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Dr. Enric Sala on the Environment and Connectedness

By August 13, 2020 September 2nd, 2020 No Comments

We are currently experiencing a Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous situation first-hand. VUCA is the new normal, and Mark has a free webinar on How to overcome fear and stress and thrive in VUCA. You can access that webinar and 30 days of Unbeatable Mind training for free at\free-30

Dr. Enric Sala (@enricsala)is a former academic who grew tired of simply writing an “obituary” for the ocean. He now is the National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and founder of the Pristine Seas project. He is also the author of The Nature of Nature: Why We Need the Wild, from which a quarter of the proceeds go to ocean conservation. He talks with Mark today about the environment and how we are all connected—much like the current pandemic.

Hear how:

  • COVID is a wakeup call for humanity—the time to take action is now
  • Everything is connected—from the environment to our health and the economy
  • Starting an environmental “Manhattan Project” is a must and it only requires three things

Listen to this episode to learn more about how the environment is connected to our everyday lives and what we can do to help restore it.

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Hey folks, welcome back. This is Mark Divine with the Unbeatable Mind podcast. Thanks so much for joining me today.

I know with the COVID lockdown, you probably have some time on your hands… but I also know how busy most of you are. And the fact that you’re spending some time with us today, means a lot.

Because there’s a lot of places you could put that attention. The fact that you’re focusing in on us and what we’re doing is really cool.

My guest today… wow… it’s going to be so interesting and really, really important. So if you’re double tasking or multitasking I encourage you to not do that, because the future of humanity is at stake.

Dr. Enric Sala – national geographic explorer-in-residence, author of “The Nature Of Nature: Why We Need The Wild.” And in this book – which is due out soon? Right, Doctor Sala?

Dr. Sala: August 25th.

Mark: August 25th. I can’t wait to read it. He discusses the irrefutable link that binds humans, economic health, and the health of the planet. And I 100% agree and believe that. We’re all this one interconnected whole. And when we ignore mother earth, we ignore it at our peril.

He’s the founder of “The Pristine Seas” a project that combines exploration research and media to inspire the leaders of the country, or the globe – to protect the wild places left in the ocean…

Which should be all the ocean, right? Unfortunately it’s not.

The Project has protected – check this out – more than 5 million square kilometers – which is half the size of Canada – of ocean. And he’s created 22 marine reserves. Amazing.

Dr. Sala has received numerous awards. Young global leader award by the world economic forum. Lowell Thomas award from the explorers club. And the hero award from the environmental media association…

I love the fact that Prince Charles wrote the forward to your book. How was that?

Dr. Sala: Yeah, I’m very lucky. Well he’s a committed environmentalist. He’s been telling us that we are depleting nature at a rate that is not sustainable for decades.

And he’s a beautiful writer also. He’s published some beautiful works about the environment. So I happen to know him, so I asked him if he would be so kind as to write the forward. And he accepted.

So yeah, very lucky to have his wise words to open the book.

Mark: That’s really cool let’s talk first before we get into all that you know – gosh, we could take this in so many directions – but I want to focus on you as a person. And how you got so committed to this.

Because you were first an academic, right? You were an academic – you were a professor you mentioned at Scripps, which is right down the road from us.

And then you kind of had an epiphany that that wasn’t enough. So tell us a little bit about your journey.

Dr. Sala: Yeah, I was… well, first of all Mark – thank you so much for having me on your podcast. I love your podcast, so it’s a real honor to be here.

And yeah, I used to be a professor at Scripps institution of oceanography in La Jolla. I was studying the impacts of humans in the ocean – the impacts of fishing and global warming…

And one day I realized that all I was doing was writing the obituary of the ocean.

Mark: (laughing) Wow. You mean you were just watching and cataloging how it was dying?

Dr. Sala: Exactly. With more and more precision. So I felt like the doctor who was telling you how you’re going to die with excruciating detail. But not offering a cure.

And I decided to quit academia, and dedicate my full life to ocean conservation.

Mark: Give us a time frame for when that happened.

Dr. Sala: That was in 2007.

Mark: 2007, okay. Interesting. So as an academic – even in oceanography, you have quite a few specialties. So what was your specialty?

Dr. Sala: Marine ecology. I studied the relationships between species, the functioning of entire marine ecosystems, and the impacts of human activities on them.

