Ensuring better access to healthier and more sustainable diets for all citizens around the world in order to recommend actions that governments may incorporate into their national nutrition, health, and agriculture plans.
by Leopold Aschenbrenner
For thousands of years, our civilization was preempt in a daily struggle to survive. We could barely sustain ourselves, with food being scarce and low-nutritious. However, times have changed.
Today, in many parts of our modern society, everything is available in excess. We can buy everything from a store next door, ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’. Human evolution hasn’t caught up yet, and so we still crave calories, sweetness, and hearty meals. However, this has lead the world to great distress. The so-called Epidemiology of Obesity has hit the world strongly, with an estimated 2.1 billion overweight adults in 2013. In the United States alone, obesity causes about 300,000 excess deaths per year. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 500 million people (greater than 10% of the population) are afflicted with obesity. While once considered a problem of high-income countries, obesity rates are now rising worldwide, in both the developed and developing world. The contemporary prevalence of a lack of equilibrium in diet, especially in relation to the lower levels of physical exertion, has now raised large alarm in governments. Many have tried to implement measures to allow citizens to combat this epidemic, yet they have been ineffective and sparse. In order to provision sustainable and healthy diet for all citizens, it is high time for the international community to counteract these trends.
Definition of Key Terms
Body Mass Index
The body mass index, or BMI, is a measure of size based on the relation between the mass and height of a human. It was developed between 1830 - 1850 by Adolphe Quetelet and is utilized as a simple method in order to assess the relative body weight of a person and predict health outcomes. Through this, it is possible to understand if one is at a healthy weight. The index is calculated through to coefficient of the mass in kilograms and the height in meters squared.
Underweight, normal weight, overweight, and obese are defined for adults in relation to the BMI by the World Health Organization (WHO) in the following diagram. Note that for children and adolescents, these measures can vary. Also, as Asian populations develop negative health consequences at lower BMI than Caucasians, some nations, such as Japan, have redefined obesity to lower values.
Until the late 19th century, obesity was rarely seen. It was not until then until it became internationally prevalent, so much so that the WHO formally recognized it as a global epidemic in 1997. Obesity rates are rising at extreme pace, not only in MEDCs. This remains especially rife in urban areas. In its June 2014 report on the problems of obesity affecting people across the globe, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that a major part of the population is obese, as shown by the map below. They also discovered as especially problematic and vexing that about 20% of children are affected by obesity.
A healthy diet is one that helps maintain or improve overall health. To achieve this, it must provide the body with essential nutrition: fluids, adequate amino acids from protein, essential fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, and adequate calories. While the general public may superimpose that calories are the main factor, this is not the case. Although calories serve as a basic measure of the intake that the body can burn, a properly balanced diet in other facets is also necessary to diminish health risks. The World Health Organization (WHO) makes the following 5 recommendations for a healthy diet:
- Eat roughly the same amount of calories that your body is using. A healthy weight is a balance between energy consumed and energy that is 'burnt off'.
- Limit intake of fats, and prefer less unhealthy unsaturated fats to saturated fats and trans fats.
- Increase consumption of plant foods, particularly fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and nuts.
- Limit the intake of sugar. A 2003 report recommends less than 10% simple sugars.
- Limit salt / sodium consumption from all sources and ensure that salt is iodized.
Eating disorders are psychological illnesses defined by abnormal eating habits that may involve either insufficient or excessive food intake. This can be detrimental to an individual's physical and mental health. Some eating disorders include (note: purging includes self-induced vomiting, over-exercising, and the usage of diuretics, enemas, and laxatives):
Anorexia nervosa: extreme food restriction to the point of self-starvation and excessive weight loss
restrictive type: restrictive food intake and over-exercising
binge/purge type: overeat and compensate through some method of purging
Bulimia nervosa: binge eating and purging, different to the Anorexia nervosa binge/purge type lie in the body weight of the person: an individual suffering from Bulimia nervosa have a normal-obese body weight
While the precise causes of eating disorders are not understood, many scientists link it to the cultural idealization of thinness and a negative body image.
Roots of the Issue
In our 21st century world, obesity is ubiquitous – the leading preventable cause of death worldwide. But how have we come here? From where does this come from?
