To Save the Ocean, We Need to Reconsider the Altruism Artifice

November 16th, 2022 at 12:54 pm UTC · 6 min read

To Save the Ocean, We Need to Reconsider the Altruism Artifice

The ongoing climate crisis has resulted in the loss of biodiversity, worldwide pollution, and overall environmental degradation. We have reached a point in which educating the younger generations on climate change seems almost superfluous. Our ocean is doing that for us.

Over the past few decades, evidence of the destruction of our planet has been brought to public attention, resulting in increased global awareness and the rapid evolution of climate action. The promotion of altruism has become a key function within environmentalism, believed to be a critical element and part of a solution to a fundamental problem.

Often described as a crucial element of the common good, as well as a key driver of charitable activities, altruism has been positioned as a necessary, if somewhat idealistic, part of society. Research suggests, however, that there are three main assumptions that explain people’s motivation to engage in pro-environmental behaviors: the assumption of egoism – that such behaviors are performed to benefit oneself; the assumption of altruism – to benefit others; and the assumption of a moral principle – a belief in the act itself, but not for oneself or anyone else.

Of all three of the above assumptions, the assumption of egoism, or self-benefit, ranks among the top motivations for pro-environmental decisions. This means that while altruism is indeed a factor in ‘altruistic behavior’, it is by no means the only factor to consider.

Bridging the Gap between Financial Incentivization and Conservation

While our future is inextricably linked to the wellbeing of our planet, even the most idealistic among us would have to agree that we can’t rely solely on human altruism in order to effect the greatest positive change. This doesn’t mean that public support isn’t necessary, but that altruism is only one factor within the conservation movement that includes other incentives and motivations.

Conservation psychology – the scientific study of “the reciprocal relationships between humans and the rest of nature, with the goal of encouraging conservation of the natural world”- argues that psychological science can help promote human behaviors that can protect and restore our environment. In practice, this can involve providing appropriate motivation, including financial or material motivation.

Among the tools used by conservationists to achieve the broader goals of sustainability, financial incentives have a crucial role to play. A paper published in the journal of the National Academy of Sciences outlined how economic-based incentives tend to be influenced and promoted by external actors, including governments, industry, and consumers. The paper noted how these incentives “reinforce behaviors that enable individual actors to act in their self-interest in a fashion that also aligns their behavior with the larger goals of communities or society”.

Positive incentives (the “carrot” approach) were shown to be more powerful and durable than negative incentives (“the stick”).

The Case of Ocean Conservation

Take ocean conservation as an example. According to a report by the CONOW Competence Centre for International Relations, the estimated cost of reducing marine pollution needed to conserve the oceans, seas, and marine resources for sustainable development is over $175 billion.

At the UN’s first Ocean Conference, businesses promised just 8% of commitments to take action on this sustainable development goal, and researchers estimate that money pledged right now for ocean conservation totals around $25 billion yearly.

This leaves a gap of $150 billion.

Relying on individual altruism to fill this gap would require the donation of an extraordinary amount of money. The problem with philanthropy is that it relies on the collective donations of large numbers of individuals to fill in the gaps of policy makers.

Rather than depending on the assumption that humanity will be moved (when necessary) to act upon environmental change based on a ‘needs’ approach, other more positive incentives are necessary. In order to create sustainable changes in people’s behaviors, we must therefore provide tangible and desirable incentives for people to act within the principles of the environmental agenda.

The pervasive importance of ocean conservation to humanity’s wellbeing cannot be underestimated. Our oceans contain 99% of the habitable space on the planet, and less than 10% of that space has been explored by humans, making a logical connection between preservation and exploration. The Ocean Conservation Exploration and Education Foundation (OCEEF) aims to educate the world about the ocean and develop practical ways to help save it. OCEEF believes that our ocean is critical to our future, and is taking one of the most advanced research vessels around the globe to change the way people see ocean conservation and stimulate real tangible change. Pioneering research scientists and ocean adventurers will join the research vessel as it accesses some of the deepest parts of the ocean to undertake a once-in-a-lifetime  mission, leveraging the latest technology to broadcast this to the rest of the world.

New Models of Conservation

The not-for-profit organization OCEEF is a conservation project that believes in providing both altruistic and material motivations for people to contribute to ocean conservationism. OCEEF combines both an altruistic-led approach with one that focuses on exploration and adventure that leverages NFT technology.

OCEEF has 15  upcoming missions over 2022/2023 – with a limited number of NFT tickets available to those who are seeking a truly unique experience. These missions will raise awareness for ocean conservation efforts and provide a place for scientists and climate activists to come together under one banner. OCEEF is inviting researchers to document their discoveries  and record their experiences for the world to see, whilst also providing access to the world to follow along in real-time with The Odyssey’s journey via a live stream and wider tracking tools.

Alongside OCEEF’s goal to bring unparalleled expeditions to the world, they are also pioneering the field of not-for-profit governance by operating key decisions through a Decentralised Autonomous Organisation (DAO) in partnership with Polygon. The DAO structure empowers participants by allowing them to have a stake in the decision-making process and gives participants a voice in how we can save our oceans. Using a Web3 approach to the problem of ocean conservation OCEEF facilitates real tangible change through their unique incentives that include financial, as well as experiential, all in the name of climate conservation.

Given the need for drastic action, and in order to achieve a real, meaningful, and long-term impact on the climate crisis, society can’t rely exclusively on our propensity for altruism. Instead, humanity is more likely to be swayed by tangible and desirable incentives that accelerate engagement and facilitate improved behaviors towards the environment. While altruism is indeed a crucial part of the conservation debate, more radical and experimental change is needed to shift the tide of change in the right direction.

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