It took just one summer in Woods Hole as a college student for Jane Lubchenco to decide what she wanted to do with her life. “I could study [the ocean] for the rest of my life and never scratch the surface,” Lubchenco said.
Today, she is a co-chair of the exprt group for the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy. Lubchenco is the University Distinguished Professor at Oregon State University, one of the world’s foremost ocean ecologists. She is a former head of NOAA—and a former WRI board member.
A lifelong advocate and practitioner of science education, Lubchenco believes “We have an obligation to share our [scientific] knowledge broadly – with the public, with policymakers, with business leaders.”
With the High Level Panel, she’s sharing the best ocean science as part of a mission to set a new narrative for the ocean. As she explains in conversation with WRI Vice President for Communications Lawrence MacDonald, the past fifty years have seen two different “ocean narratives,” and it’s time for a third, new one. Here’s what she means.
At one point, decades ago, we thought the ocean was too big to fail.
“The ocean is immense... It was impossible for people throughout most of history to imagine depleting it,” Lubchenco explained.
Eventually, though, the scale of human interference with natural ocean systems became apparent, leading to the second narrative—the one that predominates today. As nutrient runoff, ocean acidification and plastic pollution dominate headlines, this gloomy mindset narrates that the ocean is too big to save.
“Every time you turn around it seems like we’re discovering a new problem,” Lubchenco said, referring to the IPCC report’s identification of new challenges like marine heat waves. “The narrative has shifted from ‘it’s too big to fail’ to ‘it’s too big to fix.’”
Now, it’s the High Level Panel’s job—and Lubchenco’s mission—to overturn that gloom with a third narrative, one that recognizes the challenges facing the ocean, but also the solutions. “I believe the new narrative that needs to be nurtured is that the ocean is “too big to ignore,” she said, pointing out its centrality to food systems, the world economy and climate change.
She outlines this new narrative at length in the new book “A Better Planet: 40 Big Ideas for a Sustainable Future,” edited by Daniel Esty, a professor of environmental law at Yale.
For the rest of the conversation, MacDonald and Lubchenco talk about how this new narrative plays out with respect to marine protected areas, fisheries management, offshore oil and gas and more.
Listen to their conversation now: