Carl Safina is a critically acclaimed ecologist and marine conservationist whose latest book is The View from Lazy Point. You can check out Bruce Barcott’s review in our January issue. We caught up with the MacArthur "genius" award winner to chat about Lazy Point and what’s so unnatural about the world that we live in.
How long have you been a scientist, and what drew you to ecology and marine conservation?
By my nature, I was drawn to science and wanted to "be a scientist" when I was 7 or so. I grew up near seawater on Long Island so naturally gravitated to the docks and bays and boats and birds, doing a lot of fishing and crabbing.
All of college and grad school was science training—which I largely paid for by playing drums. Then I worked a decade studying seabirds, a decade advancing improved fisheries policies, and a decade writing books about how the oceans are changing and what the changes mean for wildlife and for people. But now I feel that my work is more about humanity’s relationship with the rest of the living world and the future.
This book functions as both elegy and advocacy. What's the main message you want people to remember from it?
That nature and human dignity require each other. In my travels I slowly came to see this. I’m interested in conserving nature, so it took me a while to see that saving nature from people is also saving it for people. For an extreme example, think of Haiti. Bad government, no freedom, no dignity, and as a result they destroyed their forest and land. And now the resulting poverty is a terrible trap. They have no remaining natural resources from which to draw a future, rebuild, or envision a path out. No dignity, no nature; no nature, no dignity. That dynamic is visible in a lot of places, and it’s at the root of some of the world’s recent strife.
And yet, the world still brims with life. There is so much left, but there is only so much left, and that means the stakes are high. I sense it in the migrations of birds and fishes and whales and others that surround us in the course of a natural year at Lazy Point. Their energy brings me sanity, solace, delight, and hope.