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.