If you’re one of the millions of people who caught the new environmental documentary, Seaspiracy, on Netflix, you’re likely experiencing a lot of feelings right now. From the intense animal cruelty to the brutal human slavery to the boundless ocean pollution, there was no shortage of injustices documented in the film, which examines the impact of aquaculture on the climate crisis. Whether you’re experiencing anger, hopelessness, distress, or some combination of all three, take a moment to recognize that your feelings are valid.
9 Ways to Be An Active Part of the Solution to Climate Change
Before you resign to the idea that making the world a better place is simply impossible, first, we’d like to suggest you take a deep breath. While some of the footage in the film was undeniably agonizing, none of it can discount your desire to do good. And there are ways you can take actionable steps to positively impact the environment, help the oceans recover, and perhaps most importantly, feel like your contributions matter—because they do. Here are a few places to start.
Don’t Feel Overwhelmed—You Can Make a Difference
Watching something as harrowing as Seaspiracy can stir up feelings of hopelessness and climate anxiety. But withdrawing from the cause won’t help it. So after you let yourself process what you’ve seen, find inspiration in the fact that you can make a difference. Grassroots movements are the backbone of change: It’s our collective action that can ignite progress. It can feel hard at times. But, it’s on all of us to use the outrage we feel over these injustices as fuel to fight for what we know is right.
Always Remember There’s More Than One Side to a Story
While Seaspiracy shone a light on some of the dark corners of the fishing industry, some feel that it didn’t necessarily take a balanced approach. Many members of the scientific community are devastated by the film’s not-so-nuanced portrayal of what goes on in fishing and conservation, says Christine Figgener, Ph.D, a marine conservation biologist and the director of science and conservation for COASTS.
“There’s a lot of misconception in it and a lot of anger against the film in the conservation community,” Figgener says. “The film is trying to oversimplify ocean conservation and what you can do.”
For what it’s worth, Figgener and many of her peers believe the documentary’s ultimate goal was to present veganism as the only option for sustainability, and it relies on sensationalism to get its message across.
“It goes straight to your emotions and your reptilian brain, with its evocative images and music — it’s all meant for you to feel a certain way,” Figgener says this strategy is manipulative and damaging. “Amongst us marine conservationists — we will probably spend years doing damage control,” she says.
Kip Andersen, the producer of Seaspiracy, has made a career producing movies that get a lot of flak and fact-checking. While he’s talented and able to raise awareness about critical sustainability issues, his films generally promote veganism as the only solution. And notably, Andersen is not a scientist.
It is easier and more engaging to tell a harrowing story than to go through the complex details of an entire industry. Figgener says the film fails to be thoughtful in many respects. And to her, one of the most infuriating aspects is that it doesn’t distinguish between industrial fisheries and local and artisan fisheries.
All of this is to say: The issues and solutions to the ocean crisis are not as black and white or succinct as a one-and-a-half hour movie may have you believing. And, there are many trusted and valued organizations out there that are working to change the industry for the better.
So this documentary reeled you in. It helped you see there are some major issues in the fishing industry. Yes, it’s true: Our oceans are hurting. Now it’s time to learn more and do your own research. Especially because of the controversy over the misinformation in this film, it’s important to investigate other resources that can help you paint a more accurate picture of what’s going on. If climate documentaries are your thing, Figgener recommends the following:
The Cove: Academy Award Winner for Best Documentary of 2009, The Cove follows a group of activists that explore the dolphin hunting practices in Japan. It’s both hard to watch and illuminating.
Keiko: The Untold Story of the Star of Free Willy: This 2010 documentary film focuses on Keiko, the orca best known for starring in the film Free Willy and its two sequels. Keiko was the first captive orca to be released back into the wild.
The End of the Line: Filmed over two years, The End of the Line exposes the fishing industry and politicians who are failing to protect the world’s fish stocks.
Ghost Fleet: Ghost Fleet provides an intimate and disturbing look into the lives of the enslaved people in the Thai fishing industry. It follows a group of activists who risk their lives to help the fisherman return home.
