Anyone within range of Western television during the 1960s to the 1980s was likely a fan of Jacques Cousteau’s famous “underwater adventures” launched from the Calypso research vessel, which roamed the seven seas.

Not surprisingly, as an explorer immersed in the natural environment, Cousteau became a radical ecologist in his later life as the costs of industrialization and consumerism began to take their toll. Nathan Gardels, editor of Non-Profit Quaterly(NPQ) interviewed Cousteau on the concerns of industrialization and development on the planet

Gardels | So, what you are trying to do with your educational efforts is to create a counterculture to the market where enduring value reigns over short-term price, where the rights of future generations are integrated into present decisions?

Cousteau | It is the market that is the counterculture! What we are talking about is building a culture where everything is not subject to the abuse of economics.

Gardels | Most people in the G-7 countries have cars and refrigerators. What happens to the world when 1 billion Chinese become consumers just like us—if only with improved diets of meat and fish, no less goods.

Cousteau | If the Chinese diet improved to the point where they were all eating fish regularly, the ocean would not be able to feed them.

In my lifetime, we have already depleted the sea.

When I began diving, all marine food—shellfish as well as saltwater and freshwater fish—represented one-tenth of the protein consumption in the world. And we were at that time only 1.7 billion people. Today the fishing industry has become very sophisticated and efficient. Schools of fish can be tracked electronically; we know when and where fish are spawning year in and year out. But there are now more than 5 billion people to feed.

The result is that the percentage of all the catch of the world is only 3 percent of protein consumption of humankind. And it will go to 3 percent, then 1 percent and then disappear altogether as we move toward the 10 billion mark. We will have exhausted the production capacity of the sea.

At the moment, virtually all the fish of the world are caught by the West. The fish that used to feed the primitive peoples along the coasts are taken out of their markets and sold to the rich urban consumers of the West. Is that a culture or a counterculture?

That is the truth about fish. So, there is no way that the Chinese can survive thanks to the sea. No way. And, as you indicate, there is no way the atmospheric gases of the planet will be able to remain stable if even half of the Chinese start driving cars.

We talk about China because it is among the places where population growth will be most concentrated. The underlying implication of your question is this: In a world with 10 billion people, will everyone have the same chances? No way. Will there be enough food and energy or living space? There will be severe scarcity in some places, but, yes, I do believe life on the planet can be bearable if we can bring down the inequalities.

I don’t mean “equality.” People are not equal. Some can jump higher than others, but not 20 times higher. In a society, people will understand a 10/1 ratio of difference, but not 2,000/1. They will not forever tolerate a situation, such as we have today, where 60 human beings possess more wealth than all of Africa.

But what about the large animals, the giraffes and elephants? They will be the first to go because there will be no space for them to roam, to eat, to live. There will be too many people competing for the same habitat.

All that will be possible for them is a kind of Noah’s Ark rescue—putting pairs of each in some high-rise zoo.

This, I think, offers an image of the kind of world future generations of humankind may be faced with.


Copyright Non Profit Quaterly

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