50 years ago when I first became concerned about their fate, whales were being hastened towards extinction by whaling. There was no Save-the-Whales movement; in fact, whales seldom crossed anyone’s mind.
When Scott McVay and I discovered the powerfully lovely songs of humpback whales I saw them as a way to capture the world’s interest in the plight of whales, and I put all of my efforts into stopping the criminal act that turned whales into cat food and cosmetics.
As time passed the movement succeeded in greatly reducing whaling. But a new threat to whales soon emerged that was potentially worse than whaling: ocean pollution. It was caused by the compounds we synthesize to enjoy “better living” through chemistry.
I later realized that it was not pollution alone but many other interconnecting, interacting, positive feedback loops that threatened whales plus many other ocean species—for example: the buildup of CO2 creates ocean acidification which destroys plankton.
In short, my life has carried me from the specific to the general, and what started as an effort to stop a single fatal force from destroying a species has become an effort to stop dozens of forces from destroying life in all its forms, both in the ocean and on the land.
Thanks to global warming and ocean acidification there has never been a more urgent need for action—never a greater need to put all of our time, effort and treasure into changing the way that we and our fellow humans conduct our lives. Life on Earth and civilization as we know it hang in the balance.
In spite of how scary this situation is it also has a hugely positive side: for it offers our generation the most singular opportunity for greatness ever offered to any generation in history. If we seize that opportunity and act we will be admired and loved above all future generations.
Please join me in pledging to dedicate all of our efforts in the next decade to working to change the fate of the oceans.
Each month in this my 80th year I will announce another of my goals and dreams, and describe why I think it is important to whales, to the ocean, and to all life. I will also describe ways in which you can help achieve that dream.
My dream for January comes from what I consider to be the most consequential scientific discovery of the past 100 years—the slow realization that all species are interdependent. This means that the future of each species depends on the future of a great many other species. From this simple natural law we see that it is not possible to save just a single species, unless we also protect the lives of the hundreds of species on which that species’ life depends.
From this it follows that the welfare of some non-human species is as important to the survival of humans as it is to the survival of the non-human species. If we fail to recognize that fact we will have no future—at least none that you or I would care to experience.
My January wish, therefore, is to create a Declaration of Interdependence for nations to ratify. There have been several such declarations previously but none that focused strongly enough on the health of the ocean and on non-human species. I will post a draft of such a declaration on my birthday so you can suggest changes before we send it out in its final form. Ever since 1776 we in America have valued independence; what we must now learn to value even more is our interdependence with the rest of life. It is our only way to reach the future.
– Dr. Roger Payne, President and Founder of Ocean Alliance