At a lower level, a combination of excessive food energy and a lack of physical activity is proclaimed to explain most case, although specific individuals may be plagued with genetical disadvantage, or psychiatric illness (eating disorder).
The dietary energy supply per capita has transformed significantly in the past decades. As the chart below illustrates, the amount of food available to an individual has markedly risen. While developed countries, such as the United States, only were capable of providing around 2,400 kcal (around 10,000 kJ) per capita in 1961, this has risen to 3,754 kcal (15,710 kJ) in the United States in 2003, with strong trends upwards. These observations are especially prominent in developing countries. While China could barely provide about 1,600 kcal (6,700 kJ) per person in 1961, it now provisions about 2,800 kcal (11,700 kJ) per capita. There has been clear scientific evidence that total food energy consumption has a strong correlation to obesity. For reference, the RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) positions the recommended energy intake per capita per day at around 2000 kcal.
However, contrary to common belief, the pure amount of energy is not the only factor. Sugar prevails as particularly harmful, with addiction-like symptoms and a difficult processing in the human body. Sweetened beverages, such as soft drinks, fruit drinks, iced tea, and energy and vitamin water drinks, contribute largely to the issue, especially due to their societal omnipresence. These drinks now account for almost 25 percent of daily food intake of young adults in America. “Sugary drinks are blamed for increasing the rates of chronic disease and obesity in America. Yet efforts to reduce their consumption through taxes or other measures have gone nowhere. The beverage industry has spent millions defeating them.”, Robert Reich, American economist, explains. Although there have been propose laws in especially affected countries, such as the USA, the humongous and hugely profitable sugar industry has been able to prevent these.
Furthermore, lower food prices contribute substantially to the obesity epidemic, “I don't know too many parents that want to feed their kids soda, but high-fructose corn syrup is cheap. The price of soda in 20 years has gone down 40 percent while the price of whole foods, fruits and vegetables, has gone up 40 percent and obesity goes up right along that curve.”, so Tom Colicchio (journalist). Fast food meals are ubiquitous, cheap, and fast, lure many to consume them. So illuminates Carl Honore, journalist, “In our fast-forward culture, we have lost the art of eating well. Food is often little more than fuel to pour down the hatch while doing other stuff - surfing the Web, driving, walking along the street. Dining al desko is now the norm in many workplaces. All of this speed takes a toll. Obesity, eating disorders and poor nutrition are rife.” Particularly, this leads to large societal disparities in obesity, as poverty forces families to choose cheaper, unhealthy food over expensive, healthy produce.
While proper diet remains vital to combating obesity, the modern sedentary lifestyle practiced by many prevails as a significant cause of obesity and health issues in contemporary society. Worldwide, there has been a large shift towards less physically demanding work, especially in the past century. While up to the early 20th century, most families and individuals practiced worker jobs, in which they had to undertake arduous and prolonged work, a de-industrialization and a shift to ‘white-collar’ work has caused the prodigious decrease in physical activity. Mechanized transportation and a great prevalence of labor-saving technology also play key roles in this trend. It is estimated that at least 30% of the global population gets insufficient exercise, and an 2008 United States American National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) discovered that 59% of adult respondents never participated in vigorous physical activity lasting more than 10 minutes per week.
Especially modern technologies, such as computers and smartphones are substantially undermined physical well-being. The average American watches more than 5 hours of television every day and spends more than 2 hours of their day on social media. A lack of physical movement entails a large deficiency in an individual’s health, highlighted by that studies that have found that those that quotidianly sit for more than 4 hours a day are afflicted by a 40 percent higher risk of premature death through chronic diseases. Furthermore, there exists a correlation between television viewing time and the risk of obesity – in both children and adults.
