Speaking of depths, the absurdity of delusion apparent in this lengthy, mournful discussion was almost burlesque. As more factual information emerged during the exchange, it became increasingly clear despite their best efforts that the oceans are pretty well ruined, especially if we continue in our current path of overfishing, pollution and globalization, which we most certainly will. The panel made valiant attempts to gloss over their dismal diagnosis by simultaneously calling for more money so we can "understand" the unexplored regions, before we demolish the food chain past any chance of recovery. Talk about anthropomorphism! Some variant of "understand" was repeated well over a dozen times, I lost track. Because if we humans "understand" the oceans, and what we're doing to them, then somehow that is expected to inspire us to stop.
Here's the critical missing element. The oceans don't need us to understand anything more about them. We already know plenty about acidification, coral bleaching, collapsing food chains, the plastic garbage patches, the ravages of international shipping, military operations, and coastal eutrophication from nitrogen over-fertilization. What Earth's tormented oceans need is for humans to stop our megalomaniacal crusade to fill them with the abominable excrement of our industrialized civilization...like the emissions from Cameron's next air flight - for which he was excused early, after the first segment.
But it's ever so much more rewarding to research and lament this scourge than to actually address our culpability, never mind elucidate the drastic, painful sacrifices required from developed nations to even approach a meaningful solution - like reducing our consumption, travel, and population to a fraction of its current festering number. So predictably this forum, held before a live audience in California, amounted to quite a spectacle of fawning over the fabulous celebrity among them - an obsequious chorus that assiduously avoided any hint referencing the chasm between Cameron's ostensible green credentials and his personal proclivity to make an outsize contribution to the biomassacre.
In his fancy toy ship, he ventured down to the Mariana Trench, the deepest place on Earth. He seemed disappointed he found so little life. "We accomplished our goals and I got to lay my eyes on the deepest spot in the ocean and kind of bear witness..but we didn't achieve all of our science goals," which he was hoping would shed light on what "astrobiologists call extremophile life". Does anyone get the sense that Cameron is investing in technowizardry to save his ass from the imminent scourges the rest of humanity will find inescapable?
Even more bizarre than that Flatow would so crudely ask if she were jealous is the fact that yes, she is!
He followed up with a question about why ocean research receives so little federal funding compared to space exploration, obviously a sore point that rankles oceanographic types.
Earle chuckled ruefully and said of the ocean: "It is our life support system. This planet is blue and we know so little about it and we've allowed terrible things to happen to it. The ocean is in trouble, that means we're in trouble. And we're blissfully continuing to do dastardly things to the ocean and we don't even - we haven't made the investment in understanding what's there. Only about 5% has been seen, let alone explored."
Flatow: "Jim would you welcome some larger program to do this - give you a hand, or expand it?"
Cameron: "Absolutely I think in general there's such a dearth of funds for understanding the oceans...we need to put big networks of real-time sensors out on the seafloor and lying through the water column so that we can have a sense of what's happening in the ocean in closer to real time. I mean we get little bits of data from here and there and we try to piece it together and understand it, but you know you could take a picture of the whole earth from orbit and the meteorologist can figure out what's happening in the atmosphere - we don't have anything like that for the ocean. If we're going to understand the impacts of climate change, we're going to understand the pollution and overfishing and all the things that are threatening the ocean, we need to dump money into this issue...look, I have a foot in both communities the space camp and in the ocean camp."
"But, if I had to choose between the two I agree completely the ocean is our life support system and we're impacting it very, very deeply. I'm just afraid that we won't understand it before we've destroyed it. So we need research and we need improvements in technology and not just in the offshore oil and gas business but in research and predictive modeling."
Okay seriously, he thinks he understands that the oceans are threatened but somehow espouses the fantasy that "...improvements in technology...in the offshore oil and gas business..." are part of the solution??
