The World is Blue|
How our Fate and
the Ocean's are One
Sylvia A. Earle
National Geographic, $26.00, hardcover, 304pp
As the Gulf of Mexico continues to be ravaged, I have searched for some positive news. Oddly enough, Sylvia Earle's recent book on the state of the world's oceans, though full of dire warnings, also offers hope; albeit, the book was published last September in the relatively angst-free BBPD (Before BP Debacle) world.
I am ashamed to admit, being an ardent ocean lover, that I had not heard of Earle until she spoke out about the gusher ("spill" does not compute) early in May. Accomplished oceanographer doesn't begin to describe her career. "Called 'Her Deepness' by the New Yorker and the New York Times and a Living Legend by the Library of Congress, and named by Time magazine as the first Hero for the Planet...she is an oceanographer, explorer, author, lecturer, Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society, leader of the Sustainable Seas Expedition, council chair for the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M...founder and chair of the Advisory Council for the Ocean in Google Earth."
Formerly the chief scientist of NOAA, she has founded three companies engaged in ocean exploration, serves on several corporate boards and is the author of more than 175 publications...Worldwide field experience includes more than 100 expeditions and 7000 hours underwater...and on and on. The question arises: how did I miss her?
Don't be intimidated by her credentials, though. She writes like a dream. The World Is Blue is a clearly and precisely organized polemic for conserving the oceans of this planet. Earle's prose is straight-forward; her argument elegantly simple. It can be summed up with her opening quote from W. H. Auden: "Thousands have lived without love--not one without water."
The book is divided into three sections: The Vision, The Reality, and Opportunities for Action (the Solution). In section one she dissolves the long held myth that the oceans provide limitless bounty (food, minerals, and empty space in which to throw unimaginable amounts of garbage). The taking of wildlife by humans (sea mammals, fish and shellfish) has direly depleted ocean populations (big fish by ninety per cent), at or close to a level of inability of recover. It's now or never time. Regarding the amount of human waste, especially plastics, it must have taken an extreme application of will power to be able to describe the vast floating islands of human- generated offal as dispassionately as she does.
In section two, The Reality, Earle discusses biodiversity loss primarily through over-fishing. "Industrial fishing, in effect, has been clear-cutting ancient ecosystems, disrupting and dismembering the underpinnings of the dynamic but amazingly stable carbon cycle constructed over hundreds of millions of years." Living systems like fish in the sea and trees in the forest absorb carbon dioxide...fewer fish and other living creatures...more CO2. Additional degradation of the ocean environment by other means of human exploitation--drilling, mining, shipping and spilling has stepped up the problem. The pre-industrial level of CO2 in the atmosphere was 275 ppm and had been, thereabouts, for millennia. At present rates, carbon dioxide is expected to reach 500 ppm by 2050." At that point we will have established a doomsday machine of higher and higher temperatures causing the release of methane, causing higher and higher temperatures. We'll all bake like that last stuffed "cod" we not so innocently enjoyed.
The third section is much cheerier. Earle outlines several hopeful solutions. Extensive exploration of the sea and sea floor is one of them. "Ignorance about the ocean and lack of understanding about the relevance of the fundamental ways people everywhere are connected to the sea underlie the indifference and complacency that have led to abuses imposed by people in recent years, with dire consequences to our future." Being a woman of action, she contacted the Google boys. Google Earth now includes Google Ocean.
Governance of the oceans is another part of the problem solving effort...just who can do what, where and when needs to be clarified. "Smart aquaculture" will take the pressure off the surviving fish in the sea. And finally giant swaths...hopefully, 30 percent of the world's oceans will someday, soon, we hope, be protected as national and international preserves This effort has already begun but the tiny-ness of little dots on the global maps provided at the end of the book is pretty discouraging. "Ninety-seven percent of the Earth is ocean," writes Earle. "No blue, no green." Read the book. Get involved.