Mark: And what were some of the biggest findings that scared you to basically say “I need to quit and become more of an impact player.”

Dr. Sala: Well the findings were… I didn’t need statistics to prove what I was seeing with my own eyes. We went back to the places that we loved and we saw them more and more and more degraded, because of too much fishing, pollution and ocean warming. And the scientific data just quantified what we saw with our own eyes.

So it was the continuous degradation of ocean life within our lifetimes.

Mark: Anything in particular that you could share that really scared you?

Dr. Sala: It was something in reverse. When I was a little boy growing up on the Mediterranean coast of Spain, I was glued to the TV on Sunday evening watching “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau.”

Mark: Right. Those shows were amazing. I watched every one of those too…

Dr. Sala: Right, and remember back then there was nothing – nobody else was showing us the underwater world, right? So we were glued to the TV on Sunday evening.

And I fell in love with the ocean, because of that… but then I went swimming in the Mediterranean and there was nothing of what he showed us. No large fish, no dolphins, no seals, no coral reefs – and I thought that the Mediterranean was a poor sea naturally. And that this richness happened only in so in exotic locations that Cousteau showed us.

But then when I turned 18, I was allowed to get a diving license, and I went diving in a marine reserve off the coast of Catalonia, north of Barcelona. A place that had been protected for a few years.

And then I saw what I missed during my childhood. A place that hadn’t had fishing for a while – the marine life recovered spectacularly. And it was like diving into one of Cousteau’s documentaries.

Mark: Is that right? That’s fascinating.

So most people think that the ocean is… it’s hard to imagine that particular area that could be protected would be able to recover, because everything is just water. Everything’s connected.

So do we really have local ecosystems like that in the ocean? Where if you just say “okay, no more fishing in this particular area,” that’ll it’ll start you know re-thriving? How does that work?

Dr. Sala: Yes and yes. Yes to the first thing you said that everything is connected, right? And impacts on one side of the world can affect the rest of the world – like we’re seeing with this pandemic.

But also we have seen it everywhere around the world. I’ve seen this miracle happen over and over and over. You close the place – this reserve that I was telling you about is only one square kilometer. And the abundance of fish is five times larger than in nearby unprotected areas.

Mark: That’s interesting. So you draw a circle that’s five kilometers and inside, you’re going to have a thriving ecosystem – or as best as can be, recovering – and then literally on the other side of that imaginary wall it’s going to be significantly less?

Dr. Sala: Yeah. And you can see with aerial photographs or satellite images the fishing boats are fishing the line. They are lined up on the limits of this…

Mark: Really? On the limit line, because that’s where all the good stuff is…

Dr. Sala: Exactly.

Mark: Beware the fish that crosses the line, right?

Dr. Sala: Exactly. Why do robbers rob banks? Because this is where the money is right? So this is the same.

Mark: That’s incredible.

Tell us about let’s just like really pan out like from your perspective how is the health of the planet, the health of humanity and economics all relate?

Dr. Sala: It’s all related. The health of the planet is bad – and the planet has become less wild. Today two-thirds of the ocean have been impacted by industrial fishing. Three quarters of the inhabitable land have been transformed by cities and or agriculture. 70% of the mass of mammals is us and our domesticated livestock.

Only 30% is everything else. From elephants, to panda bears, to gorillas…

Mark: Including ocean life?

Dr. Sala: Ocean life is different. But we have killed 90% of the large fish in the ocean in the last hundred years. The tuna, the sharks, the big groupers… so it’s not good.

And this is affecting us. We’ve reached the point where the planet – that natural world that is producing all the services that we enjoy – everything that we need to live depends on the work of other species. The oxygen we breathe, the clean water we drink, the food we put in our mouths.

So we’ve reached a point where we are using… it’s like having an investment account with the principle that we don’t touch and produces returns – we not only eat all the returns, but we are eating away from the principle of the planet.

Mark: Wow and what does this look like to you if we don’t do anything for the next hundred years?

Dr. Sala: Right now, we are using the renewable resources of the planet as though we have one and a half planets. We’re going to get to a point where the natural world will not be able to shelter us from catastrophes.

And this COVID pandemic I think is the loudest wake-up call for humanity. Because this started when a virus spilled over from a wild animal to a person in china. And then thanks to our globalized lifestyle, the outbreak spread like wildfire. And everybody – you, me… even heads of state, presidents of countries, rich people we are all connected. We are all together in this.