Obesity can have many detrimental effects, as Jane Velez-Mitchell, journalist, puts it, “Obesity affects every aspect of a people's lives, from health to relationships.” Especially in the area of personal health, these are substantial. On average, obesity reduces life expectancy by 6-8 years, while severe obesity (BMI > 40 kg/m2) can reduce life expectancy by ten years. Corpulence and an unhealthy lifestyle furthermore increase the risk of many mental and physical conditions. These are most commonly shown in metabolic syndrome, a combination of medical disorders which includes: diabetes type 2, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, and high triglyceride levels. The link between a sedentary lifestyle and poor diet to medical complications and conditions are strong. Excessive corpulence underlies 64% of cases of diabetes type 2 in men and 77% of cases in women. Generally, health consequences fall into two categories:
effects of increased fat mass
- osteoarthritis (joint disease)
- obstructive sleep apnea (inability to sleep)
effects of increased number of fat cells
- diabetes (body can’t process the energy from the food)
- cardiovascular disease (heart disease)
- non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
- insulin resistance (body fails to interact normally with the hormone insulin)
- proinflammatory state (easy inflammation)
- prothrombotic state (blood clots)
- high blood pressure
In the United States, over 16 million people suffer from diabetes, in which the body cannot properly use the energy it gets from the food. Moreover, those affected by obesity may suffer from strong social stigmatization (more on that later). Experts say that obesity has wide-ranging and severe effects on all aspects of medicine.
Societal norms, pressures, and stigmatization
While at a low level, obesity may be caused by a sedentary lifestyle and unhealthy diet, at a higher, more abstract level, contemporary societal norms and pressures contribute greatly to the issue.
As mentioned earlier, an accepted, modern lifestyle often includes many hours spent inert, at work or at home. Furthermore, contemporary living often includes a very fast pace, superimposing the consumption of 'convenience' food. The 21st century approach to food is often hasty and treated as a requisite, rather than a chance for personal choice. As S. Jay Olshanksky, scientist and author, says it, “Fixing obesity is going to require a change in our modern relationship with food.”.
Moreover, consumer awareness in society will be necessary for tackling this problem. For ex. high-fat products were often disparaged, leading to an increase of sugar in common food. This however has lead to an even worse situation due to the harmfulness of sugar, but consumers waned in the belief that they were eating ‘healthy’ food.
Overweight people also often find themselves strongly stigmatized in society. The erroneous assumption that obese people are impulsive, lazy, and less likeable overall has been perpetuated and many suffering from overweight experience negative social consequences. They have a lower self-esteem, are linked to poverty, and can be afflicted with depression. This often engenders eating disorders and can lead to a defiant response, leaving the patient less willing to tackle their disease..
Obesity also engenders a large, negative economic impact. In the USA alone, the medical costs associated with obesity were over $190.2 billion, 20.6% of all medical expenditures. Those plagued with overweight or obesity are also often paid less than their non-obese counterparts for an equivalent job – 6% less for women and 3% less for men.
Child obesity/overweight has become one of the most prevalent facets of this issue. Especially in youthful bodies, the adversities of excessive body fat are accentuated. While childhood obesity is measured through the BMI, it doesn’t correlate to the adult scales. Here, the 95 percentile counts as obese, and the 85 percentile counts as overweight (according to data from 1963 - 1994, before the epidemiology of obesity). In 2010, about 30% of the world’s 6-11 year olds were overweight – 40 million worldwide. Children and adolescents are particularly receptive to the societal pressures mentioned above, as well as causation through family practices. The greatest risk factor for child obesity is the obesity of both parents – both through genetical factors, but also due to their upbringing.
A variety of factors conclude youth very receptive to corpulence, especially in comparison to earlier times:
- decreasing amount of breastfeeding
- less engagement in outside, physical activities, as computers and television are on the rise
- many children are driven a lot by their parents, and don’t walk/bike for ex. to school
- diminishing quality of school lunches
- access to vending machines and fast-food restaurants
- advertising for consumerism
- price gap between healthy and unhealthy foods
- increased stress relative to age
Especially schools play a critical role in the prevention of obesity in children. They can mitigate factors such as improper education on the issue, for ex. through the media, and the access to healthy foods. Furthermore, they have the ability to provide children with opportunities to engage in physical activity, minimizing the risk for overweightness.
Childhood obesity has also expanded the reach of many diseases that were once adult-only. Diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol levels were once confined to affecting adults, but now they are reciprocating on children afflicted with obesity, fostering unhealthy states throughout the life of the individual. Furthermore, childhood overweight yields special risk of poor self-esteem and depression. In a school environment, corpulent children are often singled-out, and those youth often carry the effects of this outsider-role throughout their lives, such as through having a poor body image and lacking confidence.
