‘Palliative care of a dying institution’

By

Patrick L. Sullivan

The Lakeville Journal

LAKEVILLE — Richard Elmore had some startling observations about and predictions for American education at the Salisbury Forum program Friday, Oct. 10, at The Hotchkiss School.

Among them:

• American schools are in the process of being marginalized because learning has “escaped” from them.

• American teachers cannot do what they are being asked to do.

• The best way to provoke a political crisis in Sweden is to make the case that the schools there are almost as bad as America’s.

Elmore is the Gregory R. Anrig Research Professor of Educational Leadership at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education.

He began by describing teaching in the U.S. as “an occupation trying to be a profession without a practice.”

A profession, he continued, controls entry into its ranks; does not delegate responsibility for professional standards to a government or other outside agency; develops and maintains standards that have to do with practice and knowledge.

In a dozen years of touring schools in the U.S., Canada and Australia, Elmore has been trying to “create a profession in education.”

He spent time with physicians in a teaching hospital “to try and understand how to create a culture of professionalism.”

He watched instructional rounds in the teaching hospitals, wondering how the practice could be adopted to teaching.

And he went to schools — lots of them. Elmore estimated he visited 500 schools and 2,500 classrooms in the U.S. and hundreds in Canada and Australia over the last 12 years.

He was thinking along the lines of establishing a practice in education that would gather data; describe what happens in classrooms; and make predictions.

And he developed a clinical, self-assessing model of organizations. But, he said, “I’m stepping away from this now. The more I got into it, it was becoming a radicalizing experience.

“I felt I was doing palliative care for a dying institution.”

‘Crushing mediocrity’

Elmore described the general pattern in American classrooms: “The dominant pattern is crushing mediocrity. Students are achieving a small fraction of what we know they are capable of.”

He put the blame for this on the restrictions placed on American schools.

“It’s something we do to ourselves.”

He said that the problems lie more in social capital differences than in “patterns of institutional practice.”

He said of American teachers: “We have dedicated people in public schools. They think they are doing important work. They are not qualified to do the work we are asking them to do. We have a monumental human resources problem we have refused to acknowledge, and the solutions to this are radical and politically distasteful.”

Elmore said that cognitive neuroscience, once a “backwater of psychology,” is now attracting significant resources. “We have growth in knowledge on how people learn.”

But because education is not a profession, there is “no bridge between knowledge and practice;” there is no clinical connection as in a teaching hospital — and no threat of losing a license to practice if a teacher is unable to meet professional standards.

“Because of this we are not making use of what we know about learning.”

In favor of digital teaching

Elmore then began talking about digital culture as a medium of learning. He predicted that digital learning will increase exponentially, traditional schooling much less so.

Why?

Elmore described the school environment as “cells, bells and hallways.”

“If you were starting from scratch the last place you’d go is a school.”

One major flaw in traditional schooling, he believes, is that knowledge and information have to pass through a single adult before reaching the student. There is no redundancy built into the system.

So if there is a misconception on the part of the teacher, it goes straight to the student.

“It’s a miracle this system has survived,” Elmore said. “It has survived because it’s a monopoly with political influence.

“Meanwhile digital culture is largely unregulated. It doesn’t care about having a single authority.”

School is like the post office

Elmore said he can imagine a situation in which the educational system transforms itself.

“But we have given the organization privilege. It’s not going to go away soon.

“The longer this goes on, the more it looks like the post office: a utility that will probably always be there, that employs people;but the volume and efficiency of movement of information has outpaced the post office. Same with schools.”

Elmore said Americans need to be realistic about what schools do:

• Schools decide what’s worth teaching

• How the learning experience is organized

• Who controls access to knowledge

• What constitutes evidence of learning.

He contrasted that with the digital world, “which responds to the needs, disposition and access of the learner.

“This drives ‘education’ crazy. Most learning outside school is done this way.”

Digital learning offers access

Digital culture is not synonymous with technology, which he described as the “enabling condition.”

Digital culture is not the Internet — “that’s just an artifact we use.”

Digital culture is not information. Elmore asked the audience to imagine a steel plate with a small hole in it. “Information” is on one side, “knowledge” on the other, and the hole is “learning.”

The learning process is dependent on the size of the hole.

In digital culture, the information is bypassing the entire steel plate — never mind the hole.

Digital culture is not the substitution of machines for humans. It is the opposite;  it is a means for increasing contact.