Our health and our economic well-being depends on the well-being of the poorest person in the poorest country of the planet. There is no escape anymore. We tamper with nature in one part of the planet, and the consequences – as we have seen – can be global. It’s all connected.

Mark: It’s all connected. You know, in your advocacy work are people starting do people in the UN and US government, and China… are they starting to take this seriously?

Because it just seems like extreme to me. Like literally humanity could literally wipe itself out in the next 1500 years if we just don’t create a “Manhattan Project” at all levels.

Dr. Sala: I love the idea of the Manhattan Project. That’s a great analogy.

Mark: (laughing) It’s too bad it was around nuclear bombs, but it’s just an analogy.

Dr. Sala: Yeah, get the country – get people together to solve a major issue. And china has already banned wildlife markets. Of course there are some illegal ones, but china is moving in that direction. They already have a national plan to protect 30% of their land.

Mark: Okay, good.

Dr. Sala: The European commission has a biodiversity strategy also committing to protecting national parks and reserves. 30% of Europe’s lands and waters by 2030.

But the US is not doing much these days… with the current administration actually, we are reversing environmental protections.

Mark: Yeah, that’s a real shame. There’s even a lot of climate deniers, right? I mean how do we deal with that? Like what is your strategy for dealing with someone who just flat out denies what you’re talking about?

Dr. Sala: (laughing) Yeah, I have thought a lot about this and you could not win when you debate with contrarians or deniers, right? Because they have their playbook and they are not listening. They have their points to persuade people that there is dissent among the scientific community. It’s what my friend Naomi Oreskes calls “the merchants of doubt.”

These are the people who were hired by the tobacco industry. To prove that tobacco wasn’t bad for your health.

Same people who were hired by the oil companies to deny… that there is no climate change.

And there are a few things that we can do. One is vote for the leaders who agree on environmental values, but also the economics. We always hear this argument that “oh it’s either the economy or nature.”

And it’s wrong, because the pandemic has shown us that not protecting nature, moving wild animals around the planet like commodities, has caused a pandemic whose economic impacts are going to be on the order of 9 trillion dollars for the next couple years.

But we have an analysis, an economic report that we released a few weeks ago that shows that if we protected 30% of the planet – land and sea – the global economic output would be larger. And for every dollar that we invest in protected areas, nature would give us five dollars in return.

Mark: That’s interesting. So how do they come up with that? Like how does this study validate those results?

Dr. Sala: So there are there are two types of benefits. One is the economic revenue like – for example – tourism within reserves, within protected areas. Before the pandemic, the tourism sector in nature and protected areas, was growing 5% every year. Which is huge.

Agriculture and timber was growing at less than one percent per year. Fisheries is a sector that is declining – shrinking – economically. So the potential for tourism in protected areas is really, really huge.

And the other one is all the benefits that come from things that nature give us for free. For example flood protection. If we have large grasslands or forests that are natural, they will dampen the force of the rain. They will absorb… retain rain and prevent floods. They will sequester carbon to help mitigate climate change.

So if we continue destroying nature we’ll have to incur some tremendous costs. Like every time there is a big storm in the southern US, for example. So by protecting more of nature we are going to avoid these multi-billion dollar costs. And this is money that we can use in building resilience for our world and help people in need.

Mark: Yeah, that’s fascinating.

Amazon Deforestation


Mark: I know your focus is primarily on the sea, but what can you tell us about the impact of deforestation especially in the Amazon for the cattle or beef industries?

Dr. Sala: Yeah, this is kind of a global disaster. Because we are destroying the most diverse ecosystem on the planet… in one single tree – on a single Brazil nut tree in the Amazon, there are more species of plants and animals living on that tree than in a whole hectare of European soil.

Mark: Holy cow.

Dr. Sala: The diversity is extraordinary. And not only that, but the Amazon forest produces its own rain. The trees do what we call evapo-transpiration. They get the water from the roots which thanks to the tropical heat transpires through the leaves. That water vapor rises and when it gets cold condenses, falls as rain which creates low pressure that brings additional humid air from the Atlantic Ocean. Which produces more rain and so on and so forth.

