The Lure Of Magic Bullets

Last night my wife and I sat down to watch Artifishal, Patagonia’s latest film about “people, rivers, and the fight for the future of wild fish and the environment that supports them. It explores wild salmon’s slide toward extinction, threats posed by fish hatcheries and fish farms, and our continued loss of faith in nature.

It was a fascinating and to my eyes, well balanced account of the danger wild salmon and trout face from fish farming and stock management. It’s free to watch on YouTube and Patagonia’s site at the moment and is well worth your time. 

A parable for our times

For me the film provides a parable on our current wish to have our cake and eat it. The ancient salmon runs in North America were identified as being ideal for damming and hydro-electric power.  With the dams came the salmon farms and hatcheries which were a way of trying to protect the salmon that found their routes upriver, back to their spawning grounds, blocked by the damns.

In spite of those efforts , year on year, the overall number of salmon are falling despite ever increasing numbers of farmed salmon being released into the rivers and seas. The problem appears to be that the farmed salmon are not as healthy or as robust as their wild counterparts. They don’t suffer the hardships of living in the wild and when they are released they are smaller, weaker and less genetically diverse than their wild cousins. The farmed fish are diluting the genetic pool, spreading disease and taking resources. 

The film does a much better job of explaining things than I can. But one thing that struck me as I watched was a parallel between the fish hatcheries and “management” and an aspect of the work we do with One Tree.

Why changing behaviour is more important than mitigation

One of the most regularly asked questions we hear is “can we just offset our activities”? Technically this is possible and offsetting is a part of what we are doing, but to us it represents a last resort. Our main aim is to help change behaviours and aid our Collective members to make long term, robust changes to the way they run their businesses. To use a fishy metaphor, making those changes is like a Salmon growing in the wild, getting bigger, stronger and more robust while offsetting is fish farming.

Choosing to carry on business as usual while trying to offset your activities is a noble step. It can help in the short term but without behavioural changes all it does it allow you to buy your way out of making what we see are necessary changes. Our Pledge system allows companies to start making those changes, with the ultimate goal being to make carbon offsetting obsolete for all our Collective. That goal is in the distance but we are fighting our way upstream*, leaping waterfalls, with our eyes on the prize.

* I know, I know. Salmon swim upstream to spawn and then they die. It’s a metaphor.  But, if you watch the film you’d know that when the Salmon die their bodies perform a vital role in nourishing the biosphere around them. Ultimately if our metaphorical salmon-y doom is to complete our stated goal and then go into the mountains, our legacy spreading to the surrounding area, encouraging growth and development we’d be very happy with that…