The Overseas Development Institute (ODI) puts the number of overweight and obese adults in developing countries at more than 900 million. Analysis of public data on obesity has concluded that there are almost twice as many obese in LEDCs than in MEDCs, a stark contrast to the common belief that obesity is a problem of high-income countries. According to the report by the ODI, overweight and obesity rates since 1980 have almost doubled in China and Mexico, and risen by a third in South Africa, which now has a higher rate than the UK. These nations have become especially affected due to a wider middle-income population and an overflowing through western companies, especially by the sugar industry. Moreover, the increasing urbanisation and factors such as an emergence of advertising have engendered this rise of obesity in developing nations. National diets have also been verging on a large abundance of meat, as the priorly scarce resource has now become rife and accessible to many. Yet, expressly in LEDCs, obesity must be tackled. Due to unstructured governments, corruption, and archaic ethical views, many of the governments in these countries are unwilling or incapable to act. Especially here, the international community must work together in order to provision the curing of this epidemic.
Major Parties Involved and their Views
World Health Organization (WHO)
The WHO prevails as the leading international health organization by the UN, that works together with all Member States to seek international response to international health issues. In 1997, it recognized obesity as a disease and has been combatting it with a global strategy, devised in 2002 at the World Health Assembly. WHO’s Director-General has also established a high-level Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity. The WHO has also collaborated with the UN General Assembly, provisioning reports and the meeting of State representatives on this global health epidemic.
Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
While the FAO lays its main focus on hunger in developing countries, it has also striven to support the combating of unhealthy diets and obesity. The FAO accentuates the importance of information, as well as working on agricultural policy to encourage the consumption of healthy foods. They are working to improve the qualitative measure of initiating crops in LEDCs, instead of just quantitative measures that often lead to low-quality, unhealthy food.
United States of America (USA)
The USA was one of the first nations to be attacked by obesity, while still having one of the highest obesity rate in the world. In the USA, 2 out of 3 people are overweight or obese and especially childhood obesity is a problem. While there have been many proposed laws to regulate the sugar industry, these have been impeded by the sugar industries’ lobbying. There also exist a variety of programs to combat obesity, such as banning junk foods from vending machines in California and NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) working to educate the people and to advocate for a healthy diet and lifestyle. The USA however has failed to provision an adequate response to the prevailing disease of obesity in their nation.
European Union (EU)
The European Union has debated the issues of obesity in the past, however it hasn’t passed any binding documents on the issue. In 2007, it published a whitepaper by the European Commision, in the EU tries to establish basic measures to combat obesity, such as Food Labelling, food distribution strategies for those impoverished, and the funding of research. It has also encouraged collaboration with the WHO and seeks to establish action-oriented partnerships across Europe with relevant stakeholders of all levels.
Previous Attempts to Solve the Issue
Attempts to combat obesity and provide a sustainable diet have been plentiful, yet international, effective measures have been sparse.
In many countries, labeling requirements have been implemented. This includes marking the nutrients of a product on the packaging or specific seals for the health value of the specific produce. However, these have often been implemented in an easy-to-forego or incompressible manner, while many nations completely lack these laws.
Many countries and groups have published reports pertaining to obesity. In 1998 the first US Federal guidelines were published, titled "Clinical Guidelines on the Identification, Evaluation, and Treatment of Overweight and Obesity in Adults: The Evidence Report". In 2006 the Canadian Obesity Network published the "Canadian Clinical Practice Guidelines (CPG) on the Management and Prevention of Obesity in Adults and Children". This is a comprehensive evidence-based guideline to address the management and prevention of overweight and obesity in adults and children.
Further efforts have been sparse and highly regional. Some have tried to tackle advertising and the media, yet these efforts have been undermined by the great power of such organizations. Others attempted to require a certain amount of exercise for health care, yet these have been rejected on the basis of societal disparities involved in obesity.