This rain then will erode the mountains of the Andes bringing nutrients all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. Which will help fertilize the water of the Atlantic Ocean. Which will help fisheries, etc.

So the weather system of the Amazon is absolutely dependent on the forest. The scientific studies suggest that if we lose 20% of the current cover of the Amazon forest, the forest will irreversibly shift into a savannah.

That means no more rain, and the entire weather pattern of the world will be screwed up.

Mark: Wow. And how many I mean we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of acres being chopped down every month, right?

Dr. Sala: Yep.

Mark: Some crazy number like that. In fact, the reason I’m more of a flexitarian by the way I eat now… because of the way I train. But for a long time – not a long time, but a couple years – I was a vegetarian. And the main reason was this ecological impact of especially eating beef, right?

And not only is it cutting down and destroying the rain forest for the farming, but also it degrades the soil – the water supply is getting destroyed like you mentioned. And then also the effect on carbon release from the cattle, right? Is having an effect on co2.

Everyone seems to be focusing on co2 when they talk about global warming. What do you think? Is that really a big deal, or is that just kind of a siren call for people to rally around?

Dr. Sala: It’s a serious deal. It’s a serious deal co2 is. And there is another gas which is still worse, which is methane. Which is what the cows…

Mark: Burp.

Dr. Sala: Exactly. Mostly through burping, but yeah, the greenhouse effect of methane is 25 times larger than that of co2. So pound by pound of gas methane is a much bigger cause of global warming.

Mark: And so the global warming then warms up the seas and then that changes weather patterns… but also what does the effect of the warming seas have on the biodiversity?

Dr. Sala: Coral reefs are dying… you know, the Paris climate agreement is shooting for 1.5 degrees Celsius or 2 at the most above pre-industrial levels. We are already at one degree Celsius.

A two degree world – which would be considered a success by climate experts – is a world without coral reefs. We will lose them, because we are already losing… we have probably lost a quarter of the corals on all reefs around the world. And there are fish that can move – lobster is moving from Maine to Canadian waters which are colder, because they don’t tolerate warm waters. The gulf of Maine is warming faster than the average area of the ocean.

But the corals cannot move. The corals have a hard time expanding the distribution. And so fish can move to higher latitudes to escape from the warming waters. But species like corals – that are attached to the ground – are in for a really bad time.

Mark: And what effect does the coral reef have on the balance in the ocean? Or if they all went away, someone might say “so what? I’ve never seen one, I don’t really know what it is.” What’s the impact?

Dr. Sala: Yes. That’s something that we hear often. The coral reefs are like the rain forest of the sea. They are the places with the largest amount of species in them.

For the people who live near them they are key barriers from the power of hurricane waves. For example a living coral reef that grows is able to cope with sea level rise, and is able to provide a barrier that attenuates about three quarters of the destructive force of waves.

So the coastal zones in the world and most coral islands in developing countries – there are people living on these islands. We’re talking about maybe 30 nations that are small island states that their survival of their people depend on coral reefs.

Of course somebody living in Ohio is not going to be directly impacted by an island sinking in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, right?

But everything is connected and even if you don’t feel the impact today – a world where we are going to lose potentially one million species is not the place where I want to live in. It’s a world that’s going to be much poorer. It will be a shame for humanity if we let all these species go, just because of convenience or greed.

Mark: Of course. Wow.

What about pollutants? Like what are the biggest pollutants of the ocean? And I’m really shocked when I learned that there were like garbage heaps the size of Texas, you know, floating out in the pacific somewhere. And how do we clean that stuff up?

So I guess there’s two questions. How do we clean the pollutants up? Stop it.

And what are the biggest pollutants that are doing the most damage?

What can individuals do about it as well?

Dr. Sala: Correct. So we have two types of pollutants – the ones we can see and those we cannot see.

We can see the plastic. That’s very conspicuous. And there are five patches in the middle of the big oceanic gyres – in the middle of every big ocean basin, there is a patch where the abundance of plastic on the surface is much more abundant.

Unfortunately, we cannot clean the plastic that is already in the ocean. Because most of it is not on the surface. Most of it is underwater all the way down to the deepest point in the ocean, which is six miles off the Philippines.

And most of the plastic is what we call micro-plastics. Which are small fibers or pieces of plastic that are so small that you cannot see with your naked eye.