“Digital culture is really about access, about enabling relationships previously constrained by distance.”

Wrong by definition

He offered a definition of what learning is not:

• The ability to memorize and repeat

• The ability to repeat routine tasks on demand

• The ability to distinguish between right and wrong answers to factual questions.

He said that public schools (and to some extent private schools as well):

• Manage the attainment structure — “they are primarily about the allocation of privilege and access”

• Provide custody and control

• Provide socialization to prescribed norms and attitudes

• Influence personal development

• Oversee learning.

“The problem is we pack all this into one institution — a shrinking franchise increasingly about custody and control.”

Meanwhile, as the institutions struggle, learning “escapes.”

Elmore said the next question will be how schools can adapt, and whether they will. He asked the audience to think of Hotchkiss or any other high-performing high school, whose “stock in trade is their ability to place students into competitive colleges.”

He said higher education is “stressed” at present — “the business model is collapsing.”

“Suddenly there are significant numbers of applicants from schools with hybrid transcripts, with college courses already taken from alternative sources.

“What happens to attainment when these alternative pathways open up?”

He described these changes as “disruptive innovation.” Elmore likened disruptive innovation to the functions of an iPhone — “did you know 10 years ago you needed these things? Now we can’t live without them.”

Disruptive innovation often marginalizes rather than displaces the established institution; the new way grows by redefining the central value proposition (think Federal Express vs. the post office).

Why the Swedes object

Elmore said he is heading to Sweden soon, where there is a major political crisis about international test scores (the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA).

The crisis, which brought down one government already, is that Sweden’s scores are similar to those of American students.

To the Swedes, “this is a major sign of educational system failure,” Elmore said.

During the question-and-answer period, Elmore was asked about charter schools. He said he has seen a lot of them and actively supports one in Chelsea, Mass. Overall, he finds that charter schools run the gamut between outstanding and horrible, and the overall results don’t look much different.

“I don’t think we’ve gained much ground. Charter schools are schools that white people like for other people’s children.”

Asked which countries are doing well with education, Elmore said that of the top 10 countries in the PISA scores, half are Asian and “none of them have anything in common except they all made a Draconian choice to control entry to teaching.”

By contrast, in the U.S., “40 percent of teachers come from the bottom third of college classrooms.”

Asked why students from other countries come to the U.S. if the system is so bad, Elmore said, “These kids come from families with money — gobs of money — and they want American degrees. They understand attainment, they come from cultures where they can buy privilege. What’s mysterious about that?”

Asked about the home-schooling movement, Elmore said, simply, “Wow.”

“Five years ago I thought it was a faith-based, marginal enterprise, without a lot of collaboration.

“Well, home schooling has become a digital culture. While it mimics traditional education to some degree, it is also finding community-based solutions to learning that are extraordinary.” He said that the home-schooling movement will probably soon face some obstacles, such as mandatory attendance laws.

“Kids For Cash”: Feb. 1, 2015 11:30AM, Millerton Moviehouse

kids-for-cash Logo

Hillary Transue, 14, made fun of her high school’s vice principal on line, Justin Bodnar, 12, cursed at another student’s mother, Ed Kenzakoski, 17, did nothing at all. Those three and almost 3, 000 other children were sentenced to a juvenile detention facility for minor infractions. In many cases their parents were persuaded or coerced into waiving their right to legal counsel. They were brought before Judge Mark A. Ciavarella and without warning or a chance to offer a defense were pronounced guilty, shackled and sentenced to months of detention in a cockroach invested jail.

It turns out Judge Ciavarella had accepted $2.2 million as a fin ders fee for the construction of a for-profit penal facility in which to house these so-called delinquents. Judge Ciavarella was himself sentenced to 28 years in prison. Kids For Cash is a riveting look behind the notorious scandal in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania in 2009. Exposing the hidden scandal behind the headlines, Kids For Cash unfolds like a real life thriller.

But this is not just a one time, one town story. The director says that 2 Million children are arrested in the United States every year 95 per cent of them for non-violent crimes.

All Salisbury Forum events are open to the public free of charge.

Text for Email

Dear Friend of the Salisbury Forum:

I am writing to make sure you know that we have our second Forum of this year on Friday, October 15th, at 7:30 PM. The Forum topic is “THE U.S. and CHINA – A QUESTION OF OUR COMMON INTERESTS” and our great privilege is to present ORVILLE SCHELL as the speaker. His talk will be in the Katherine M. Elfers Hall of the Easter Eastman Music Center at the Hotchkiss School. A reception for the audience will follow sponsored by the Center for Global Understanding and Independent Thinking.

