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Being an informed optimist

Updated Monday 6th June 2011

Growing up in Brittany, France fuelled Mathieu Belbeoch's interest in the world's oceans. He talks about how his career as a mathematician led him to become a technical coordinator for the global 'Argo' programme to observe the ocean


Copyright open university


Mathieu Belbeoch, IOC of UNESCO, Argo Technical Co-ordinator, France
Well I’m Mathieu Belbeoch, I work here in Tolouse and I’m the Technical Coordinator of a very exciting global programme to observe the ocean.  This programme is called Argo and we deploy buoys called profiling floats almost everywhere in the ocean, so I’m helping this programme to be deployed. 

Well I think as far as I remember, I’ve always been concerned by the environment and by the ocean firstly because I grew up in French Brittany, near Brest, where the ocean is very present, and most of my activities were done around the ocean, and the rhythm by the meteorological, I would say natural rhythm of the ocean but also less natural issues like, for example, the oil spills that happen quite frequently in this part of the world. 

My background as a mathematician, science I would say in general has permitted me to try to find a job in oceanography, maybe not as a researcher but more as an engineer, trying to develop projects and make things happen.  So today I’m recording at our the Argo programme and I’m in the middle of an international cooperation between different countries, between different scientists that are managers, and I try to help all these persons to work on the Argo programme.  So I help them to deploy their instruments, I help them to plan their deployment by monitoring the global air in real time, and I assist this worldwide community as a kind of support centre. 

I think we’re entering in a new era where the planet will be completely monitored, on any discipline, we are in physical oceanography but biology, biochemicals, science, all that will be observed, so we can better take the pulse of the planet.  So what is going to happen to me and to the Argo programme in the future? Probably evolve to more interactivity with instruments and more multidisciplinary applications. 

A pessimist is some kind of informed optimist.  I don’t remember who said that, so I’m a quite informed optimist too.  And I’m somehow pessimist for that reason.  The thing is that there are some good points, since I would say two decades, is that the discussion on the environment at the international level are taking place, so the world community is talking about those issues.  Climate change is one but there are many others.  So as long as the issue is on the table of negotiation, you can expect to see something positive out of it.  If nobody talks about these issues you’ll never see any progress, so somehow I’m optimistic because of that, because we start to take the conscience, we need to do something, as we live in a finite world, we need to take care of it.  But on the other hand, there’s so much argument that push me to be pessimist, it’s very hard to keep a positive thinking when you see that over almost, I’m close to 40 years old and I see in my image that environment seems things that have changed.  If you want to see dolphins in Brittany it’s very hard, there’s no more whales in France since a century.  So, and I don’t talk to you about uranium exploitation and the 50 power plants, nuclear power plants we have in France, in a tiny country, so all that makes me somehow pessimistic.  But I try to keep being positive and at least I’m happy to be able to somehow serve the planet by first better understanding what’s going on, and that’s modest but that’s not so bad.



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