GCSC Presents: Seminar Speaker Dr. Robin Craig

By Liz Ivkovich, Sustainability Office

This post is the first of our series highlighting the innovative research presented by the GCSC Seminar Series. Dr. Robin Craig will be kicking off the bi-monthly series on Tuesday, Aug. 30 at 4 p.m., in 210 ASB (Aline W. Skaggs Biology Building).

When Robin Craig met Melinda Benson, they were both fed up with the assumption that natural conditions can be sustained. Their frustrations grew into six-year research collaboration, culminating in their new book, The End of Sustainability.

Headshot of Dr. Robin CraigCraig is the William H. Leary Professor of Law at the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law, and she will launch the Global Change and Sustainability Center Seminar Series with her lecture Rethinking Sustainability to Deal with the Climate Change Trickster: Resilience Theory, the Anthropocene, and the Example of Marine Fisheries.

Craig is a California beach kid whose passion for aquatic ecosystems grew into a career in natural resources management policy and law. Historically, these laws and policies have been based on the assumption that the restoration of our natural systems, or a specific species, is always possible. This assumption dictates the way that people use natural resources. For example, commercial fishing practices often aim towards maximum sustainable yield; the largest average yield (catch) that can theoretically be taken from a species’ stock over an indefinite period, under constant environmental conditions.

During a life-changing trip to the coral reefs of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, Craig observed a stark difference between this relatively pristine area and the aquatic ecosystem near human populated regions. Her observations confirmed her belief that conventional approaches to fisheries management are actually unsustainable, in part because environmental conditions are not constant.

She explains, “Ocean currents are changing as a result of climate change; ocean temperatures are warming, sea levels are rising, and there are profound levels of acidification. All of these phenomena are worse in some places than others. We know that when these impacts combine, species begin to move around. Species tend to be moving toward the Poles, but not all at the same rate, and they’re not moving in ecosystems units. We have species mixing up in way that we cannot understand or predict.” In short, “…scientifically and legally, we’re entering a period where it’s basically impossible to define what sustainable human use of anything actually is.”

Fish swimming underwater in a coral reef.

Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument by Claire Fackler, CINMS, NOAA is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

The future of our oceans is unpredictable, and for Craig, this uncertainty means the management strategies that worked in the past may not work in the future. Her research implicates not just marine fisheries, but other natural resource management policies and laws as well.

“We need to completely reimagine our relationship to the natural world, and we need to do that in a way that doesn’t prompt despair or disempowerment,” Craig states.

Staring into the face of a rapidly changing globe without losing hope is a tall order. Through their book, Craig and Benson hope to inspire not just a policy shift, but also a cultural movement, challenging consumption patterns at multiple levels of society. They hope that the mythological figure of the Trickster, drawn from Native American tradition, can lead the way. The Trickster embodies change and chaos as a natural part of life.

Craig explains, “The Trickster narratives are entertaining, but also very empowering. They say basically, yeah you’re not in control of everything, but that doesn’t mean you can’t react to the changes going on around you in productive ways. It’s a pretty radical vision, but we think it’s a necessary one.”

Learn more about the end of sustainability, the radical Trickster, and the importance of embracing change and adaptation at Dr. Robin Craig’s presentation; Aug. 30, ASB, 4 p.m.

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