About the Speaker:

Orville Schell is a renowned China expert/journalist with a unique understanding of China and exceptional access to China’s next generation of leaders. The author of fourteen books, nine of them about China, and the contributor to numerous edited volumes, his most recent books are Virtual Tibet: Searching for Shangri la from the Himalayas to Hollywood, The China Reader: The Reform Years, and Mandate of Heaven: The Legacy of Tiananmen Square and the Next Generation of China’s Leaders.

In 2007, Orville Schell became director of the new Center on US-China Relations at the Asia Society. Prior to that, Schell served as Dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley.

At Salisbury Forums experts provide their insight, followed by a question and answer period. All forums are free to the public.

We hope you will join us at this Salisbury Forum.

Walter DeMelle
President

March 31, 2011, The Lakeville Journal: Photo historian speaks at Salisbury Forum

By
Leon Graham
leong@lakevillejournal.com
ROBIN KELSEY Photo Submitted

SALISBURY — The Salisbury Forum turns away from its usual sessions on global and national issues into the world of photography on Friday, April 8, at 7:30 p.m. when Harvard’s Robin Kelsey presents “How Photography Has Changed Our Lives — Performing for the Camera” at the Salisbury School’s Seifert Theater.

Kelsey, currently a visiting professor at Williams College, is the Shirley Carter Burden Professor of Photography in Harvard’s Department of History of Art and Architecture. Yet Kelsey followed an unusual, almost eccentric path to obtain that august title.

A child of two anthropologists teaching in Minnesota, he lived in a home where photographs were professional material for his parents: They told stories and documented field research in Mexico and among American Indians. But Kelsey intended to be an attorney. However, after receiving both undergraduate and law degrees from Yale, he found the study of law very different from its practice. He was unhappy, and he missed academia.

Kelsey became a doctoral student in art history at Harvard, where he planned a dissertation on American landscape painting. But when he was invited to speak at a professional meeting with no session on his subject, he chose instead to present a paper on 19th-century photographer Timothy O’Sullivan, a famous photographer of the Civil War and the American West.

“After I gave the talk, members of the audience said how happy they were I was working on this for my dissertation, which I wasn’t,” Kelsey said. “So I took this as a hint from the universe that I had perhaps stumbled upon a more promising topic” and switched gears.

His eventual dissertation covered O’Sullivan’s great photographic survey of the West.

When Harvard created a junior professorship in photography and offered it to him, Kelsey decided to accept rather than take a position at another school in more traditional areas of art history.

“I leapt into this professional formation of myself as a photo historian, which involved a steep learning curve since I had never done any graduate course work in the history of photography.”

Kelsey is especially drawn to the populist, democratic qualities of photography. Susan Sontag in her seminal 1977 collection of essays, “On Photography,” declared photography as important an art form as painting, particularly since the photographer “creates” by choosing to include — or eliminate — elements in his or her images. Whether Kelsey agrees with Sontag or not, he expresses “conflict” with the current practice of photography.

As a photographer himself, Kelsey says he suffers from “photographer’s block.” He feels “burdened by knowing all that has been done, the brilliant things that have been done.” But he is determined to “become more serious about the practice,” even as it means negotiating that past.

May 13, 2011: U.S. Healthcare: Why Not The Best?

Why reform healthcare? What reforms were passed? How will it help me? To help us better answer these questions, The Salisbury Forum in collaboration with the Foundation for Community Health is excited to announce that Karen Davis, President and CEO of The Commonwealth Fund will be speaking on Friday, May 13th at 7:30 in the Katherine M. Elfers Hall, in the Esther Eastman Music Center at The Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, CT.

While much has been said and written about the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) passed last year, the sheer size and complexity of the bill has been a major obstacle to understanding it. On May13th Dr. Davis will provide us with a picture of how the US healthcare system has performed to-date and compare this to the performance of health systems in other developed nations. She will then outline the basic components of the Affordable Care Act and share her thoughts on how the United States can use aspects of this law to set a path to improving the health of the American people as a whole.

