Sustainable voices

Pia Ve Dahlen

Marine biologist and co-founder Passion for Ocean

Who, What, Where?

Pia Ve Dahlen, 33 year old Marine biologist from Norway. Co-founder and academic leader of Passion for Ocean, Co-founder and owner of “Rent a biologist”

What was your a-ha moment that made you become engaged in sustainability?

Heh. Good question. I don’t really know, I think it’s always kind of been there. When I was a kid I desperately wanted to be part of Blekkulfklubben, and I got involved in local politics and Nator&Ungdom when I was around 15. I did have a weird little pause when I was a student, however, but on my path into becoming a marine biologist, conservation and caring for the planet has sort of just felt like a natural part of it all along.

What is your single best tip for someone who wants to do more for the environment on a personal level?

Get learnt! Learn critical thinking, and get involved. Sorry, long answer inbound. You need knowledge about how nature and ecosystems work, in order to actually do something useful for it. You don’t need a phD in physics, but a minimal understanding of what a cascading effect is, and how one action can affect the environment in a big way. As soon as you start understanding how nature is actually held together, you get a better understanding of what it needs. We have a ridiculous tendency to just make up solutions to today’s problems, without having any clue of what we’re actually trying to save. One easy example is this whole organic cotton tote bag wave that everybody wants to be part of because it makes you look so woke and cool. Yes, they pollute less if they end up in a landfill or in the forest than say a plastic bag, but the production of them spews out so much pollution in the process. So instead of going into the root of the problem: the human mindset and our attitudes towards nature as something we’ve earned the right to do whatever we want to, we create a quick fix, ignoring that we’re just creating a new problem that’s even worse. I could probably hold a 5h lecture on this stuff, but the point of it all is: We all need to get more involved in making natural sciences fun and interesting again. The scientific community has failed mankind in a spectacular way in not being able to communicate their findings in an understandable way. As a result, we now have anti-vaxxers, flat earthers, climate “sceptics”, chemtrail fanatics, Trump-supporters and people who think 5G will give you corona. So befriend a flower, talk to a barnacle and get to know your local kelp forest. I promise you that the curiosity that sprouts from exploring your own backyard will trigger a deeper understanding of what it needs, and a drive forward a new will to learn more.

What do you think will be the legacy of your generation?

As Birgit Liodden (Founder/CEO, The Ocean Opportunity Lab) says is: last generation fucked it up, next generation gets to clean it up. Our generation has to build the bridge, and help find the solutions we need to get in place. Or, ‘buy the mops” the next generation can use in their big cleanup. In many ways I feel like my generation was finally the one that got nature, science, sustainability and care for Mother earth on the international agenda.

What is the most critical technological breakthrough that needs to happen for the world to reach the 1,5 degree goal?

A microchip that we can insert into the heads of today’s politicians and decision makers to make them actually understand what’s going on. It is embarrassing to sit idle and watch the shitshow that is both Norwegian and International politics today. So many words, so little action. We have the solutions we need, we just need someone with power to decide that this is the way to go. We have amazing stuff like kelp farming (that absorbs a ridiculous amount of CO2 from the atmosphere), regenerating biotopes (a living habitat is a BIG carbon-sink), installing solar panels, drive more non-emission, cut down on consumption, de-centralize and implement an actual circular economy and not just talk about it as a success story if you put your little plastic wrapper in the right trash bag. But most politicians today are more concerned about the next round of elections to actually get things done, so we either have to do it ourselves or just sit by and watch the world literally burn.

What will this breakthrough demand from us as a society?

To be fair I don’t think it would change that much, but we do need to re-learn how to buy quality instead of quantity, and fix what is broken. Jesus, we consume such insane amounts, and waste even more, and we’re not even super happy with all our stuff. We need a Marie Condo in every city.

What is your company’s most impactful contribution to fight climate change?

Making science fun again. Spreading knowledge and showing people how amazing nature in general and the ocean in particular, is. We want to get back to the roots of the old, proud Norwegain sea-folks. The vikings that once were shipping pioneers, tradesmen, fishers, travelers and explorers are the ones we need to reconnect with (maybe excluding that whole pillage and rape-thing). We solemnly believe that you protect what you love, and that the will to change your habits come automatically once you realize that your actions are destroying something you care for. So we try to introduce people to the ocean through passion (activities like sailing, surfing, fishing, diving etc, knowledge (marine biology and what is really out there) and action (what can you as a consumer, business or politician do). We try to fill in the gap between all the problems and all the solutions, and work with the “why”-part of ocean conservation.

In your industry, what do you think will be the most groundbreaking change over the next 10 years?

Big things are starting to happen in the shipping and fisheries industry, but there is also a lot going on in the food industry. We need less emissions, less by-catch and less food waste. But to be honest I don’t think we’ll get where we need to be before we start actually talking with each other and not just to one another. We keep widening the gap in society in general, with racism, homophobia, religious extremism and other ridiculous ideologies. Just watching what is unfolding in the states these days makes my skin crawl. And we also need to get our heads out of our asses and actually communicate outside of the bubble. It’s easy to be optimistic when you’re trapped in your little echo chamber bubble, so we need to find a way to reach all the millions of people who really don’t give a shit. I hope that will be the biggest change in 10 years. Reasonable and respectful talks where facts can help you change your mind, instead of stale, angry debates where it’s being considered a failure to listen to reason, and you get death threats for saying anything out in public. Today’s debate climate is toxic, we need to change that.

Which brand (in general) do you think is at the forefront when it comes to sustainability?

This one is a slippery slope, because it is extremely difficult to tell the difference between greenwashing and actual action. It’s kind of difficult to say that anyone that produces anything from scratch is sustainable, and I know too many good ones to start listing (I will definitely forget someone). But I wanna lift up Hannah Nordh. She is an interior architect and one of my heroes. She creates incredible furniture out of things that would otherwise end up on the dump, working tirelessly to teach people how to fix their own stuff and reuse stuff they find online.

What makes you climate positive about the future?

The determination of the next generation and their ability to change and adapt rapidly.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

So, so much. But I’m gonna just stick to what I said about getting involved locally: Help preserve the few living habitats we have left. Bogs/wetlands help capture CO2, feed the wildlife (especially birds), filter water (so it won’t run off and pollute the coastal areas) and retain water, minimizing floods. Your local eelgrass bed and kelp forest are the ones suffering because every single Norwegians needs a cabin by the sea and local governments want to expand their marinas. The old forest is home to a gazillion species, and also stores immense amounts of carbon in the soil. They desperately need protection, and are our most important allies in the fight against climate change.

Photo credit

Marte Haraldsen

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