Mark: And how do they get there? Like, where did that come from?

Dr. Sala: Most of it comes from the land. And there is a big garbage patch between Hawaii and California. And much of the stuff comes from the Americas, but a lot of stuff also comes from Asia.

And during the Fukushima plant accident, there was a lot of stuff that ended up… that tsunami got a lot of stuff into the water, that ended up on the coast of the pacific northwest a couple of years later…

Mark: I remember that, yeah. So tsunami… weather patterns… they wash all this crap out to sea.

Dr. Sala: Yeah. But then there are the things you cannot see. And this is very, very scary because think of the arctic… a place with very few people and no large industries for example in the Canadian arctic. But the pregnant women in the Inuit communities are not supposed to eat whale meat or polar bear meat… because it’s so polluted with PCBs and heavy metals that are in the water that comes from somewhere else.

So for example cold power plants release a lot of mercury into the atmosphere. That mercury ends up in the ocean. And ocean currents take it everywhere.

So you have these little algae getting this mercury from the water – which are eaten by little shrimp, which are eaten by little fish, which are eaten by seals, which are eaten by polar bears…

And the higher you are up on the food chain, the more you accumulate these toxins. So you don’t need to be close to a power plant to feel the effects of the pollution.

(laughing) It’s pretty depressing, eh?

Mark: (laughing) I’m just thinking that. I’m getting really depressed here.

Dr. Sala: This is why I quit academia. I didn’t want to be just talking about this. I wanted to be doing something about it.

And the good news is that we can bring it back. That’s the good news.

Mark: That’s good. I want to start going there, because I was literally wanting to jump off my chair and just start doing something, you know?

What about Pepsi or Coca-Cola creating a biodegradable plastic? Or some sort of… did you read that recently? They’ve come out with… of course they put everything on hold because of COVID, unfortunately… but this thing is supposed to biodegrade in a year. Is that one of the ways that we can really start to turn this around? Is just stop producing plastic itself and create biodegradable containers and…

Dr. Sala: Absolutely. And for example for COVID – plastic has been vital in ensuring the sterility of things in the hospital. So for health purposes – plastic is fantastic. And plastic has lots of great uses.

The problem is that it lasts too long. One of these normal plastic bottles can last 400 years in the ocean so we do need to replace the current plastic, which is not recyclable really. And it’s not biodegradable with plastic that is not just biodegradable – because biodegradable means that bacteria can break it down or it can be broken up in the ocean with waves and the and the sun.

But it just breaks down into these micro-plastics.

Mark: Oh, it’s still plastic though…

Dr. Sala: What we need is something that is compostable.

Mark: Right. Changes the structure back to some natural form.

Dr. Sala: Exactly, so nutrients that then life in the ocean or on land can use.

Mark: Okay, so that’s one thing you just said which gave me some optimism that we can reverse this. So what are the biggest areas that we can work on as a global community? And then also – as a corollary -what can I do? Or what can a listener start doing? What would have the biggest impact?

Dr. Sala: Okay, so for the global scene right? Your “Manhattan Project.” Three main things. We have climate change and loss of biodiversity, loss of nature which are interacting to create this global crisis. Which in turn created a health crisis – this pandemic.

So there are three things that the world needs to do. So if you and I were given the task now “okay, you guys… you run the show put the thing together- what are the goals?”

Mark: Hey that’s not a bad idea by the way.

Dr. Sala: (laughing) Let’s do it.

Mark: Let’s do it. All we need is a trillion dollars. Who’s got a trillion dollars for us?

Dr. Sala: Well we can talk about that, because we do have the money. You know that the world spends more money today eating ice cream than in protected areas…

Mark: Oh, good God.

Dr. Sala: And the money we would need to protect 30% of the planet is less than what people spend on video games. The money is there.

Mark: The money is there. Yeah.

Dr. Sala: Okay, so the three things we need to do – one is to phase off fossil fuels. It’s putting carbon in the atmosphere, that’s the main cause of global warming. So phasing off fossil fuels. And developing a renewable energy economy. Which also would create lots of jobs. That’s one.

Two is give more space to nature. We need nature to be able to continue providing for us, to give us all these essential things that we need to survive. And that means half of the planet in natural state.

Mark: Half the planet. Okay.