Dr. Karen Davis, a health economist, has led the Commonwealth Fund since 1992. The Commonwealth Fund’s mission is to promote a high performing health care system that achieves better access, improved quality, and greater efficiency, particularly for society’s most vulnerable populations. Before joining the Commonwealth Fund, Dr. Davis served as chairman of the Department of Health Policy and Management at The Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, where she was also a professor of economics.

The Foundation for Community Health invests in people, programs and strategies that promote the health and well being of the residents living in the greater Harlem Valley in New York and the northwest hills of Connecticut.

March 3, 2011, The Lakeville Journal: Call to action to stop overfishing of the oceans

Call to action to stop overfishing of the oceans
By Janet Manko
March, 03, 2011

MILLERTON — It takes something special to get hundreds of people out on a snowy Sunday morning in February.

The Salisbury Forum and Moviehouse FilmWorks Forum presentation of “The End of the Line,” hosted by actor Sam Waterston at The Moviehouse, proved to be just the thing. All three theaters were full for the screening of the documentary film detailing the effects of overfishing in the world’s oceans and the human population.

Waterston introduced the film at each showing.

He also spoke after the screening and moderated a question-and-answer session in the large upstairs theater.

Waterston is on the board of directors of Oceana, a global nonprofit organization whose mission is to protect the world’s oceans.

On hand to field the tougher science questions was Oceana advocate and marine biologist Anna Gowan.

“We’re looking to educate the public on overfishing,” she said of the goal of the film.

“The End of the Line” (based on a book by Charles Clover) was directed by Rupert Murray and narrated by actor Ted Danson, who is also an Oceana board member.

The film presents interviews with scientists and fishing industry professionals, among others, who warn that if overfishing is not stopped within 40 years there will be no fish left for humans to eat.

The screening was sponsored by the Salisbury Forum, whose president, Walter DeMelle Jr., introduced Waterston to the audiences.

Waterston commented on the “terrific turnout” for the screening and asked the audience how many were already aware of the dangers of overfishing, and how many were at the film to learn about them.

It was about a 50/50 split. He encouraged all to take in the information presented in the movie and use it as the impetus to act and do something to affect change.

“Put simply,” he said, “we’re taking too much sea life out of the oceans, and putting too much bad stuff into them. We can make change.

“Let your representatives in Washington know you get it, that the strains are more than the oceans can bear.”

There was advice given both in the film and during the discussion on what seafood to buy to follow sustainable practices.

When asked what he consumes, Waterston confessed that he and his wife hardly ever eat seafood anymore.

“For us, it’s just too hard to keep up with the changes and to know if the information made available to the consumer is correct,” he said.

But he was quick to note that his fellow Oceana board member, renowned marine scientist Dr. Daniel Pauly, does not advise complete abstinence from seafood.

Saving the life of the oceans means seeing the big picture, he says, and that includes responsible and informed consumption of seafood.

The screening of “The End of the Line” was the first of the spring programs for the Salisbury Forum.

The next one will be Friday, April 8, at 7:30 p.m. at Salisbury School, titled “How Photography Has Changed Our Lives.” The speaker will be Robin Kelsey, a professor of photography and chair of the Harvard University Committee on the Arts.

For more on overfishing, go to oceana.org. For more on the Salisbury Forum, go to salisburyforum.org. For more on the FilmWorks Forum, which Moviehouse owner Robert Sadlon noted is now in its 14th year, go to themoviehouse.net.

© Copyright 2011 by TCExtra.com

April 8, 2011: How Photography Has Changed Our Lives – Performing for the Camera, from Daguerreotype to Facebook


Salisbury Forum April 8, 2011 at Salisbury School, Seifert Theater at 7:30 pm

“Smile for the camera,” the saying goes. But why does the camera need our smiles? On the evening of April 8th, Robin Kelsey, Burden Professor of Photography at Harvard University, will discuss the ways in which photography and its demands have infiltrated and shaped modern life. From the family vacation portrait to the White House photo-op, performing for the camera has become essential to how we represent ourselves to each other and to the world.

In these performances, the captivating vividness, exhilarating freedom, and troubling falseness of modernity, all come to the fore. By examining particular photographs in detail, we will walk through the history of performing for the camera from the earliest days of photography to our own moment, in the midst of the digital age.

Feb 27, 2011: End of the Line, Sam Waterston’s Remarks

Before we begin our Q & A, I want to bring the whole subject of sea life home, home to the USA, and home to New England. The damage to the ocean from pollution and mindless extraction crosses all international boundaries. There is no substitute for international pressure and action. Still, here, at home, we can make our weight felt as citizens. And what we learn here, about what works and what doesn’t, may very well apply elsewhere.

