ocean sequestration should focus on potential impacts to deep ocean ecosystems. Some scientists are wary of ocean sequestration because "it is known that small changes in biogeochemical cycles can produce large consequences, many of which are secondary and difficult to predict" (DOE, 1999).

Caroly Shumway - "Citizen action."

        The public maintains a limited ecological understanding of aquatic species and habitats, and a lack of concern about the health of aquatic systems. What can aquaria do? How do we get the public engaged in global environmental issues including global climate change? And how do we move them to action? We must create such a concern for the living world that people consider it priceless. We must appeal to the public’s fundamental values, revealing human dependence and impact upon aquatic life in a manner that emotionally connects them to the world under water. We must also inspire long-lasting individual and collective behavioral change. In the new exhibit at the New England Aquarium, Living Links: Choices for Survival, we have attempted to inspire the public to act through a variety of means. We have created a pledge game inspired by the psychologist James Prochaska’s six stages of behavioral change. Text and emotional elements reinforce the notion of stewardship and responsibility to future generations, based on the results from the Biodiversity Project and Ocean Project.

        Aquaria can and should be a treasured community resource, a public "aquatic academy" in the words of Jerry Schubel, where people go to connect with animals and aquatic habitats, to be inspired, to learn, and to share ideas. The community presence of aquaria, zoos, and museums enables us to bring together diverse stakeholders for consensus-building discussions of key environmental issues, and to catalyze community participation. With other partners, including universities, businesses, and the faith community, we can help create a public supportive of, and cognizant of, the need for fundamental change.

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[Biographical Sketches of Presenters]

[ Seminar Series - Schedule  | Archive of 2000-2001 Seminars  | Archive of 1999-2000 Seminars | Archive of 1998-1999 Seminars
 Archive of 1997-1998 Seminars | Archive of 1996-1997 Seminars | University Center for the  Environment | Harvard Home Page ]