Sunday, February 24, 2008

save the ocean theater

I suppose we've all done "save the planet" things that are well-intentioned but ineffective. Ian Bicking complains about this type of "environmental theater." I think we see a lot of "save the ocean" theater, especially the idea that not eating something will save it.

I think "don't eat" campaigns can help save fish, if done right. However, most "don't eat" admonitions we see these days are ad hoc and disconnected from real efforts to save fish.

In this vein, I've been complaining to Craig lately at the awesome blog Deep-Sea News. Craig and his team are great bloggers, and they deserve praise for starting a "just one thing" challenge that asks people to get off their asses and do something to save our oceans. But a recent challenge is to pester Trader Joe's to stop seeling orange roughy. This seems like a nothing burger to me. Who thinks orange roughy will be helped if Trader Joe's stops selling it?

Getting Trader Joe's to change is not the goal. Enlisting businesses like Trader Joe's in a real campaign to save orange roughy would be a big deal, but this ain't it. Pestering Trader Joe's will not get them on board for saving fish.

I admire what you're doing Craig, but if you want to come out of the realm of science and into saving the ocean, let's make it count.

If you want details on how to save fish through seafood, check out Ocean Conservancy's sustainable seafood page.


Kate said...

Mark, I guess a lot of this falls under that negative reinforcements we've been talking about.

On the other hand, I have to disagree with a few things:

with Seafood Watch: If it isn't profitable for a company to sell something, they won't. If the fish aren't carried in supermarkets, there will be no market for the fishermen, and they'll have to find something else to do (the WHAT part is the other side that you've been talking about)

Sure, one or two people, or three hundred people, aren't going to make a difference by refusing to eat a certain kind of fish. But this "theater" is what gets people BEYOND that doing something.

Sure, it's great to get people at the source to change how they produce, but we also have to worry about the end user, who have been shapers of policy and product as well... sometimes the only effective shapers.

You often talk about small and local efforts that make a big impact. If my plastic soda rings had been the one to kill a brown pelican, than I'd made a big impact at least on that one animal.

Frankly, I think things like Monterey's Seafood watch chart and the "All drains lead to the sea" campaign and other programs help awareness. And I don't totally disrespect these kind of public outreaches.

As you know, this weekend my daughters and I planted trees. There were over 100 trees planted in an area of the Rio Grande Bosque. We planted 13 of them ourselves. Now of course I don't think those 13 trees are going to save the Bosque. But those 13 were part of 100 and that's part of an ongoing planting effort.

Recycling plastic bags (or not using them at all) may well seem like a minor change, but if we get everyone doing it, it'll be a major change. Unfortunately, not everyone is as motivated to change as we are. Not everyone fully understands the impact, and these "environmental theaters" supply a way to get the word out.

As far as Trader Joe's is concerned, they're one step, and probably likely to be the most responsive. I don't know that "pestering" is the answer, but certainly sending them information and letting them know that you won't be buying any orange roughy from them will be a start. I personally think that Trader Joe's would be highly motivated to do something beyond merely ceasing to sell orange roughy, because it has a certain reputation to uphold.

Mark Powell said...

All good points, Dorid. What worries me is the use and misuse of environmental theater. I like environmental theater, I've used it many times. When well crafted it's powerful.

What bothers me is ill-designed environmental theater. Your points, more than Craig's, have me pondering and clarifying my thoughts on why this example bothers me. I'll think it through and come back with an answer later.

My first thought is that I don't like "dead end" environmental theater that fails to draw people in to real solutions.

Good aspects of environmental theater are when it gets people to pay attention, get involved at least a tiny bit, perhaps learn, and hopefully engage further.

One key essential ingredient of good environmental theater is that it MUST blend well with the deeper and more powerful things going on that actually have some potential for fixing (at least partially) the bad situation that is the subject of the theater.

This example, pestering Trader Joe's to stop selling orange roughy, is "dead end" theater, IMO. It might get Trader Joe's to stop selling orange roughy (I doubt it), but it will raise sustainable seafood as an irritation to the deciders in Trader Joe's seafood business if done in isolation from a real campaign. It probably won't get anyone involved to go further. If Trader Joe's doesn't change, letter writers will feel powerless and grumpy. If Trader Joe's does change, letter writiers will declare victory and probably stop there. Thus, dead end theater IMO.

I think I'll do a post on "dead end" environmental theater, this is an important subject and I'm clearly in the minority on this one.

Serena said...

Perhaps there is a misunderstanding here. If Trader Joes were influenced enough to stop selling Orange Roughy for example, it doesn't have to stop there. They can get help behind the scenes from organizations like Fish Wise or the Monterey Bay Aqurium to find alternative seafood supplies that are more sustainable. Our programs are coordinated and we all try to work together.

So Mark, if you are working with fishermen, that's great! It doesn't mean consumer awareness is less or more important. The success of the sustainable seafood movement is based in large part on consumer awareness programs. Seafood Watch is a program still focused on consumers awareness and advocacy, empowering individuals and businesses to make choices for healthy oceans. We're all trying to work together and I don't see the merit in trying to disregard one approach over another, we're more effective if we collaborate.

-Serena Federman, Seafood Watch

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