From Green to Blue: Ocean Conservation and Earth System Sciences

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Abstract Summary
Environmental activists and environmental historians were not particularly concerned with the oceans until recent times. While transformation (and degradation) in land was clearly visible, it seemed that the ocean well could take all kinds of poison without great distress. While there was a long tradition of conservation for fisheries and marine mammals that attracted the attention of organizations like Greenpeace in the 1970s, the ecosystems approach to conservation like that developed by Max Nicholson at the International Union for the Protection of Nature and the International Biology Program largely took the world ocean for granted. The Apollo pictures of the earth from above that accompanied the rise of global conservation efforts depicted a Blue Marble, and yet environmentalism remained green. This paper documents the move from Green to Blue in two separate but interconnected realms: the local and the global. The first is provided by the efforts for understanding and halting marine degradation in the Mediterranean through the 1975 Mediterranean Action Plan (and part of the United Nations Environmental Programme). The second is illustrated by the rise of Earth System Sciences in the 1980s (with Lovelock’s Gaia and the NASA) and the increasing importance granted to the world ocean, for instance as a climate regulator. Simultaneously, oceanographers were now looking at ocean circulation as subject to cycles and sudden changes. The conveyor belt, a new theoretical entity, needed not only to be described but also monitored. Although oceanography, geochemistry and atmospheric sciences were key in this shift to blue, looking at their different approaches and scales sheds light on processes of integration and disintegration in global conservation.
Abstract ID :
Submission Type
Chronological Classification :
20th century, late
Self-Designated Keywords :
Conservation, environmental science, transnationalism, localism

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