The Story of Plastic: Maybe you’ve heard about the false promises of recycling? This documentary uncovers how we got here. It exposes the lengths oil and gas industry leaders take to evade responsibility for our current global plastic pollution crisis.
A Plastic Ocean: This 2016 adventure documentary film explores the environmental impacts of the plastic build up in our ocean waters. You’ll watch a group of divers travel to more than a dozen spots around the world, exploring the fragile state of our oceans — and offering solutions to fix it.
The Last Ocean: This documentary raises poignant questions about sustainable fishing by sharing the efforts of activists racing to protect the planet’s last untouched ocean — Antarctica’s Ross Sea — from being overtaken for human benefit.
Chasing Corals: Coral reefs are the most diverse ecosystem in the ocean, and they are the foundation for marine life. But they are being destroyed at an alarming rate. Chasing Corals looks to understand why that is, and what needs to be done to save them.
Sea of Shadows: This National Geographic film is a thriller and documentary all in one. It follows a dedicated team who put it all on the line to stop Mexican drug cartels and Chinese traffickers whose illegal schemes threaten to eviscerate virtually all of the marine life in the Sea of Cortez.
Mission Blue: Emmy Award-winning documentary Mission Blue follows oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle on her quest trying to protect the ocean from pollution, overfishing and climate change.
Our Planet: Also an Emmy Award winner, this documentary series on Netflix puts the natural beauty of the world on center stage. It encourages viewers to take action to promote the health of the planet.
Eat Less Seafood
If you have the option to eat fewer fish, it’s one you can take to support the cause for better ocean practices. But, as Figgener points out, remember that having the option to go vegan is a privilege. There are many communities around the world that rely on seafood to survive—both economically and physically. These are generally not the ones engaging in practices that deplete the ocean.
Conservationists might not recommend cutting out fish for this very reason.
“We believe people have the right to choose what they eat,” an Oceana spokesperson told LIVEKINDLY in an email. “So, if you want to consume less fish that is great. However, eating less or no fish is not an option for the hundreds of millions of people around the world who depend on coastal fisheries – many of whom are also facing poverty, hunger, and malnutrition.” These very communities are put at even greater risk by the global fishing industry depleting their local oceans.
It is important to note that cutting back on or eliminating seafood has a positive impact on climate change. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, a third of commercial fish stocks are being depleted at unsustainable levels. Ninety percent have been fully exploited. As the demand for fish increases, ocean supplies become more quickly depleted, which disrupts ecosystems. As a result, fish becomes less available for the people who depend on it for their livelihood.
Commercial fishing practices don’t just harm the fish meant to be caught, but those that are accidentally captured, called “bycatch,” which often includes injured marine animals that are thrown back into the water left to die.
According to an August 2020 study in Scientific Reports, 9.1 million tonnes of global catch is discarded annually. This practice is harmful for many reasons, one of which relates to disrupting the ecosystem. “Discards can also alter ecosystem structure and processes,” the study authors write. “For example, discards can chyange scavengers’ foraging behavior, distribution, diet, competition amongst species and community composition.”
While fish generally have a lower carbon footprint than land animals, the emissions from fisheries working to catch and farm different species really adds up.
And good news for seafood lovers looking to change their diets to be more sustainable. Plant-based seafood is expected to grow over the next few years.
The food giant Tyson, for example, backed New Wave Food, a plant-based shrimp company that recently raised $18 million in a Series A funding round. Other players in the space include Good Catch Foods; a chef-driven brand that makes vegan tuna and crab cakes, Quorn; which sells vegan fish sticks and fillets in the UK and other countries, Fry’s Family Foods; a South Africa-based brand that makes plant-based prawns and fillets.
Look Out for Greenwashing
Some labels are trustworthy, while others should be ignored. For example, the word “sustainable” means nothing on its own; you’ll want to look for reputable certifications to ensure the food you buy is farmed, caught, and managed with practices that consider implications beyond profit. This is true for all food, not just fish.
Unfortunately, spotting a label on a product doesn’t mean your job is done. As consumers, we need to take the time to do our own research to ensure what’s conveyed in a seal is actually true.
