Monday, May 17, 2010

How we wrecked the oceans

Like the Indo-Aryan God Shiva, Destroyer of Worlds, marine ecologist Jeremy Jackson is here to turn your comfortable, complacent Mental World upside-down. He's able to do that because we are destroying the Physical World—in this case, the Earth's Oceans.

Before I continue, I want you to watch How We Wrecked The Oceans (18:19). What do you say? Too busy, maybe later? Maybe never? If you have any interest, however small, in the future of Life on this planet, including Human Life, I suggest you watch it now.

Finished? That was tough, I know. Are you feeling a bit less confident about the future? I hope you didn't conclude that wrecking the oceans is inconsequential, that we can easily fix it—denial is not just a river in Egypt. Let's talk about that much ignored, much maligned subject called Reality.

I'll start with a quote from a review of Eaarth, a new book by earnest but "grudgingly" optimistic environmental activist/writer Bill McKibben.

How we wrecked the oceans

It is in this final section [of the book], called “Lightly, Carefully, Gracefully,” that the real problems begin. If you are, like McKibben, you might be persuaded by his arguments, some of them new, others a little old hat. Arguments that a smaller, diversified agriculture could add stability to our compromised industrial food-production system. That “growth” as an economic model is inherently flawed and will no longer be viable. That an “uptick of neighboring” will spread the sharing and implementation of practical, Eaarth-friendly how-to-ism. That the Internet could alleviate the rural boredom so many of us dread when we contemplate chucking it all and going back to the land, as he argues we must

But many of these proposed solutions inadvertently resemble the list of things Christian Lander lampooned in his 2008 best seller Stuff White People Like: “farmer’s markets,” “awareness,” “making you feel bad about not going outside,” “vegan/vegetarianism.” It’s not that these things aren’t important. But in the absence of some overarching authority, a kind of ecologically minded Lenin,they will remain hipster lifestyle choices rather than global game changers...

Let's have Jeremy Jackson retort from the end of the video—

What will the oceans be like in 20 or 50 years? Well, there won't be any fish, except for minnows, and the water will be pretty dirty, and all those kinds of things, full of mercury, etc, etc ... and we can imagine something like the dead-zonification of the global coastal ocean, and you sure won't want to eat fish that were raised in it because...

The question is how are we all going to respond to this? And we can do all sorts of things to fix it, but in the final analysis, the thing we really need to fix is ourselves. It's not about the fish, it's not about the pollution, it's not about the climate change, it's about us and our greed and our need for growth, and our inability to imagine a world which is different from the Selfish World We Live In Today.

So the question is will we respond to this? Or not? I would say that the Future of Life and the Dignity of Human Beings depends on our [response]. Thank you.

There are two levels of change with very widely separated degrees of difficulty described in the two quotes.

At a deeper level, the question turns on whether human behavior is malleable (almost) without limit. McKibben believes human society can (in the words of the reviewer) willfully transform into a better version of itself. This quote from the Eaarth website—

Our hope depends, McKibben argues, on scaling back—on building the kind of societies and economies that can hunker down, concentrate on essentials, and create the type of community (in the neighborhood, but also on the Internet) that will allow us to weather trouble on an unprecedented scale. Change—fundamental change—is our best hope on a planet suddenly and violently out of balance.

Presumably, in such communities we will all be vegetarians, listen to National Public Radio, surf the internet to relieve our boredom, and go to community-run Farmer's Markets to eat locally grown food. Sounds nice, but none of this gets to the heart of the problem Jackson describes. McKibben's solution amounts to Stuff White People Like for survivalists.

Jeremy Jackson doesn't offer Hope. Instead, he states correctly that there is one and only one way out of this awful mess. He doesn't pretend that forming local, self-sufficient communities is going to ameliorate the terrible effects of dead stratified oceans, of a Marine Extinction on a global scale. In Jackson's view, the Human Species must be Born Again. We have to somehow change who we are. We have to fix ourselves. And no procrastinating allowed, because we're out of time—we have to do it now. This is your wake-up call.

I'll leave it up to you to decide whether humans can radically change their collective behavior. Here at DOTE, I make it a point to avoid the usual Obligatory Hope. If it walks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, it's a duck. I believe Human Nature is fixed, despite enormous but ultimately superficial cultural diversity. We're a Species, so what you see is what you get.

Tomorrow I will update my past writings on Earth's biodiversity crisis.

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