Skip Navigation

News

May 18, 2005

Dodge Lecture Addresses Environmental Concerns

World-renowned marine ecologist Jane Lubchenco, PhD, had a message for the faculty and students of the Bloomberg School of Public Health: Human-caused ecosystem changes impact human health and wellbeing worldwide and scientists should inform the public of these changes. Lubchenco’s comments came during the 6th Annual Edward and Nancy Dodge Lecture, “Seas the Day: Ocean Science, Politics and Ethics,” in honor of Earth Day. The event was sponsored by the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future.

“The rate, number and scale of human-caused changes to the natural environment are unprecedented. All environmental changes do indeed affect human beings directly,” said Lubchenco who is the Wayne and Gladys Valley Professor of Marine Biology at the University of Oregon and former President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Jane Lubchenco, PhD

Jane Lubchenco, PhD

Lubchenco explained that half of all land on earth has been transformed by human activity, carbon dioxide concentrations increased 30 percent since the industrial revolution, half of all surface fresh water is currently in use and two-thirds of the major marine fisheries are depleted or degraded. She also noted that the damage from last year’s tsunami in the Indian Ocean was much greater where coastal mangroves had been converted to other uses.

A greater public understanding of the issues is needed, she said, and a hope that change can happen with far greater political leadership, new scientific tools and a new ethic. “The serious challenge is in transitioning to sustainable systems where all people have their needs met while at the same time protecting and restoring the ecosystems they rely on.”

Lubchenco said that scientists play an important role in formulating environmental policy. While scientific information does not and should not dictate choices that are made, she said, it is important that scientists be active in sharing scientific information. All scientists need to engage in a new ‘social contract’ with the society that supports them. Public health scientists, she noted, have done a better job of this, but she said that scientists have an obligation to lead the dialogue on scientific priorities and to communicate their findings to the public.

“Oceans are vast, historically bountiful, home to billions of creatures and essential for all life. But they are currently at risk because of the choices we’ve made; choices that are, unintentionally, very efficiently degrading our life support systems,” said Lubchenco. She recently served on the private Pew Oceans Commission and the United States Commission on Ocean Policy, the first major ocean commissions since the 1960’s-era Stratton Ocean Commission, which viewed the oceans as inexhaustible resources. Both recent commissions reached the conclusion that a failure of perspective, as well as governance, led to a state where a quarter of all global fisheries are being over fished and 90 percent of large ocean fish are gone.

Lubchenco said she believes a new way of thinking is needed with a shift from exploitation to stewardship to reverse current trends. While the federal response has been tepid to its own commission recommendations, Lubchenco said she sees hope in the public education campaigns of advocacy groups and the actions of the State of California to create a single entity to oversee and manage its coastal waters.

“It is in our interest to develop this new ethic and it is our responsibility. Seas the day!”--Donna Mennitto

Public Affairs media contacts for the Center for a Livable Future: Donna Mennitto at 410-502-2317 or dmennitt@jhsph.edu.
Public Affairs media contacts for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Tim Parsons at 410-955-6878 or paffairs@jhsph.edu.