Labels and certifications aren’t a guarantee of perfection — even fair trade and organic have their problems. But they do represent a level of responsibility that foods without certification can’t claim.
Buying from manufacturers that invest in sustainable practices also sends a signal to the food industry about what consumers care about. There are reputable resources for understanding where your food comes from and how it was treated. For seafood, consider WWF Seafood Guide, Seafood Watch, Greenpeace’s Supermarket Seafood Ranking, and Marine Conservation Society Good Fish Guide. And learn more about how to spot greenwashing here.
Continue Your Fight Against Plastic
Cut out single-use plastic as much as you can, and demand responsibility from the manufacturers that are culpable for plastic pollution. Plastic isn’t only detrimental to the oceans. It also hurts non-marine wildlife and human populations, particularly those belonging to marginalized communities, according to a recent report from the UN Environmental Programme. Plastic production relies on fossil fuels, which are closely linked to climate change.
It’s estimated that more than 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic has been produced since the early 1950s. And, about 60 percent of that plastic has ended up in a landfill or in the natural environment, according to the UN Environment Program (UNEP). Plastic makes up approximately 80 percent of all ocean litter.
Microplastics, which are pieces of plastic less than 5mm in size (ranging from microscopic to the length of a grain of rice), have been found in our food, our drinking water, and throughout the ocean. These tiny pieces are dangerous to marine life. But, the implications they have on human health still need more investigation.
The good news? You can do something to prevent these tiny pieces of plastics from entering our waterways and food system. Here are a few ways to start:
Dispose of your personal care items properly. When flushed down the toilet, things like wet wipes, contact lenses, sanitary products, and dental floss can cause blockages and flooding. They frequently end up in public waterways.
Do fewer loads of laundry, and only run the machine when it’s full. Many of our clothing contains microplastics, which make their way into waterways through our washing machines. You can purchase special tools to help trap the tiny pieces to prevent them from further damage.
Cut back on plastic in any way possible. Only 9 percent of plastic is recycled. The remaining 91 percent ends up in places where it ultimately breaks down into minuscule pieces and perpetuates the microplastic problem.
Consider Your Environmental Footprint Holistically
Is it really “better” to eat a vegan meat alternative instead of a locally-caught fish if the former is imported from another country? Carbon emissions are not prescriptive (if only it were that easy). So it’s valuable to consider your choices within the context that you make them. “If you want to be part of the solution to our ocean issues, you have to address climate change urgently,” Figgener says.
While you may not connect meat consumption with ocean health, cutting back on meat can help reduce detrimental practices of industrial farming that affects our waters. Toxic runoff from farms that contaminates water, kills marine life, promotes algae blooms, and creates dead zones.
Combating climate change is supporting the ocean. So to propel the fight, continue to cut back on your meat consumption, buy less, opt-out of fast-fashion, and vote with your dollar.
Support Climate-Forward Policy
Everything from regulating carbon emissions to holding the biggest polluters accountable can benefit the planet.
By backing policies, we’re able to have a bigger impact. Governments can do things like regulate and reduce meat consumption and waste production at scale. Get politically involved. Write to government officials and help fund conservation groups whose mission you’re aligned with. There is great power in numbers, and there are so many organizations that would benefit from your participation.
One way to help fight climate change is to keep talking about it and get others on board. New research from the University of British Columbia offers some helpful insight into biases towards environmental information. It also shares tools for communicating about climate change more effectively.
“It is an increasingly urgent global challenge and we need to do something about it fast,” Prof. Jiaying Zhao, one of the study’s authors, said. The study suggests framing the consequences of climate change to align with a specific group’s values and cognitive processes. For conservatives, for example, talking about how environmental practices could benefit the economy may be effective.
For parents, you might talk about the effects climate change will have on future generations. “Regardless of your political orientation, if it’s going to harm your children, every parent will want to take action,” Zhao said.
You can show up for the planet by volunteering with groups you trust. There are beach clean-up efforts, food coalition initiatives, green energy education platforms and SO much more. There are even ways to volunteer from home. With a little research, you can find a cause that matters to you and help make a difference.