The Paralysis of Thinking Big

Almost every hour I receive some new piece of information that I want to write about on this blog. And yet, as you'll notice, the posts are spotty. The truth is, there is simply too much to criticize. Just consider the oceans this week.

The IWC met to discuss whether to reopen commercial whaling, which, in terms of ethics, is a return to the Middle Ages. Reporters are still calling Daniel Pauly to get him to address the debate (there is no debate) that whales eat all of our seafood (of course they don't; we do). Apparently, the IWC did not reach an agreement so things remain the same. Japan, Iceland and Norway will continue to hunt illegally. Greenland did obtain the right to kill 10 humpback whales per year, claiming they need the food. Can we just package up some extra food for Greenland? Maybe we can redirect some BP clean-up funds for food to whaling nations, since sperm whales (which we've stopped killing directly but haven't managed to stop ruining their lives) and dolphins are among the victims in one of the worst environmental disaster in recent history (although people waste time arguing over that statement's precision). Not that anyone can get too worked up over sperm whales when fishermen are taking their own lives because of the decisions by a clumsy and greedy BP. Yesterday, people all across North America held hands to protest offshore drilling. A friend wondered why they didn't follow up by giving BP the middle finger. The reason: most people are good. But it doesn't take many to ruin it for the rest of us (as Craig Welch points out in Shell Games, his riveting tale of the geoduck fishery, which I already promoted and, this week, so does the Washington Post). Due to a small minority of people, Atlantic bluefin tuna are also probably screwed, because the Gulf is one of the two known spawning grounds for this imperiled giant. And if the oil spill doesn't get the bluefin tuna, the human appetite most surely will, which Paul Greenberg discusses in his heartfelt essay (excerpted from his forthcoming book) in the NYTimes Magazine. As fish like bluefin tuna reach the brink, we can be sure that fishing effort will be redirected to Antarctica, where the Marine Stewardship Council recently certified a krill fishery to the chagrin of conservationists and scientists alike (including me).

That's just this week in the oceans (and I'm sure I missed a bizillion stories). The land is no better, with a commercial highway proposed that would bisect the Serengeti and cut off one of the world's greatest migrations. And never mind the financial crisis, which was so perverse and circular that Wall Street's own analysts don't even understand it (I am still reeling with disgust after reading Michael Lewis' The Big Short). There is just so much information and, furthermore, so many causes. It is hard to come to terms with the idea of information overload (as George Dyson elegantly points out in his short essay on kayaks vs. canoes at The Edge) and hard to admit that there could be some point at which learning and caring too much can become paralyzing.


More like this

The plight of just two humpback whales that got themselves lost up the Sacramento River has got the nation transfixed. This sort of thing happens every few years. Back in 1988, it was three gray whales trapped in the ice on the north slope of Alaska. It's curious how we, as in news directors, get…
In my Topics in Marine Science class that I teach at Western Washington University, we spend a week on marine mammals and a portion of that time talking about whaling. We discuss the use of whale oil for illuminants, the 1930s as the Whaling Olympic era, the devastation of certain whale…
tags: ecology, marine biology, conservation biology, endangered species, habitat preferences, Northern Bluefin Tuna, Atlantic Bluefin Tuna, Thunnus thynnus, Yellowfin Tuna, Thunnus albacares, fisheries, PLoS ONE,,peer-reviewed research, journal club An adult Atlantic (…
What's happening in the Science News section at the Washington Post? A recent story about bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) made me wonder exactly what's going on behind the journalist's desk. The article in question is called "Advocates hope science can save big tuna", published Dec. 24, 2007. The…

Yeah, here's another one to cheer you up... Go, Humans!!!

" The Brazilian government is planning to build what would be the worldâs third-largest hydroelectric project on one of the Amazonâs major tributaries, the Xingu. The Belo Monte Dam would divert the flow of the Xingu River and devastate an extensive area of the Brazilian rainforest, displacing over 20,000 people and threatening the survival of indigenous peoples. (see map)

The most controversial dam project facing Brazil today, Belo Monte is a struggle about the future of Amazonia. The Brazilian government has plans to build more than 100 large dams in the Amazon Basin over the next 20 years. Many Brazilians believe that if Belo Monte is approved, it will represent a carte blanche for the destruction of all the magnificent rivers of the Amazon - next the Tapajos, the Teles Pires, then the Araguaia-Tocantins, and so on. The Amazon will become an endless series of lifeless reservoirs, its life drained away by giant walls of concrete and steel. "

By Fred Magyar (not verified) on 27 Jun 2010 #permalink

I know how you feel, except that I'm feeling it from a student perspective.

There are so many things I want to train myself to be able to help with, but I can only focus on a small fraction and I'm struggling to make that decision.

And even when one does know enough to help, how does one get the message through to the ignorant and greedy?

I feel that way when I read about human rights issues, too. Focusing on what I can do is a lot easier for me than what I can't.

All of these issues tie in strongly with economic control of the world resting with a very small number of people. That is what ultimately needs to be fixed.

Yes, things seem overwhelming at times. However what is exciting is the degree to which we now communicate about these things. It is no longer easy to sweep environmental injustices under the carpet!

Certification of the Antarctic krill fishery by the Marine Stewardship Council is a mistake. Let's not let them make the same mistake on future assessments.

We âNew Worldâ information devourers have access to more international tangible motivating input than we have ever had in the history of our cultures. We are in the midst of a torrent thought streams, that in all reflection it seems like these torrents would further our motivations and inspirations to greater and higher socially collective levels. But you are so right here in observing this phenomena of paralysis of thinking and action as if an invisible wall has been encountered.

This paralysis you write of is palpable on so many levels, yet the urgencies of calls to care about thousands of survival realities has never been greater, so it seems. Apathy, especially when it comes to our collective survival is a strange human reality, and it seems to be growing exponentially. Which is of course deeply concerning and it makes me consider this lack of social collective momentum and causes.

Perhaps, it is not so much the over abundance of information and news, but our âOld Worldâ programmed responses to this information news that is given to us that is supposed to make us think. And act. Maybe we are entering a new and uncharted evolution where we are re-examining our motivations and inspirations for actions. The paralysis may not all be necessarily in thinking to big, but in not internally attaching, or linking to the greater motivations and inspirations.

It is crucial to understand and know of these things we call our motivations and inspirations, or perhaps also called our creative forces. What, where, why and how have our internal and external incentive actions been housed and how have we been guided by them in the past? Then how do we need to understand and want to use our motivations and inspirations in this current swarm of daunting collective news events.

We have more than ample information, now maybe we need to find the new keys to our motivations and inspirations.

By Chris Martell (not verified) on 05 Jul 2010 #permalink