I explore our relationship with nature, and the relationship between nature and human dignity. Much of my work emphasizes the sea. My more recent work also probes how non-human animals think and feel.
Until I was ten years old, I lived in Brooklyn where my father raised canaries in our apartment and I raised homing pigeons in the yard. After that I grew up around New York’s Long Island coast where I loved fishing, wild creatures, small boats, and camping in the remaining woods. Watching the places I loved disappear turned me into a conservationist.
Over the years my work has changed emphasis from research on the ecology and behavior of wild animals, to activism on ocean policy, to writing. I first studied seabirds and fishes and hawks, did a lot of fishing, and earned degrees in ecology. In the 1990s, I got very active in ocean conservation, helping lead campaigns to ban high-seas driftnets, re-write U. S. federal fisheries law, work toward international conservation of tunas, sharks, and other fishes, and achieve passage of a United Nations global fisheries treaty.
Since then I’ve turned increasingly to writing, for the power in words. In the course of writing a string of books and articles, my main conclusion is that at this point in history, nature and human dignity require each other. Where people’s dignity is robbed by excessive poverty or oppressive governments, they don’t have the luxury of protecting the natural world. Where the natural world is thoroughly degraded it becomes nearly impossible for people to get back on their feet and regain a dignified existence.
So what drives my work is a devotion to conservation. And what drives that devotion is my deep love and wonder for the living world.
— Carl Safina