Field of Science

Fishy no more

I better fry that fish for dinner today instead of waiting for the weekend. How many times do you see a front page news headline on BBC saying "Only 50 years left for sea fish"? But that's what it says, and this is one of the scarier changes that's going to take place as we irreversibly modify our planet. No need to have Halloween as a special celebration anymore.

This is not suprising. In an earlier post, I already commented about precipitous amphibian declines orchestrated by environmental damage. Now it's the fish, and in fact marine life in general. And no wonder; out of all systems, marine systems are probably the most delicate systems on earth. In fact, we haven't even understood the complex symphony involving fish, algae, other sea denizens and chemicals, that takes place below the water's surface. As one researcher said, marine biosystems are like a pack of cards, so intricably linked with each other, that disturb one, and you turn others topsy turvy. But doesn't the pack of cards go further in even more ways? After all, the oceans are the great equalizers of the planet, absorbing CO2 and being key for maintaining temperature. One of the scarier scenarios for global warming concerns the perturbation of the North Atlantic Circulation, which would throw Europe and the US into a new age of climate, possibly an ice age.

In the last two decades or so, we have been starting to see the effects of climate change on biodiversity in a very real way, with not only loss of habitats, but also the spread of disease vectors that thrive in warmer conditions. Finally, as I have already said, it's going to be the disruption of daily life that is going to be the final wake up call for people. The only critical question is whether it will be too late by then, and the answer increasingly seems to be yes. This is no longer a matter that needs to appeal to only morality and preserving the beauty of nature. This has to do with our modern way of life, and once we take a look, we realise that the matter of biodiversity destruction is linked to many others of our grotesque nemeses, including the oil crises, and religious and political conflict. The pack of cards packs deep indeed.

Critics of global warming who said that taking action against it would adversely affect economies need to open their eyes. The naysayers who don't wish to preserve the environment for its own sake could at least preserve it for their own sake. How many people's likelihood is related to seafood collection and processing? And again, how much of the world economic capital rests on providing seafood to populations? If this has nothing to do with economics, then I don't see what has. The fact that I may not get that stuffed pomfret on a lazy weekend will be the most trivial of all consequences.

I firmly believe that if humanity's end comes, it will not be because it lacked the technology and capability for solving problems, but because the problems were so intractably connected to each other and humans' way of life, that even solving one problem would make the entire system collapse. It would be the ultimate irony; the system's sheer complexity and overbearing influence precluding even the realistic solution of a problem, even when it is at hand.


  1. Awesome post. I found your last paragraph especially thought provoking. As a scientist aligning his career towards applied science and technology, I often wonder if I'm making the correct choice. Has technology really made life better? If I was a wild fish, I would definately say no... For humans technology has allowed us to multiply and be successful in the short term, but will it cost all of life on earth in the long term?

  2. Thanks! You raise an intriguing question, but I do think it's possible to strike a balance. The real problem is that we need to compromise a little on our standard of living; that does not mean we live in a cave, but we should be ready to adjust a little. By we, I mean both us and the government.


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