While the main treatments for obesity consist of dieting and physical exertion, other medical treatments are available. These include intense behavioral counseling, but also physical treatments exist. There exist three main medicines: orlistat (Xenical), lorcaserin (Belviq) and a combination of phentermine and topiramate (Qsymia). Although there have been studies proving the long term effects of all three, their actual real-world benefit is diminutive, e.g. the weight loss with orlistat is modest, with an average of 2.9 kg at 1 to 4 years. These medications are also associated with great side effects. The most effective medical treatment for obesity however lies in bariatric surgery. This surgery includes a variety of procedures, including reducing the size of the stomach or the removal of a part of the stomach. Bariatric surgery has been found to pertain long-term effectiveness, with between 14% to 25% weight loss over ten years. however, due to its costs, intrusiveness, and risks, these surgeries are not viable for the masses and researchers are desperately searching for other treatments for obesity.
Partially successful attempts to improve dietary standards have been made through grassroots organizations, particularly in schools. These have prohibited junk food and sugary beverages at vending machines, preempting youth from eating such ‘convenience food’. Furthermore, in some nations, such as the USA, the teaching of the ‘Food Pyramid’, or other resources which try to illustrate healthy foods, have been implemented.
However, as evident, these measures have been weak. To truly tackle the issue of obesity and a better diet, an international, collaboration that keeps the statis between individual rights and public health must be found.
Questions to Consider
- From what factors does obesity, relevant to your country, stem?
- What is the local picture? Obesity rates can differ from ward to ward and between different ethnic groups and vulnerable groups.
- In what ways can your nation contribute to the international and national fight against obesity? Consider special facets of your State that contribute to the issue.
- How is success being measured? Schemes to tackle obesity take a long time to result in measurable progress. Consider targets that can indicate progress, such as consumption of healthy food rising and increases in physical activity.
- How far is your State and population willing to compromise individual rights for the public health? Consider the extent of the jurisdiction you will advocate.
- How can you collaborate with grassroots organizations? Tackling obesity often requires regional and individual response – how can this be incorporated?
- To what extent are children in your State educated on a healthy diet? Is education on this issue in your curriculum?
- What control does your government have over the sugar industry, advertisements, etc.? How far do you wish to extend this control and to what extent can it be exerted?
- Can you collaborate with your healthcare providers? Are they open to new measures in order to encourage citizens to take action, control their diet and exercise?
- How are currently afflicted people treated in your country? Are they discriminated upon? What legislation controls this?
- In what ways can your government support the individual fight against obesity? Do your financial funds pertain to providing individual support?
- What is the state of agriculture in your nation?
- What are the economic effects of obesity in your nation? What reply do they warrant?
- What is the state of obesity research and state of funding for obesity research in your nation?
- What is the state of obesity prevention programs in your nation?
- What role does research play in eradication obesity?
To combat obesity and enable better nutrition/diet, a comprehensive, international response is necessary. This response should include 3 elements:
- upstream policies: looking to change society
- midstream policies: looking to alter individuals’ behavior
- downstream policies: looking to treat currently afflicted people
While in this it may be tempting to only consider dietary insufficiencies, in order to tackle this world issue, a more holistic view is imperative. This include examining societal factors and physical activity. Also, the most endangered groups such as children and those in developing countries must be particularly considered.
One focus point that delegates should consider is education. The delegates should direct attention to educating the population on the risks of obesity and how they can stay healthy. This should include proper information on nutrition and the importance of exercise. Especially children in school need to be educated, so to empower them to make their own, beneficial decisions.
In addition to education, there needs to be consumer information. Delegates should debate labeling initiatives that provide clear and concise facts on the nutritional value of a product. Furthermore, just as the tobacco industry has to label their products as highly detrimental, the delegates must consider the feasibility of similar jurisdiction for the sugar industry.
To combat obesity, a vital key will be encouraging exercise. This can come in multiple forms, such as the expansion of physical education in school. Delegates should also consider more intrusive measures, such as the raising of healthcare fees if an individual doesn’t participate in enough physical activity, though the UN charter and the equilibrium of basic individual rights and public health must be kept in mind.
