Recently, I spent three weeks in a Georgia beach community. Each morning, I’d run to the pier and, sometimes, on the beach. At dusk, I’d walk a street that dead-ended with a view of the majesty and immensity of all that water, thinking, in awe, “cradle of life.”
Tuesday, in “Great Decisions” class, the topic was “state of the oceans.” I had read from the textbook a chapter authored by Sara Tjossem in which she said, “Generations of people thought and acted as though it [the ocean] was so vast as to be beyond human influence, an inexhaustible source of fish and adventure.”
We know differently now with an a posteriori acknowledgement of pollution, overfishing, resource extraction, and climate change. In other words, human fingerprints. Exploitation. Greed.
Our on-the-go lifestyle embraces, among a plethora of throwaways, disposable packaging—usually, non-biodegradable plastic. We seldom think of the implications when we purchase an unbreakable bottle and carry our groceries in plastic bags. I recycle. Many don’t. And when plastic reaches the ocean, it poses a deadly threat to marine animals that mistake it for food.
One of my most informed classmates talked about Barack Obama’s 2010 National Ocean Policy, an effort to restore the health of oceans and ecosystems. But this plan, issued as an executive order, doesn’t carry the force of law. Little has been done with the strategy. In a video preceding our discussion, an expert used the word “shy” to describe the president’s commitment to environmental issues.
Another classmate voiced frustration about the lack of awareness, saying that in a downward economy, people don’t think about ocean well-being. Instead, they’re worried about putting food on the table and job security.
Tjossem briefly mentioned in her chapter on British Petroleum’s deep-water drilling disaster, although the assault hemorrhaged crude oil for months, damaging marine and wildlife habitats as well as fishing and tourism industries. I jumped in with, “Corexit,” explaining that huge quantities of the toxic dispersant were dumped into the Gulf of Mexico. I followed this with Fukushima and the leaking of radiation into the sea.
I can’t begin to remember all we discussed in class. I wrote in a spiral notebook: shoreline erosion, rising sea levels, acidification, and issues of sovereignty while wondering who holds the deed to the seas. Seems absurd. Even more absurd than believing land really belongs to any one of us.
We managed to pack a lot into two hours. And we questioned what could be accomplished. Seems offering an economic incentive is most effective. This is a sad commentary.
Finally, I said what I believe is the distillate of most of our calamities—Wall Street influence. I see little hope in salvaging anything as long as the bankers and multinational corporations, in control of a system that impoverishes the masses, are profiting from pollution and destruction.
As I drove home, later, after my writing course, I thought about human beings and their evolution from the oceans. That the place of our birth is perilously sick. And that the condition may become terminal. The cradle of life is rocking plumes of death. If we continue to ignore this, we really needn’t worry about much else.
Missy Comley Beattie lives in Baltimore, Maryland. She continues to think about Bradley Manning as she parallel processes other obsessions. She can be reached at email@example.com.