Science & Philanthropy

Words by Jasper Smith, Arksen Founder – edited from the speech given at the Explorer Yachts Summit.

The ocean is by far the largest and least understood ecosystem on earth. Scientists believe that over 90% of all ocean species are yet to be discovered. Every second breath we take is generated by the ocean and it lies at the core of the earth’s stability, regulating our weather and absorbing carbon. We, as ocean explorers, have a duty to respect and protect it.

A Terrible Truth

As James Hansen and Al Gore said almost 20 years ago, global warming is an inconvenient and terrible truth. The next 10 years are fundamental to the survival of life on earth as we know it today. Many say that we humans are hard-wired to self-destruct and perhaps we are, but if we don’t accept that premise, immediate and profound behavioural change is required; in the way that we build, operate and consume almost everything around us.

The unrelenting growth of CO2 emissions continues unabated. The rate of emissions is growing not decreasing – and that is happening despite the Paris Agreement and over $1 trillion of investment in carbon curbing initiatives. In the last 100 years, we have released more carbon into the atmosphere than in the previous 2,000 years.

If we carry on, business as usual, we are close to five degrees of warming by the end of the century. We may see over two meters of global sea level rising – the impact of which is hard to predict, but would result in the mass global migration of hundreds of millions of people and possible conflict and war as people struggle to relocate and find shelter and food.

Time is Running Out

The last five years have ranked as the five warmest for ocean heat. The ocean is absorbing heat 40% faster than previously thought. Between 30% and 60% of all coral reefs have died in the last 100 years. Coral bleaching has risen from 8% to 31% since the 80’s and a failure to achieve the Paris Agreement (2.5C to 3.1C of warming) will result in the near-total loss of coral reefs within 25 years. Not to mention that up to 12.7 million tonnes of plastic waste enter the marine ecosystem annually. This number is rising, not falling.

Time is running out. At the moment 92.6% of the world ocean is unprotected. 91% of all species unknown and 92% of the deep ocean remains unexplored. There is a massive shortage of funding and sea time for scientists to conduct research.

Philanthropy is perhaps the most powerful tool on the planet to help solve this issue.

Some of our greatest achievements have been delivered through philanthropy, and none more significant than the core science that sits behind the analysis of global warming, was funded and generated, initially at least, through scientific philanthropy 30 years ago.

Slowing the climate crisis requires immediate behavioural change but it also requires massive scientific investment and technical innovation. To achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 it has been estimated that it will cost $7 trillion. After government commitments, there is a $2.5 trillion funding gap.

The charitable sector raises about $410 billion per year and generates non-profit revenues of around $2 trillion. So, conceptually we have the funds, but only 3% of those funds are currently directed at environmental and climate science.

Philanthropy has been, and can be a powerful tool for change but, the ocean remains the least funded of all the Sustainable Development Goals, receiving less than 1% of philanthropic funding since 2009. Majority of which is coming from only 20 foundations.

My children were recently at the climate protests in London. They, and millions like them around the world, have done a better job at provoking change in the last 12 months than we have done in the last decade.

The level of change that we need can only be delivered by governments cooperating unilaterally and globally. But our children are doing a great job at stimulating the debate and communicating. They are a powerful catalyst for change. We should be universally proud of their achievements and rally behind their efforts.

Governments are Engaging

One of the most positive impacts so far is that governments are engaging (the UK has recently declared that we are in a climate crisis and that its carbon target is ‘net zero’ greenhouse gases by 2050). But, let’s make no mistake there are some very significant challenges ahead – and this industry – (the marine industry) like all industries – but perhaps more so – needs to adopt profound behavioural change immediately.

As David Attenborough said,

“What we did to save the whales, we must now do for all nature, and that is a communications challenge, as much as it is a scientific one.”

Looking out over the ocean it is impossible to ignore its connectedness; to land and to ourselves, to our wellbeing and that of the planet. As Richard Branson said, “There is no ocean B.” It is the foundation for all life on earth and how we use, understand and preserve the oceans over the next decade will determine the future of humanity over the next millennia or more.

Be Part of the Change

This is why we have set up the Arksen Foundation as a platform for research, conservation and creativity in support of:

Through our foundation we provide project funding, sea time on Arksen and associated vessels and media production, storytelling and marketing expertise to help research and science projects, education and exploration or sport with purpose. 

Our Foundation acts as the hub for our community, bonding owners and users, researchers and creatives through a common set of beliefs. We require all owners to sign up to at least 10% of their vessel’s sea time to be dedicated to the Arksen Foundation and the projects it supports.

Our vessels are not just about the hybrid systems, efficient hulls or solar capacity. Or about the lifecycle management of our yards and products or the new ownership model. It’s about creating a purpose to an owner’s experience through philanthropy and a contribution to science.

Our work is to change the existing paradigms of luxury travel, by facilitating more mindful explorations and ensuring collaboration between owners, scientists, ocean advocates and activists. It is changing the meaning of owning a boat from a self-serving endeavour to a powerful statement of intent to use these vessels to drive behavioural change.

As David Attenborough said

“I’ve always believed that few people will protect the natural world, if they don’t first love and understand it.”

The Good News 

We are adventurers and explorers working with some of the most sophisticated people on the planet. We have time, and I hope, the motivation to drive the profound behavioural change required to win this battle.

There are wonderful signs of progress. A new report suggests that evolution may yet save our coral reefs, we can stem climate change and the global population is now awake and motivated. If we work together, we can raise philanthropic funding and provide a true research platform that will fundamentally improve our knowledge and empower better decision making.

Help us discover projects that will make a difference. Despite the challenges, there has never been a better time to act. We have 10 years.

Let me leave you with this wonderful quote from Judith Rodin, president of The Rockefeller Foundation.

“In the last century, philanthropy changed the world in ways many thought never possible. Our capacity to create transformative change has never been greater. We have more resources, more connections, more possibilities than ever before. And by leveraging the explosive capabilities of new technology, we have the power to ensure that diverse voices are included in solving the problems that humanity will face over the next 100 years. This is our opportunity, our obligation, our moment, and I have every confidence that together we will rise to meet it.”


Our Shared Seas 2019 / CEA Consulting / Lucile Packard Foundation

Find out more about the Arksen Foundation >>