To support ‘downstream’ policies, delegates should consider the further funding of research for obesity treatments. Obesity isn’t well understood medically, and new research shows that genetics may play a bigger role than presumed before. The delegates should find ways to implement expanded measures to explore new methods of helping those afflicted with obesity, but also consider the importance of scientific understanding in the prevention of research. If funding for research could be provided, great advances in the understanding of nutrition and treating those with obesity could be made.
At a very low level, delegates should propose methods that create clear guidelines for agriculture and processing, so that the food can be keep more natural and less processed, engendering health benefits. At the same time, one should consider the high level aspects of the issue. Delegates should debate measures to alter some society's’ trends. This can be achieved for ex. by defining clear jurisdiction on advertisement and fast food chains. However, the free market must be kept.
In addition, special endangered groups must be considered. Public information for parents should be considered, as well as a close alliance with schools in order to particularly help children and adolescents. Also, special responses must be tailored for LEDCs. These could include financial aid for the LEDCs or economic restrictions for western sugar companies. Also, an increase in public information is especially imperative in developing countries, where excess is a new territory for most.
Delegates should also find ways to mitigate factors that prohibit certain groups from obtaining healthy food and diet. This could include measure such as supporting the poor through free, healthy food.
The delegates could also considers ways to make healthier food more attractive. This could include reducing the price gap, for ex. through specific 'sugar taxes' or subsidies for nutritional produce. The governments should also consider adding certain benefits to those that conform to certain dietary guidelines, yet basic rights to individual decisions cannot be overstepped.
To successfully combat obesity, the key however lies in collaboration. The delegates should collaborate to create clear, action-oriented plans that work together with stakeholders of relevance. It is vital that the international community implements concrete measure so that a clear response to this epidemic can be executed. If these action-based plans can be prompted, a swift response to the issue will be possible.
The World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that overweight and obesity may soon replace more traditional public health concerns such as undernutrition and infectious diseases as the most significant cause of poor health. As the issue of sedentary lifestyles and insufficient diet prevails and continues to spread at exorbitant speed, this contemporary public health issue of extreme size must be considered thoroughly. The effects of obesity are widespread, leaving the health situation in many nations in detriment. Although there have been many previous attempts to solve this issue, they have failed. It is requisite that the international community now tackle this highly multifaceted issue through a holistic view that incorporates the many factors at hand. If delegates can consider the dietary and physical activity factors while understanding their underlying cause rooted in basic societal principles, a concrete response to obesity can be executed. Then, but only then, will we be able to look brightly on our future and on the health of our next generation.
Bibliography and Further Links
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"Healthy Diet." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 11 Apr. 2015.
Katan, Martijn B. "Regulation of Trans Fats: The Gap, the Polder, and McDonald's French Fries." ScienceDirect. N.p., 2006. Web. 11 Apr. 2015.
Carus, Felicity. "UN Urges Global Move to Meat and Dairy-free Diet." The Guardian. The Guardian, 2 June 2010. Web. 11 Apr. 2015.
"Labeling & Nutrition." U.S. Food and Drug Administration. U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 13 Mar. 2015. Web. 11 Apr. 2015.
"Nutrition | WFP." WFP. United Nations World Food Programme, n.d. Web. 11 Apr. 2015.
"Nutrition." WHO. World Health Organization, n.d. Web. 11 Apr. 2015.
"School Meals." Nutrition Standards for School Meals. United States Department of Agriculture, 10 Mar. 2015. Web. 11 Apr. 2015.
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Collaboration, Prospective Studies. "Body-mass Index and Cause-specific Mortality in 900 000 Adults: Collaborative Analyses of 57 Prospective Studies." Lancet. Lancet Publishing Group. Web. 12 Apr. 2015.