Going back to the beginnings of migration here from Europe, this country, and especially the Northeast, has always relied on the sea. All of the region’s early prosperity came from its connection to the sea. It was our first connection to the world, and, protected us from the world; it was a highway for people and trade; it was food and wealth, when whale oil lit our houses, when the Hudson River Estuary held fully half of the world’s oysters, when lobsters and cod and oysters were the cheapest food for the very poor, when Long Island farmers went fishing on a grand scale to fertilize their fields, when the Dutch settlers found so many fish they’d never seen before in New York harbor alone that they stopped giving them names and just gave them numbers, when there were Connecticut Yankees not just in King Arthur’s court, but in market places all over the world, and when cod were so plentiful in New England that huge specimens, up to a record 160lbs. were stacked like cordwood on New England docks and wharves. Our arts, from Winslow Homer and Herman Melville on, have been marked by the sea. The Gloucester fisherman, the Nantucket and New Bedford whaler, the oystermen of Long Island, the traders of Boston and New York, are all a part of the region’s communal mythology.

Until their recent unrelenting hammering by our technologically impressive, very efficient, very destructive, fishing fleets, and pollution of all kinds, the Grand Banks, the Georges Bank, the tidal estuaries from Maine to New Jersey, had been an inexhaustible cornucopia of sea life for our sustenance, delight, and wonder.

Only very recently has that changed. The depletion of the seas as a source of food local food is not even as old I am. It’s a current event.

Worldwide, there are more fishing boats and fishermen than there are fish to catch, enough to catch the available fish four times over. Many of these fleets are supported by government. The original idea was that tax-payers would pitch in together to keep fish prices within the reach of the most people possible, and encourage the development of a cheap and plentiful source of protein. But now, because all the commercial fisheries in the world are collapsing or have collapsed, our taxes are paying, not for more fish for all, but for the final destruction of the last remains of a resource on which at least a billion people depend. We are subsidizing the race to catch the last fish.

The seas are generous, still, they want to forgive us our past, still. There is a point of no return, but we haven’t quite hit it. Not yet. Not for everything.

The fisheries of the North East, which for many years were regularly cited as a prime example of mismanagement, after years of jaw-boning and law suits, by, among others, Oceana, the Conservation Law Foundation, and the Pew Charitable Trust, and the gradual realization by some fishermen themselves, that their way of life was threatened by their own activities, have, in the past two years, shown some encouraging signs of stabilization and recovery. Some fisheries, such as haddock, have begun modestly to rebuild.

But there is tremendous incentive to be impatient, to declare victory and go back to bad old ways. Fishermen and their boats are losing money when they sit in port, the ports themselves suffer, and those stuck on shore suspect that other, less regulated, fleets are poaching what they’re forbidden to catch. People’s livelihoods are at stake, big businesses have large interests to defend, and the pressure on politicians is vocal and hard to resist.

If you’re watching this movie, if you’re listening to me, you’re already interested in seeing good science and common sense prevail. My reason for being here this morning is my hope that today will be the day that your concern will lead to action. Make sure your representatives know where you stand on this. Make sure they know you ‘get it’, that you won’t be fooled by arguments that claim that, the minute any species of fish is doing better than last year, it’s time to quit worrying. Address yourselves to the politicians most susceptible to pressure to ease up, to kick the problem down the road. Write Barney Frank, especially if you approve of him on other issues, and tell him you’re watching what he does and doesn’t do about this. And google Oceana, check out their website. You’ll be impressed. If you are, make Oceana your agent. And if not Oceana, then someone. Make someone your agent. Oceana’s whole and sole business is to preserve, protect, and restore, the oceans. And I mean all the oceans. That’s what they do all day long. While you’re at work, they will work on this for you, if you lend them support.

I’ve brought a bunch of copies of a book, “Five Easy Pieces”, written by a member of Oceana’s board, who’s also my personal hero, Dr. Daniel Pauly, who you’ve just been watching in the film, a pioneer, a rigorous scientist, a great expert on fish, and a great advocate for the life of the sea. If you will join Oceana now, please take a copy home, on me. You’ll instantly become much smarter about the whole subject. No one will be able to befuddle you with pseudo-facts. You’ll know the score. I’m not scientifically gifted, shall we say, and this book is detailed science, but he’s an excellent writer, he uses vivid imagery, he has a high sense of irony, and his humor is there in the science, so that, even for me, the medicine goes down easily.