Dr. Sala: In natural state. But we can start by committing next year there is a meeting of the UN convention on biodiversity. 196 countries are going to meet in china. They are going to agree on how much we are going to be willing to give to nature. And there is a target now on the draft agreement of 30% of the planet. Land and sea. Protected by 2030.

Mark: Okay so how do we get to 50%, if we’re only thinking 30?

Dr. Sala: Well right now we’re at 15 on land and 7% in the ocean. So 30% is already pretty ambitious, but it’s feasible.

And the third thing we need to do also is change the way we produce food. You mentioned that you went vegetarian for a while, and now you’re flexitarian. And the way we produce food is not only unsustainable because we are taking things out faster than they can reproduce. But also is very inefficient and polluting.

Mark: It’s very linear, right? Extract, use, discard. It needs to be more circular.

Dr. Sala: Exactly. And we don’t have another planet as a landfill, so we’re running out of space here. And agriculture is one of the biggest causes of global of greenhouse gas emissions – co2 emissions. And also it uses 75% of the fresh water that we use.

And the soil – as you mentioned before – because so many chemicals that go into these industrial monocultures, that we see everywhere – we are losing the soil. We are losing billions of pounds of soil every year that go to the ocean. So we need to shift into regenerative agriculture that is less dependent on poisons, on chemicals – which helps plants and all the fauna, all the animals in the soil create more soil.

Which in turn the soil absorbs a huge amount of co2 also. Which would help to mitigate the impact of climate change.

So these are the three biggest things that you and I will put our team to work on.

Mark: Yeah, I mean the first one obviously has a lot of momentum – the fossil fuel – even though there’s still a lot of resistance. And alternative energy sources. I think that if we were to see a different administration coming into the US next year, there’d be a big push for that.

More space for nature. I think that’s awesome. I think America – what does America have set aside because it seems like we have quite a bit of natural land set aside. Is it still 15% or do we have more?

Dr. Sala: The US is about 12%, I think. And many people believe that we have so many national parks in the US. Which is true, but the largest user of the US soil is livestock. 41% of the land in the US is used to raise beef.

Mark: Okay. Which brings us to the third how much work is already being done on regenerative agriculture? And what does that industry look like or that potential look like?

Dr. Sala: It’s not significant yet. The Rodale institute in the US and others have done an amazing job showing that regenerative organic agriculture helps produce the soil and produces healthier food.

And this is something that I think that people are starting to realize during the pandemic. You see people gardening more and planting their own tomato plants on the roof.

Mark: Yeah, they slowed down enough and felt like “I gotta get back in touch with nature.”

And then they feel better about themselves and they start making better decisions. Yeah.

Dr. Sala: You’re absolutely right. So hopefully there’s going to be a shift to more local food. Which also would be healthier food and it would have a lower carbon footprint too.

Mark: Yes. So many benefits for that.

Yeah, I think that one of the positive outcomes of this pandemic – besides what we just talked about -getting people to slow down and pay attention and ask better questions.

But also you maybe this whole idea that you know buying your beef from South America, right. And having it shipped across the oceans, maybe that’s not sustainable, right? And we need to bring things back local. Interesting. You know, we could do a whole podcast just on that.

Individual Effort


Mark: So let’s bring it to the individual. Like, we just kind of did make that transition – what can individuals do? But I think working… getting closer to land. Really understanding and appreciating nature, you know I live in a surf community and the surfers are very, very dogged about protecting the ocean. You know Surfrider Foundation has just done a lot of great work.

And surfers… because they understand the ocean. And they love the ocean. And they can’t go a day without either looking at it or being in it, right?

And so that’s beautiful, but most people who live in cities, they don’t really get to experience nature like I did in upstate New York – where my mom had a garden, and we used to go get dirty and help her garden and pick food. And we’d go out and pick corn. And grow corn.

And there’s a certain sense of humility and groundedness that comes when you get close to nature like that. It doesn’t have to be working with land, just maybe enjoy nature by going out in it – like you said for tourism.

But really when you can work the land – even if it’s just a small little box with some tomatoes in it – it has an effect on your consciousness, right? You become more grounded, connected and whole as a human being. That’s a huge opportunity for everyone just to shift consciousness. And to maybe caress and love mother earth a little bit, you know?

