13. Dec, 2016

Happy New Year

Upper picture  taken by Kerstin Langenberger who spotted the  polar bear on the Norwegian archipelago Svalbard. Lower picture: shark corpses on the  Dubai fish market

The lines of Bob Dylans famous ballad  A hard day rain's  a-gonna fall, sung by Patti Smith during the Nobel price celebration in Stockholm, still resonated in my head when I wrote this last Blog of the year. Dylan wrote the  song that warned of the impending apocalypse in 1962. Now, 54 years later we might ask ourselves to what extent his  dark prophecies were fulfilled?

The end of  the year inevitably brings us the Christmas and New Year rituals. Candles, Christmas  songs, happy families, resolutions for the New Year and reflections on the past year. Has it been good or bad? We try not to think too much of unpleasant  events, like  the massacres  in Nice, Brussels and Orlando.It almost seems that we have accepted terrorism  as a part of  our daily live. It’s outbursts  can take place at  any moment at any place  in the world,  with citizens defenceless and national governments powerless.

When we look at the history of the  world over a much  longer period, the human race seems to be doing  very  well:  less poverty and war victims, better health, more  freedom and democracy  world wide. In contrast with these signs of succesful evolution  of  Homo sapiens, the trajectory for the health of our planet has shown a  sharply downward trend. That brings back some of the dark lines of Dylans ballad. As the world was moulded to fit the needs of Homo sapiens habitats were destroyed and species went extinct*. In contrast to 7 billions of humans only 250.000 chimpanzees and 7000 cheetas have survived  in  the year 2016.  It seems that  the great  agricultural and industrial revolutions  of the last centuries that brought greater  prosperity to humanity, concurrently  led to damage  of its natural environment. Some people  fear that further  ecological degradation with effects like global warming, rising sea levels and  massive air  pollution  may endanger  even the survival of Homo sapiens  itself. In the Arctic, Polar bears  are already  starving  to death since the  dramatic melt down  of the sea ice prevents hem for catching  their natural prey,  the seal.**

This not necessarily  means a doom scenario.  For the oil  industries fossile burning, still the major current energy  source,   is a quick and  relatively cheap way to fulfill the energy need of the population,  and make a lot of money at the same time. On the other hand, our advanced  technologies  permit exploitation of new,  abundant and less noxious  energy sources like solar, wind, nuclear and graviational energy. But changing old energy consumption patterns  asks  for radical changes. It will need a  different kind of  economy, that serves human  needs as well as protection of the ecosystems.   One that  breaks with  principles of growth and profit of  the old economy system,  and  the  tight link between capitalism (ínvest’) and consumerism (‘buy’). It goes  without saying that this  will be hard to digest for big  countries with  economies  that still  depend heavily on their  oil industries. Not to speak of the intimate bonds between the new US administration and Exxon-Mobil. With exploitation of fossil fuels in the Arctic as part of its future production growth. For these companies  the melting sea  ice is rather  a bonus than a  matter of concern.

It would nevertheless be a big step forward if in the  coming decades  conservationists and sensible politicians  joined forces  to end the massive  destruction  of rain forests,  die-off of  coral reefs and the extinction of wild animals  in Africa and Asia. And  last but not least, to protect  the magnificent apex predators that still populate our oceans and coastal waters. We are all aware of their statistics: scientists estimate that 100 million  sharks are killed by commercial fisheries in an average year. Overfishing is a global problem, with countries in every corner of the world killing these animals to feed the demand for shark fin soup.The international trade in sharks fins via the big markets in Hong Kong and Dubai  has not yet been stopped. The factors mentioned here result from direct human interventions,  and  their effects on biodiversity are often  far  more dramatic than those of climate change.

I end this  litany by sending  my  best wishes to  the  visitors of my website. In particular I wish them many happy hours spent  under the waterline. But I also think of the destiny of the sharks. The Carribean reef,  Great  hammerhead,  Oceanic, Tiger, Nurse and Lemon shark are some of the species that I had the privilege  to approach from very close with my underwater camera.  But there  are many more to see: the Silky, Tresher, Mako, Variegated and Silver tip shark of the Red Sea. And rarer species like the Epaulette shark that can walk on land, the  Frilled shark (Chlamydoselachus anguineus), adapted to hunt in the deep-sea, the Sand Tiger shark,  the Tasselled Wobbegon, a carpet shark that resembles an old patterned rug, and the Goblin shark an eel-like creature with a long dagger-shaped snout. Their survival is part of the happy New Year wishes I here  send to you.  



** http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/