In the book, Dr. Pauly talks about the ‘shifting baseline’. Those of us who’ve lived in this part of the Northeast for a while, will easily recognize it: we are aware of the changes the years have brought, while a newcomer will be apt to see it as ‘untouched’, just as we saw it when we first looked at it, just as our predecessors saw it before us. So too with the general health of fisheries and sea life. The level of fish stocks observers find when they start looking, whatever they know about the past, becomes their experiential definition of normal. If there are few cod left to catch when you take your first look, if a sixteen pounder is a big one now, even if a cod fish weighing 160 pounds was not unheard of before, for you, that is ‘normal’. If there are more haddock this year than last year, or two years ago, people have a tough time worrying that 50 years ago there were 10 or 100 times as many, and are inclined to say, “They’ve rebuilt! Let’s go catch them!” With only a little restraint, a highly sustainable fishery could be restored, that’d return more fish for fishing effort, employ more people, and feed more people, at more profit and less cost. But we all have short memories and lots of impatience, so people, people such as yourselves, are badly needed who will advocate for reason and patience. We don’t instinctively consider that the rise in one specie’s numbers may be a side-effect of a dangerous depletion of other fish that used to eat them, or compete with them for habitat. There are more shrimp on the Grand Banks than there were when there were lots of cod, who liked to eat them. If you just look at the shrimp haul, things are great. If you think about the fact that the cod are gone forever, things are not so great. People are badly needed who will make sure we look at the whole eco-system. This is where you have a major role to play.

Scallops and shrimp replacing predator fish are an example of another subject Dr. Daniel Pauly talks about in his book: fishing down the food chain. This should get everyone’s attention, because it’s about what could land on your plate as sea food in the not-too-distant future. Briefly, if you fish out the predator fish — which we’re doing systematically everywhere in the world, with technology that leaves no rock anywhere in the ocean for a fish to hide under — the prey fish population explodes, and becomes the top of the food chain. Humans then go to town catching the new species at the top of the chain, setting about to fish them out in their turn. And so on, until you get to the bottom. The end of that line, in some cases, is jellyfish. When he gives a talk, Dr. Pauly often shows a picture of the future in the form of a great big jellyfish taking the place of the old ‘two-all beef patties’ in a Big Mac.

The future isn’t far away. There is a commercial jellyfish fishery in Newfoundland, where the cod fishery used to be. In Commonwealth countries, by law, the word fishsticks has had to be replaced, in some instances, by seafood sticks, or sea food extender, because there isn’t enough actual fish in the stick anymore to justify the use of the word. This may remind you of the suit now underway against Taco Bell over what you can call ‘beef’. Sarimi, the base of ‘imitation crab meat’, while made from fish, is an ersatz food. Even though, in China, jellyfish have been used in human food for more than a thousand years, it’s obvious that fishing down the food chain is a brutal impoverishment of the great, grand, eco-system that is sea life, which accounts for 80% of all the forms of life on the earth.

There are copies outside to take home of Oceana publications, too, also based on hard science. Take one home, show it around, spread the good word. All the beautifully produced and illustrated, easy-to-read, newsletters going back several years are accessible with a click, on Oceana’s website, at oceana.org. Please look in there for what Oceana’s done this year: it’s been a great year for the seas and an awful year, the best of times for preservation and protection, the worst of times for oil spills and the Gulf. For direct talk about what’s landing on your plate when you eat fish, look in there for the interview with the author of “Four Fish”, about cod, salmon, sea bass, and tuna, and the actual state of the seas. As an added attraction, or distraction, January Jones is in there, too, both looking great, and talking about sharks. Google Oceana when you get home. Find out what’s going on, and what you can do to move it along. No matter what, I hope you’ll take your concern home with you and act on it.

The movie you just saw has mostly talked about what we’ve been taking out of the ocean. The other side of the coin is what we’ve been putting in. Until now, the oceans have been an uncomplaining dump. They’ve absorbed our waste, our trash, the effluent from our sewers, and from manufacturing, including chemical plants, from power generation, nuclear waste and oil spills.