Dr. Sala: Absolutely. And also the health benefits are enormous. There are studies showing that kids who are able to play outside with dogs and with soil, they have stronger immune systems because they are exposed to so many microbes – most of them are good microbes, that are not are not harmful to us.

And kids who are raised in cities, inside air conditioned units all the time have many more health problems. Especially allergies and respiratory problems.

But going back to your question – you know, you did it. You went vegetarian for a while. When people ask me, “what can I do?” Say “listen, we could go for an hour with a laundry list of things you can do. But there is one thing – one that you can do every day, twice or three times a day that would be good for your health and the planet. Which is eat more plants.

A plant-based diet. You can get – as you know, you are a healthy man. You are careful about your nutrition. You know that the proteins we need, the micronutrients we need, you can get most of it from plants.

Mark: That’s right.

Dr. Sala: And people say “oh well, you know, I want to be strong like a bull.” Well, bulls eat grass.

Mark: (laughing) Right, right. It all starts with a plant. You know, when I watched the documentary “Game Changers” – I know there’s some controversy around it – but it was all about this topic. And the big “a-ha” for me is that when you eat plant protein, it’s designed to be broken down easily by your body. And to be absorbed – you know, the amino acids and all that are absorbable.

Whereas when you eat meat-based protein or flesh-based protein – like, the protein is not in the right form, right? It’s difficult to break down. Takes a lot of energy for your system. Taxes your system.

And then you get the wrong kind of protein structures. So they have to break down and be transformed to the right protein structures. So it seems like a lot of bull – (laughing) so to speak – that you need flesh-based protein to stay strong.

And I think there are some things that are beneficial… and maybe for certain body types or for you know people like me, if you’re out in the ocean all day long or for me if you’re doing a three hour workout – I find that I get more density in the protein.

I just can’t eat enough volume of vegetables, that’s the problem I have. Supplementation is important.

Dr. Sala: Not everybody has a daily three-hour workout…

Mark: True. That’s true. Good point there.

Okay, so eat a plant-based, whole food diet… I read a stat once that said if everyone just ate one less hamburger a week, it’d be the equivalent of taking like 30 million cars off the road.

Dr. Sala: Wow. I can believe that, yeah.

Mark: It’s incredible.

Dr. Sala: It is incredible.

Mark: Okay. So that’s one thing. Is there a next best thing that people can do? Individuals can do?

Dr. Sala: Yes. Especially here this year is people can vote. And if you like the idea of living in a place with clean air, clean water… where corporations are not allowed to throw poison in rivers without controls… if you want to live in a place where there are fish in the rivers and the ocean… I would encourage you to look at which candidate agrees with your world values. And vote for that person.

Mark: Yeah. Well said. Interesting.

So you believe this is reversible – we can get back on track. But like how much time do you think we have? Like how bad is it going? Let’s just say if we do nothing, what does it look like? If we’re too slow off the switch? Or like what’s it look like in worst case, middle case, and best case scenario?

Dr. Sala: I like your mode of Unbeatable Mind and for this you have to be… I think you have to eliminate some possibilities. And I don’t even want to think about the worst case scenario. And my philosophy is that we don’t have an option.

And people did tend to think that climate change was something that was going to happen in the future. It’s not going to affect me.

People thought that the loss of nature is something that was going to affect somebody in the Amazon or in the Congo, but not me, right? People thought that Ebola or HIV was something that happened in San Francisco or in Cameroon, and it was never going to affect me.

But this pandemic has shown… this is just a glimpse of what the worst case scenario could be. There could be much worse pandemics. There could be much more economic crisis. Look at what’s happening with the wildfires in California, in Australia. And the hurricanes in the Caribbean.

This is just a little sample of what’s coming if we do nothing.

So, I don’t think anybody wants that world. So, we have no option. And we have until 2030 to protect 30% of the planet, and we have until 2050 to go carbon neutral. And still, even if we do that, we are going to lose 90 percent of the coral reefs.

Mark: Good lord.

Dr. Sala: But this is better than doing nothing. And economically if we go “business as usual,” it’s going to be an economic crisis that the world has never seen. It is much cheaper – much, much cheaper – to invest in prevention, than having to respond to the impacts of loss of nature and global warming.

Mark: Right. Yeah. That’s amazing when you look at it that way.

Dr. Sala: But the good news is…

Mark: Yeah, what’s the good news?

