Oceanic Economics

Ocean expert Peter Neill says the watery depths hold solutions to earth’s most pressing challenges

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At a time when the world faces a multitude of potential calamities ranging from climate change to water pollution and plastic pollution, to rapid population growth, the solution may well be in the sea around us. “It is water, the world’s most valuable element, the key ingredient to solving Earth’s most vexing problems,” says Peter Neill, director of the World Ocean Observatory and author of “THE ONCE AND FUTURE OCEAN: Notes Toward a New Hydraulic Society.” “It is urgent that we stop lamenting our current condition and start focusing on doing something about it,” he says.

“It is beyond time that we look to creating a “new hydraulic society”, organizing our social, financial and political order around water in all its forms and functions,” Neill says. “The old paradigm of unlimited growth based on consumption, driven by fossil fuels, is exhausted and on the verge of collapse. We see it all around us: in international conflict and migration, the volatility of the world economy and employment, water wars, and more. Neill offers the following reasons why water holds the key to humankind’s survival:

  • Water is everywhere, essential for life. Water covers 70 percent of the Earth: in the ocean, in the atmosphere, from the mountaintop to the abyssal plain. “Without it in equal measure each day, we cannot survive,” he says.
  • The ocean contains a wealth of resources. Protein from the sea plays a prominent role in the human diet around the world. But there is more: seawater can be desalinated for fresh drinking water and as a possible solution to drought; ocean water can also be harnessed as an energy source, giving us another alternative thereby reducing our dependence on fossil fuels; the ocean holds medicine and cures for disease. “The ocean is also for recreation and personal reflection and renewal. If treated with respect, it will sustain us for generations,” he says.
  • The ocean helps drive the economy. “Globalization can be traced to the first merchant marine to board a vessel and sail off with goods to trade in far off lands,” Neill says. “Even in the age of air travel, the ocean remains the major way that goods are transported around the globe. Roughly 90 percent of the world’s goods are transported by sea.”

“The ocean is where we must turn for fresh water, food, energy, health, political stability, transportation, community development and personal renaissance,” he says. “With an additional 2 billion people on the planet by mid-century, with the exhaustion of the land, with the effects of climate change and extreme weather already evident, we must look for answers,” Neill says. “Where can we find them? In the ocean. We have no choice.”

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