Jean-Michel Cousteau, who has lived most of his life submerged in the vastness of the world’s oceans, believes the key to saving our marine life is knowledge. Cousteau, in one of the most poignant presentations at Tulane Law School in recent memory, made a significant adjustment to the legacy of his legendary father, Jacques Cousteau, who said people would save what they loved. For the younger Cousteau, the heart is only part of it. The world must understand that which they cannot see: The intricately-connected ecosystems of the world’s waterways, which continue to suffer under man’s neglect. “For me, it is about education. People cannot save what they don’t understand,” Cousteau, a few months shy of his 80th birthday, said during an hour-long lecture at Tulane Law’s Summit on Environmental Law and Policy. “We are all connected. We have no borders. It is an exciting time now because I believe the decision-makers of the future are in this room, and in our classrooms today.”
Jean-Michel Cousteau with Tulane Environmental Law Prof. Oliver Houck, who coordinates the Environmental Law and Policy summit each year.
Cousteau, the founder and chairman of the Ocean Futures Society has produced more than 80 films, won an Emmy, a Peabody and a Cable Ace award, and written extensively on ocean conservation. He continues to bring his research and discoveries to the world via his documentaries and films. Friday’s lecture, held in the Wendell H. Gauthier Appellate Moot Court Room 110 in John Giffen Weinmann Hall, was standing-room only. The scope of Cousteau’s work was on full display – he was at times childlike about the creatures of the sea, and at other times fearful of the price of lost habitats. Above all, he was optimistic, speaking of successes working across nations and cultures, going beyond politics and philosophies, to the one thing that mattered: Saving the creatures that live in waterways that constitute 70 percent of the planet. “I believe we are going to make it,” Cousteau told the crowd. “We have the privilege not to let this planet disappear. It’s our choice. And I am convinced more than ever that we can do this through education.”
Cousteau brought with him a number of videos to share. One hit close to home, looking back at the devastation of the Gulf Coast’s waterways following the BP oil disaster.
“This one affected me very profoundly,” Cousteau recalled, because it led him to researchers who were able to show the devastation long after the cleanup was complete.
“We are still learning from our mistakes. This has to change. We can do it, we are doing it, but it is thanks to young people who continue to learn from this,” Cousteau said.
In another video, he examined new diving technology that allows for collection of data and samples deeper in the oceans than ever before. One of his final videos gave a peek at his latest film, “The Wonders of the Sea,” released last fall on IMAX theaters.
Cousteau pressed the idea that research has refined the base of information on waterways, creating opportunities for scientists to “follow the water.” By showing how all water sources are interconnected, Cousteau hopes they can find solutions for poor water quality that leads to the destruction of habitats. He spoke of the need to work harder to collect runoff, to share with the public the realities of climate change (“it is real”) and continue to address climate deniers.
During a question-and-answer session, Cousteau was asked about how he tries to persuade those who don't believe in global warming. He said he never criticizes.
“We have to show them. I show them my videos of the people of Alaska who’ve seen ice turn to water year-round. I show them how our shorelines are shrinking. I show the dead coral reefs in Florida. I talk to them, and show them.”