Dr. Sala: The good news is… I don’t want people to live with this sense of doom and gloom. And just if we give space to nature, nature has this extraordinary ability to bounce back…

Mark: That’s what I was thinking. Like, I was trying to formulate a question about just the incredible resiliency of the Gaia – mother earth – and her ability to bounce back. So you believe that’s true, right?

Dr. Sala: I’ve seen it. I have measured it. I have more than 100 scientific papers in scientific journals showing what happens when you protect nature. There are hundreds of cases all around the world.

And people think “oh, if you protect nature, you are keeping people out.”

No, no, no. It’s the opposite. You have more nature people are going to be able to have a better life living around these protected areas. They will be able to make more money inside the protected areas through tourism outside. From better agriculture, better pollination, better fishing and all these services that nature gives us.

She gives them to us for free. That’s the beauty of it…

Mark: Right. She doesn’t ask much in return. Except to be treated a little bit nicely.

Dr. Sala: Amen.

Mark: We’re going to wrap up pretty soon here, but the anthropause, right? What have we seen from the anthropause that can inform future decision making and this discussion?

Dr. Sala: I think the anthropause is teaching us a great lesson, which is people are so excited, right? Everybody loves to see the dolphins or the humpback whale and mountain lion…

Mark: And the Himalayas, which they’ve never seen…

Dr. Sala: Exactly. And in just the space of a few weeks, right? So for me this is a great signal that nature is sending us – that Gaia is sending us – “look what I can do if you just give me some time and some space? Look how fast I can come back.”

Mark: Yeah. That’s cool. I love that.

So maybe we just keep this pandemic going for a couple years. (laughing)

Dr. Sala: (laughing) I’d rather have no pandemic and people doing the right thing, actually.

Mark: (laughing) Yeah, me too. All right. Awesome.

So I’m super excited to read your book. You said it’s going to be out in August. “Nature Of Nature: Why We Need The Wild.”

And I imagine you cover a lot of the stuff we talked about in great detail. Where else can folks find information about you or learn about your work or you know what’s coming up for you?

Dr. Sala: Yeah. You go to our website It’s our national geographic the national geographic ocean conservation initiative. And you’ll be able to see all the places we’ve been to from the Russian arctic, to Antarctica. To islands in the middle of the pacific. And video photos.

We’ll be able to share some of the adventure, and the results with you.

Mark: That’s cool. Now is that a non-profit where someone who’s maybe doing their part already in terms of voting and eating vegetarian, but they want to donate or support the efforts?

Dr. Sala: Well, that’s very kind of you of mentioning that. Absolutely. National geographic society is a nonprofit organization. And pristine seas, it’s a non-profit initiative.

And of course if some fans of the ocean – some ocean lovers are interested in helping, they can contact us through our website.

Mark: I’m gonna do that once we hang up. Awesome.

Well, Dr. Sala, thanks so much for your time. This has been very enlightening.

Started out kind of depressing, but now I have hope. And I’m going to continue on being about 90% plant-based diet. So I think that’s good enough.

And I’m going to vote. And I hope everyone listening does both of those, because it’s good for your health and the world needs us to be taking this on. Like a “Manhattan Project.” All fronts. No stone left unturned, right?

Well, thanks again and I appreciate your time. And we’ll look forward to that book coming out, and hopefully we’ll connect when you visit San Diego. Or meet in person someday.

Dr. Sala: I hope so. When we can travel again safely. Yeah, thank you so much for having me on your great podcast, Mark.

Mark: Yeah, let me know if you go on an expedition and you need someone to hold the camera or something.

Dr. Sala: Yeah, I heard you dive, huh?

Mark: (laughing) I had some experience there.

Dr. Sala: Okay I’ll let you know. I’ll add you to the list.

Mark: Okay, thanks. I’m sure you have a lot of people there.

All right, take care. Hooyah.

Dr. Sala: Thank you, Mark.

Mark: All right, folks. Thanks so much for listening. What a fascinating, extremely important podcast. Please share it with your friends, with your kids, with your mom and dad.

Like, this is no joke. We have to get serious about healing mother earth for all of our benefits and for the future of humanity itself. So thank you for doing your part. Thank you for supporting Unbeatable Mind and this podcast.

And I’ll see you next time. Stay focused.


Divine out.

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