Friday, May 7, 2010

Friday TED Talk: The Good and the Bad about the Human Race

This will be an experiment. Normally, Friday is the day to post here a thought-provoking video of a talk given at one of the many TED conferences held around the world, accompanied by links to more information about the author of the talk. But the talk I have for you today is not only thought provoking; it is deeply disturbing, and frankly, not all that pleasant to watch. Yet if we do not inform ourselves about the scale of the disaster occurring in our oceans, we will be the inevitable victims of their steady decline.

The TED speaker is Dr. Jeremy Jackson, who is the Ritter Professor of Oceanography at the University of San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California, and the Director of its Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation. He is one of the world's outstanding marine ecologists, and specializes in the ecology of coral reefs. The talk below is not staged or lit by normal TED standards. It was given in a much smaller auditorium aboard a specially chartered passenger ship, the Mission Blue Voyage to the Galapagos Islands, sponsored by TED in partial fulfillment of Sylvia Earle's TED Prize Wish to raise global awareness about the deterioration of our oceans, and establish protected marine areas akin to our national parks. (The voyage, with its invited celebrity and high-profile guest list, resulted in commitments of nearly twenty million dollars toward the granting of her wish -- more than eighteen times what had been expected.)

So the depressing talk by Professor Jackson about how we have seriously damaged the ocean's ecology took place amid an atmosphere of dedication to its restoration and renewal. That is why I do not want to leave you with just the pessimism of the talk itself (which you should really watch in its high-resolution version here, or download in that and other formats from this page). After you watch the talk, I invite you to read what follows to restore some of your faith in the human race:

Sorry about that, but it had to be watched -- if only for the graphic pictures of the destruction we have caused in just the last 100 years, and are continuing to cause at an increasing rate. Man is fallen -- he constantly needs to be reminded of, and called on the carpet for, his selfish failures of stewardship. At the same time, man is made in God's image, and is capable of flights of imagination that could compete with the angels themselves, if he would grant more time to that part of his nature. As an example of what I mean, and to balance the pessimism of Dr. Jackson's talk, follow the link below to listen to composer Eric Whitacre's composition, Lux aurumque, performed by a virtual choir of singers linked by the Internet, and "conducted" by the composer. (I have embedded the video below as well, but it is much better to watch it in its high-resolution version at YouTube.)

Eric Whitacre's home site is at this link, where you may watch a video about the making of "Lux aurumque", and read more about its composition. The text is a Latin version (commissioned by Whitacre) of this simple poem by the evangelist composer and lyricist Edward Esch:

warm and heavy as pure gold
and angels sing softly
to the new-born babe.

Neither the text nor the music to which it is set is particularly remarkable, except to establish a level from which to aspire ever higher. What I find noteworthy, and the reason that I offer it as an antidote to the disturbing documentation of our wide-scale destruction of the world's marine habitats, is the degree of amazing cooperation and collaboration it shows that we can achieve when we have something purposeful around which to gather and rally.

Now if only something like Debussy's La Mer could be used, in combination with some stunning visual accompaniment, to motivate humans to halt their wanton waste of the oceans!


  1. The virtual choir was cool, well worth it.

    The ecologist's pictures of the ocean floor reminded me of pictures of the days of the great dust bowl in America. It does the fishing industry no good to fish itself out of existence. Some fisheries are more regulated than others. I wonder how effective those regulations have been?

    Maybe this expalins why I can never catch those big fish that I thought are out there.

  2. There are several related great books that interested readers may look in to for further discussion:

    Cod, by Mark Kurlansky

    The End of the Line, by Barry C. Lynn

    The World is Blue, by Sylvia Earle.

    For an introduction to the topics that Dr. Jackson spoke on, I urge you to read "Altered Oceans," the Pulitzer Prize-winning article series in the LA Times by Kenneth Wiess (2007).