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A Stitch in Time Saves Lives

22nd July 2022

You may delay, but time will not

Benjamin Franklin

We humans have an odd tendency to stick our heads into the sand when facing problems that seem overwhelming. It’s something that many people will have experienced at some stage in their life – be it ignoring a rapidly approaching deadline, or putting off a difficult conversation.  

Unfortunately, this very rarely results in the problem going away. If anything, it almost always makes it much, much worse. This phenomenon has been a part of the human psyche for about as long as humanity has been around – but it wasn’t until the 1700’s when the most well-known version of this sentiment would appear: the phrase “a stitch in time saves nine”.

So people have procrastinated their way through history, why does that matter?

The reason this specific quirk of ours is such an existential threat is because we have found ourselves at a point where the speed of our decision-making will determine our existence. I’ve always been a champion of reducing carbon and protecting our planet, often reflecting on my role as a business leader and how responsible practices can make a difference. A few weeks ago I missed a speaking opportunity at the UN Ocean Conference (due to coming down with Covid), since then I’ve felt compelled to use my voice in another way to share my thoughts.

The problems the oceans are facing are substantial. Overfishing, ocean acidification and reef desertification are threatening the ecological chain that the Earth’s flora and fauna depend on, whilst a simultaneous rise in population and the global median income has increased the demand exerted on the ocean’s resources. The need for action has never been greater, and yet, humanity has failed to collectively act to make the requisite ‘stitches’ to save the planet from ecological collapse.

 So, what are the changes required? How do we even begin to address the many problems that we’re facing?

Whilst men and women much smarter than I are working on solutions to specific problems, such as phytoplankton loss and ocean acidification, I would argue that there are some broader actions that – if widely adopted – would have a dramatic effect on our drive to defend and rebuild our ocean ecosystems. I would suggest three easy ‘stitches’ that can save us in the future: developing the education around marine conservation, making conservation enjoyable, and changing our behaviour towards the oceans.

The first stitch is education. This, more so than any other stitch, is the key to rectifying the issues that have plagued our oceans.

Ultimately, one of the biggest issues we face is that the global population has little to no understanding of the importance of our oceans. A great example of this is the public perception that our supply of oxygen comes from great rainforests along the Amazon and in the Congo. In reality, between 50-80% of our breathable oxygen comes from phytoplankton in the oceans; microscopic organisms that form the basis of the global food chain, and which are at risk of collapse due to ocean acidification as a result of industrial runoff and rising carbon levels. If the phytoplankton go, so does everything else on the planet – yet very few people seem to grasp the severity of the situation.

Surprisingly, the entertainment industry has led the charge in bringing education to the widest audience, with figures like David Attenborough emphasising the wonder of the seas to audiences around the world, whilst also educating them on the threats that the oceans face. The attention that entertainment has brought to the threats facing marine ecology cannot be understated – possibly because, instead of being prescriptive or lecturing audiences, these shows present the facts in an engaging and enjoyable way; which leads me to my next point…

Enjoyment is crucial, not only as a supplement to education, but as a means in its own right. Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Show him how enjoyable fishing is, and he’ll feed himself for the rest of his life – although, admittedly, encouraging more fishing may not be the best analogy to use in this particular blog.

We know we must mobilise the population to take action, but the vast majority of suggested methods rely on either altruism or fear-mongering – neither of which are conducive in motivating sustained effort. The key is to create tasks that have a positive effect on the environment, whilst also providing enjoyment to the activist beyond a sense of self-satisfaction at a job done well. One suggestion would be to create a nationwide point-based system for positive environmental action that benefits the oceans, with rewards and prestige for those who exceed the average within their communities.

Many of us enjoy competing with others and the prestige that comes with it, in the form of Instagram likes and Reddit karma – with some amongst us willing to go to extreme lengths to outdo our peers. The key is that the process must be enjoyable, either in the task itself, or in the accreditation that comes with it. Whilst many environmental conservation projects will need oversight by trained professionals with adequate compensation, there are endless tasks that can be easily completed by the public (picking litter, recycling, volunteering and more) – if only we could make them enjoyable.

The final stitch is perhaps the hardest: changing behaviour.

There are a great many technological advancements and developments being made which will have a positive effect on environmental practices. Ground breaking developments have been made in the creation of biodegradable plastics, carbon capture, sustainable resource collection and many other areas that benefit the oceans. One example is Mindsett, a subsidiary of my firm Cloudfm. Mindsett is working to ensure that data collected by businesses can be used to improve their environmental practise and reduce a company’s environmental footprint. However, technological development can’t always guarantee behavioural change.

Humans are highly adaptable, it’s one of our great superpowers. You can see this in the way that people have quickly adapted to periods of great upheaval, like the blitz – or more recently, as I’ve personally experienced, coronavirus. Humans can adapt to nearly everything (‘nearly’, because we can’t adapt to the collapse of our ecosystem), and this superpower can be harnessed for positive change.

People need to adapt to new ways of behaving and change their outlook to prioritise the security of our environment. If we can encourage the public to adapt to new ways of living – be that by using recyclable materials, reducing resource use or banning single use plastics – we can make dramatic changes to our impact on the oceans.

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