The sea life in the ocean, though sometimes becoming less safe for human consumption, has shown phenomenal resilience. But now, we are hitting it where it really hurts, raising the level of acidity of the oceans as a whole, which is directly analogous to making the air harder to breath for ourselves. If we don’t reverse this, if we don’t stop hammering the oceans, sea life, this time, may not recover.

For the last 250 years, the period of our Industrial Revolution and our expanding exploitation of every corner of the planet, the oceans have been a great carbon sink, absorbing 30% of the carbon dioxide we put into the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation, moderating and masking its global impact. Please take this fact home with you. The oceans take in 11 billion metric tons of CO2 per year. Each year the amount grows another 3%. The current acidification level, 30% higher than it was before the Industrial Revolution, hasn’t been seen for 20,000 million years, and acidification is coming on hundreds of times faster than ever before. The levels are alarming. The rate of change makes them even scarier: sea creatures don’t have time to adapt.

In contrast to the debate that continues about the causal relationship between this or that weather event and human activity — this drought, that storm, the other temperature rise — the evidence of the oceans is unequivocal. About ocean acidification, there is no debate.  The rise in the carbon dioxide content of the ocean is a man-made event, plain and simple, and the consequences of its continuing uncontrolled will belong squarely to us.  The only discussion now is whether to be concerned or not, and, if we let the course we’re on continue, it will make for some uncomfortable moments around the dinner table when our children and grandchildren ask, “What did you do in the (climate) war, Daddy?”

Please take this fact home with you: the 30% of the carbon dioxide humans release into the air that is absorbed by the seas is serious mischief for all kinds of sea life, beginning with corals, and pteropods, and continuing on through shellfish, clams, oysters, lobsters, mussels, and so on, because it reduces the amount of available carbonate they need to make the structures, the shells, and skeletons, and skins, which support them.  And so a chain reaction begins. Even those creatures whose own structural parts might better survive a decrease in available calcium in sea water, depend to one degree or another on critters with higher sensitivity.  Whales and salmon need pteropods for dinner.  The very tasty and much-prized Alaskan Pink Salmon, likes to make pteropods 45% of its diet, and all kinds of fish need corals for habitat, and corals aren’t just tropical, and the colder the water they live in, the more vulnerable they are to changes in the availability of carbonate.

As with any unwanted chain reaction, the thing to avoid reaching is critical mass, where the problem outruns any effort to control it. This particular chain reaction isn’t getting the right kind of attention.

If we take the warning, the oceans are ready to help. The power in the tides and in the waves is there to tap, and wind power is a technology that’s ready to go to work right now, near the great population centers on our coasts, where it’s most needed.

The sea can be a great new source, not just of renewable energy, but continuous and inexhaustible energy, for our own lives, and the lives of generations to come. Off shore wind farms off the coast from Washington to Eastport could supply the energy needs of all the cities and towns where so many of us in the Northeast still live by sea.

For 800,000 years the seas were a stable solution. For that long and longer, they have been an hospitable solution for all sorts of creatures to live in, and then, when we came along, a generous solution to all sorts of human problems, from food supply to waste disposal. We mustn’t turn them into a toxic cocktail for ourselves who depend on them, and the 80% of the life on the planet that lives in them.

Thanks for coming. There’s lots to talk about. The shortest way to state the problem of the seas is, “We’re taking too much out, and we’re putting too much in.” If you ask me, in the Q & A, there’s plenty more to say about what we’ve been putting in. And there’s lots of encouraging news to share about what’s been accomplished in just the past year, and the hope for the years ahead. Anna and I will be glad to take your questions on these, or any other, subjects you choose.

Feb. 27, 2011: End of the Line @ 11:00 a.m. The Moviehouse in Millerton, NY

The Salisbury Forum in collaboration with the FilmWorks Forum of The Moviehouse in Millerton, NY is presenting the documentary film, End of the Line followed by a Q&A with Sam Waterston Actor/Activist on Sunday, February 27th, at 11 a.m.

Waterston is best-known for his role as Jack McCoy on TV’s “Law and Order.” Waterston grew up in New England, where he saw the effects of fisheries collapses on the life of seaside towns; and presently is on the Board of Oceana.

There’s no disputing this documentary’s dire warning: namely, if we don’t stop overfishing, within less than 40 years there’ll be no fish left to eat. Based on a book by Charles Clover, director Rupert Murray’s The End of the Line, narrated by Ted Danson, travels around the globe to illustrate the severity of the problem.

October 15, 2010 Forum Video