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Gaining ways to conserve and
sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for a healthy and
sustainable development of mankind's future
by Robert W. Tscherniak
"[England] is made mainly of coal and surrounded by fish. Only an
organizing genius could produce a shortage of coal and fish at the same
time" (Aneurin Bevan). While coal is not won in the ocean, many of the
vital resources we rely on are taken from the depths of the marines,
lakes and seas. The wellbeing of these areas, an area covering a little
more than 70% of Earth’s surface, is crucial to sustainably develop
our future and for heading towards better health and humanity. Yet we
are, on countless levels, destroying the resources in the marines. Some
of the most problematic of these include using the oceans as garbage
dumps, irresponsible oil drilling and overfishing. While we may not
consider many of these things problems, as we "live off the land,"
many consequential food chains start from the smallest of animals living
in the oceans, and at one point, it is us, at the top of these food
chains, that go starving. The quote at the start of this introduction
was made more than one hundred years ago, and yet the problem still
persists. While he may have have been talking about an
"ocean-locked" country, over the decades in-between, the problem has
risen to become one for every person that roams the Earth today. Now the
problem has also risen to not only be overfishing, but the countless
other problems mentioned above as well. It is, in part, the job and
mandate of the United Nations to help conserve the marine and sea area
as this resource is an essential part of everyone’s well being.
Definition of Key Terms
United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea
The UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) is an
international agreement which took place between 1973 and 1982. It has
been ratified by almost every country on Earth and has set many
important guidelines on the behavior of nations using the ocean space
and where. This is a very important part of the decision making as
different regions of the ocean let the nations have different rights on
An oil platform is a structure that enables the drilling of oil and
natural gas from the depths under the seabed. Depending on the type,
these can either be built onto the seabed of the ocean or lake, or be
built as a floating platform. The main difference is the depth of the
ocean, not the platform. Sadly, over the years, usage of these oil
platforms has caused many deaths and oil leaks during fires and
explosions on them. The likeliness of these incidents are also
increasing since many new oil platforms are being built and those build
are getting older.
Great Pacific garbage patch
The great pacific garbage patch is one of five large areas in the ocean
where most of the garbage is collected through the ocean gyres (rotating
current). These areas slowly collect the pieces of garbage and they stay
there until some sort of external force moves them. Then more often than
not, the sun’s UV light breaks down the chemicals of the mostly
plastic garbage, so that they are no larger that plankton. Some
estimates presume that there are about .4 g of garbage per square metre
of ocean surface in these areas. Much of it stays there until it slowly
sinks to the bottom of the ocean. Many animals, including fish and birds
have been found dead after eating the garbage. There is also no way of
figuring out if fish that is caught for eating has eaten plastic.
Garbage problems in the ocean are a new threat. According to
Greenpeace, "it has been estimated that over a million seabirds and
one hundred thousand marine mammals and sea turtles are killed each year
by either eating or getting tangled in six-pack plastic can holders, and
discarded netting, fishing lines and other bits of discarded plastic."
While the garbage amount in the oceans has been steadily rising, the
five ocean gyres located in the Indian Ocean and two each in the Pacific
and Atlantic have been, through their currents, slowly accumulating
large amounts of garbage. That the five large oceans gyres would be
pulling in stray garbage with their currents was only even formulated as
a hypothesis in the late 80’s, through the National Ocean and
Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Estimates show about 5.1 kilograms of
garbage per square kilometer of ocean area in the gyres. While this
alone is a very high number, for something that seems to be an accident,
researchers estimate, that about 80% of the garbage comes from land
masses. Since much of the garbage is hard to see, like plastic bags, the
small amount of support organizations like Greenpeace get, in order to
clean up the oceans, still keep going into projects that can barely cope
with the intensity of the problem.
Oil and gas drilling using oil platforms is starting to be old enough
to have tradition. More often than not, though, traditional things
become controversial. After the large BP oil platform leak Deepwater
Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico a few years ago, critics on the problems
of oil and gas drilling in the oceans were put on the spotlight of
mainstream media. The main problem of the drilling is that there have
been too many examples of the oil platform systems malfunctioning. While
a large percentage of oil comes from these platforms, the risk is
becoming ever higher that an explosion could happen as more and more of
these platforms are being built. Since the Deepwater Horizon incident,
the last incident ended up with an oil platform exploding as well,
killing four and injuring 16 or 45, depending on the source, the latter
number being more reliable. While the oil is drilled within the
regulations of the UNCLOS, multiple organizations have put pressure on
the governments. Many organizations are starting to profit from the
media’s increased attention on the status of oil platforms after the
Deepwater Horizon oil spill, especially Greenpeace. The increased public
attention may have actually leaded to the point where the British
company actually pleaded guilty to 11 counts of manslaughter, two
misdemeanors, and a felony count of lying to Congress. These acts would
probably have gone unpunished or have been severely less harsh without
the public’s interest.
