DeOccupy the Oceans: #EcosystemBeforeEconomics

by Adam

Mickey Z.

“If we kill everything in the ocean, and if we pollute the ocean to a point where it can’t sustain life, we’re committing suicide.”

Peter Benchley, author of Jaws

When a high-ranking member of the criminal class like NYC mayor Mike Bloomberg speaks, it can be quite instructive for the 99%. For example, the billionaire recently said this about the Occupy Wall Street encampment in Zuccotti Park/Liberty Plaza:

“They say, ‘We don’t know what we want but we want it now. But that’s just as good a way of saying it as anything. … They express it by camping out and yelling and screaming.”

Bloomberg is lying and he knows it. He also knows that for those who remain distant from the global occupations, such statements effectively serve to reinforce their inaccurate (read: negative) perceptions.

Mayor Mike is clinging desperately to a tried and true model of media marginalization. Better that TV viewers are left with images of “camping out and yelling and screaming” than with the frightening global realities that helped spawn OWS in the first place.

The 1% don’t want the big connections to be made…but it’s too late. OWS is not a single-issue campaign with a finite goal. OWS is slowly but surely putting it all together and thus exposing a planetary culture that must be dismantled before there’s no one left to dismantle it.

Exhibit A: The oceans.

Over 40% of the world’s oceans are heavily impacted by human activities with few areas—if any—left unaffected by anthropogenic factors. This means we humans (and what we deem civilization) have played a major role in the despoiling of the waters of the earth.

It’s not some unstoppable force of nature or preordained theology that 90% of the large fish are already gone. Human decisions have led us to where we are now and new human decisions are needed to forge a more logical and compassionate path. After all, 80% of all life on earth is found in the oceans and its where over half our oxygen is created.

The relentless quest for corporate profit has blinded us to the plight of the deep blue sea and how it impacts all forms of life. To follow is but a small sampling of what human culture has done and is doing to our beautiful—and essential—oceans:

We can begin this discussion with the ever-increasing ocean acidification. The carbon dioxide (CO2) that results from the burning of fossil fuels dissolves in the ocean and decreases the pH. Consider this:

  • Roughly 25% of all CO2 emissions are absorbed by oceans
  • Before humans began burning coal and oil, ocean pH had been relatively stable for 20 million years
  • Over the last 250 years, oceans have absorbed 530 billion tons of CO2, which has resulted in a 30% in ocean acidity

The myriad deleterious impacts of acidification include the reduction of a mineral called carbonate, which forms the shells and skeletons of many shellfish and corals. As pH levels drop, shells literally dissolve. This effect also slows the building of coral reefs and some believe the tipping point for such reefs could be less then 40 years away. Often called “rainforests of the sea,” coral reefs are home to a quarter of all marine fish species and their presence buttresses coastal regions from strong waves and storms.

Those forms of ocean life still somehow able to manage the increasing acidity are not exactly in the clear—thanks to bottom trawling. This is the highly non-selective fishing method of dragging immense nets along the ocean floor. Think of it as the sea-based version of forest clear cutting. Called “arguably the single most destructive human action for the world’s oceans,” trawling often leaves a trail that can be seen from space.

Trawling is a major component in overfishing (or what I call “fishing”). Since large-scale industrial fishing methods was introduced in the 1950s, 90% of the large fish—e.g. tuna, swordfish, marlin, cod, halibut, skate, and flounder—are gone.

In addition, estimates range as high as 50 to 100 million sharks killed each year—sometimes as unintended ‘bycatch’, other times more specifically when untold millions of sharks are targeted  for their fins.

This practice involves catching sharks, cutting off their fins while they are alive, and tossing the maimed fish back into the ocean (often still alive). The fins are dried and used in shark fin soup. To make this even more despicable, the shark fins don’t add flavor to the soup. They are added solely for texture.

More than 200 million years before the dinosaurs, there were sharks. Do we really want to be part of the species that wiped them out?

I could go on for days…telling you about, say, offshore drilling and its ocean-killing properties. For example: Over its lifetime, a single oil rig can: Dump more than 90,000 metric tons of drilling fluid and metal cuttings into the ocean; drill between 50-100 wells, each dumping 25,000 pounds of toxic metals, such as lead, chromium, and mercury, and potent carcinogens like toluene, benzene, and xylene into the ocean; and pollute the air as much as 7,000 cars driving 50 miles a day.

Not to mention: oil spills and slicks, beach erosion, the fact that the world’s largest landfill happens to be floating in the Pacific Ocean, etc. etc. etc.

As Phil Rockstroh recently wrote: “The oceans of the earth are dying. This fact alone should knock us to our knees in lamentation…should send us reeling into the streets in displays of public grief.”

We urgently need to make these big picture connections in our minds and in our activism. While each of us can play a role in a wide range of crucial issues, we must never lose sight of how it all comes together. Sure, it’d be great if corporations paid more taxes or if single-payer health care were enacted but such changes would ultimately fall into the proverbial Titanic/deck chair category if our eco-system is not restored and respected.

In the name of inspiring action, I’ll leave you with some thoughts on one of the ocean’s most remarkable and endangered inhabitants: the blue whale, the largest known animal in Earth’s history. It can grow to 100 feet long and weigh as much as 150 tons. Stand one upright and it could reach the height of a 10-story building. You and 49 of your closest friends could stand comfortably on its tongue.

Unfortunately, for centuries, humans have seen fit to hunt these magnificent marine mammals. The blue whales of the Antarctic are at less than 1% of their original abundance (despite 40 years of complete protection) and the results have been disastrous for whales and the ocean.

Oh, one more thing: A blue whale’s heart is the size of a small automobile. Just imagine how much love exists in something with a heart that big.

#OccupyWithLove. #DeOccupyTheOceans. #OccupyTheBigPicture.


Mickey Z. is the author of 11 books, most recently the novel Darker Shade of Green. Until the laws are changed or the power runs out, he can be found on an obscure website called Facebook.