By far the oldest marine and freshwater problem humans have created is
overfishing. The quote in the introduction, being more than one hundred
years old, is by far not the first account in which overfishing has been
recorded. According to the WWF, "Overfishing occurs when more fish are
caught than the population can replace through natural reproduction."
This issue will, if not handled, create massive problems for the
biodiversity and food chains in the oceans as much as it will start to
affect the social and economic situation on land. Some consequential
fish sorts, like the Atlantic bluefin tuna, have declined in numbers in
such a way, that the continuing of catching these fish at current rates
will lead to their extinction. Since these effects are slow and gradual
and it is not an issue that seems to have immediate importance, has been
pushed into the background of the media. One of the main problems lies
by the companies that are the ones doing this, as they are completely
aware of what is going on. To stop the irresponsible actions of these
companies, it is the general public’s responsibility to hold them
accountable. Unlike the oil and gas drilling, where there are immediate
explosions, overfishing has landed in the background of the media’s
attention, something that could become detrimental to the biodiversity
of the oceans, seas and lakes.
Major Parties Involved and their Views
The Power of the Companies
Since this is such a large and complex topic, there aren’t any one
organization, nation or company affected by this issue. This issue could
shut down or ruin many companies as they often make billions on
environmentally unsustainable methods of oil drilling and overfishing.
While conserving the biodiversity, this could easily ruin your
Previous Attempts to Solve the Issue
Unlike topics debated in the Security Council, this particular topic
has no single important attempt to solve the issue. Instead there have
been many attempts, as this is a problem affecting every nation. Yet
progress is slow. While overfishing policies have been put in place by
many countries, oil regulations and marine and sea pollution are still
growing problems. The larger environmental organizations, for example
Greenpeace, are actively working to minimize the effects and lobby for
the introduction of stricter laws in governments around the world for
all three problems. There are many smaller organizations that focus on
one of the three topics. Most of them focusing on the overfishing and
garbage issues. All of these organizations rely on the donations of
others to properly function as they are Non-Governmental Organizations
(NGOs). The most prominent UN organ that works on this issue is the UN
Environment Programme. The UNEP’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre
(WCMC) is a programme that monitors the status of the Earth’s well
being. While this UN organ may be helpful in finding the best places to
concentrate the issue at hand, this organ does not actually do any work
except for monitoring.
Questions to Consider
Here are some interesting points that your country may need to deal
- Your nation’s fishing and oil industry (some nations even have their own oil company)
- Initiating stricter control over garbage facilities and their costs
- Losing companies to other nations because of strikter environmental policies
- Keeping garbage out of the waterways in the first place
- How to deal with garbage problems in rural places (and pay for it)
Here are some interesting points that your NGO may need to deal with:
- How to clean up the ocean from the garbage
- Raising more awareness for the issues at hand
- Get more donations for your cause
- Find ways to make the nations sign some sort of treaty to get your NGO’s mission passed in debate
VII. Possible Solutions and Conclusion
When the issue becomes complexer, more often than not, the solution
becomes more complex as well. However, the more complex the solution
needs to become, the amount of usable solutions diminishes drastically.
While helping the biodiversity, from any perspective, can be seen as a
good thing, every nation relies on the exploitation of the oceans, lakes
and seas for the continuing growth of their economy. Companies do not
want to see more restrictions, however with more and more scandals, the
public awareness of the issue is growing. To be able to suffice for both
sides, complex measures need to be taken. Companies do not want to give
up their rights, so finding correct incentives for them is vital. But
how best do that if the citizens of your country, or members of your
organization will be outraged at such a deal? Finding ways to keep the
oceans safe, from the illegal side will be just as much of a challenge,
not to mention the feat it will take to clean up the mess of the already
existing garbage and oil in the oceans, lakes and seas. To do this, more
efficient ways to fish, drill for oil and pick up garbage is necessary.
Taking small steps may be useful, but time is also a large factor.
VIII. Bibliography and useful Links
"How much water is there on, in, and above the Earth?“ USGS 19 Apr.
2014. Web 3 Apr. 2015