McCosker cannot resist jumping on the Cameron love-train and chimes in with praise: "It is so remarkable what Jim has accomplished - not only the getting to the bottom but in coming back," (laughter) - and then gets to the heart of the matter, the reason for unfair favoritism for space funding over the oceans (he really needn't worry - our bankrupt economy isn't going to be giving much to NASA and NOAA anymore either):
"Unfortunate luck...and very good PR on behalf of the space missions. However tourists are getting beneath in submersibles and understanding how complicated and how incredible this zone is and how little we know about it. So I'm hoping that the tide will turn - pardon me - and we will have enough public interest in the oceans particularly as we're running out of what used to live in the ocean, and we begin to understand that certain system services, that all those creatures provide us."
Tourists in submersibles...that's a hopeful sign? This reminds me of ski resort owners moaning that climate change is reducing snow pack so they are losing patrons. I doubt the skiers are bicycling up the mountains. Here's another tone-deaf example:
Flatow to Cameron: "I know you have to go and catch a flight but before you go, do you have any advice for people who'd like to stimulate more interest in the oceans? Young people or what they might do...or how?"
Cameron: "I would say if people are really interested in the oceans, step one is create a personal relationship with the ocean whether that's going to study or just say, learning to scuba dive. There's no stronger or more passionate guardians of the ocean than a scuba diver who's gotten to see the wonders and diversity of ocean life and the interaction and come to an appreciation of it so I would say to people don't think about it...it's not necessarily the most remunerative thing you could possibly do with your life but it will be the most rewarding, to go and act on your dream and get to become a guardian of the ocean."
Why didn't he just tell all those resentful Occupiers with no job and thousands of dollars in student loan debt to become a Hollywood blockbuster movie director, commission a submarine, fly it to port, and then puttputt it across the Pacific?
Wouldn't you know then first thing this morning, HuffPo featured an article about Cameron and some other entrepreneurial buddies who are in a joint venture to explore outer space.
"Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt and billionaire co-founder Larry Page have teamed up with "Avatar" director James Cameron and other investors to back an ambitious space exploration and natural resources venture, details of which will be unveiled next week."
"The fledgling company, called Planetary Resources, will be unveiled at a Tuesday news conference at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, according to a press release issued this week."
"Aside from naming some of the company's high-profile backers, the press release disclosed tantalizingly few details, saying only that the company will combine the sectors of 'space exploration and natural resources' in a venture that could add 'trillions of dollars to the global GDP.' The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that Planetary Resources will explore the feasibility of mining natural resources from asteroids, a decades-old concept."
"This innovative start-up will create a new industry and a new definition of 'natural resources,'" according to the press release.
"Planetary Resource was co-founded by Eric Anderson, a former NASA Mars mission manager, and Peter Diamandis, the commercial space entrepreneur behind the X-Prize, a competition that offered $10 million to a group that launched a reusable manned spacecraft. Other notable investors include Charles Simonyi, a former top executive at Microsoft, and K. Ram Shriram, a Google director.'"
The Wall Street Journal version has more, which can only be disappointing to Drs. Earle and McCoster, because although Cameron claimed to have a foot each in the space and ocean camps, it looks like there's a lot more backing - and potential profit perhaps? - in space exploration:
"In recent years, as NASA has pulled back on space exploration, wealthy entrepreneurs such as Amazon Inc. founder Jeff Bezos, Tesla Motors Inc. creator Elon Musk and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen have tried to fill the void with their personal money. Mr. Musk has pursued commercial rockets and spacecraft to transport cargo and astronauts into orbit, while Messrs. Allen and Bezos have looked to launch tourists to the edge of space and possibly beyond."
But getting back to our Science Friday interview, after Cameron took his leave, Earle described how she was awarded a wish, as part of winning a TED prize in 2009. Her idea was to get "some brainy people together and brainstorm about what we could do about the oceans"...and the mission? To go to the Galapagos Islands! In seeming surprise, she added "...just after getting back what happened? April 20th, the big blowout in the Gulf of Mexico - which was a wakeup call for those of us who care about the ocean, that in such a short period of time we can change the nature of a big body of water like the Gulf of Mexico."
Well, unless this group of brainiacs sailed to the Galapagos in the same sort of conveyance as Darwin in 1835, then some of that sort of deep sea drilling is what powered their junket.
A member of the audience asked, what can an ordinary person do? With touching sentimentality, Earle recommended using whatever talent you possess - singing, or math - while McCoster suggested wistfully that kids can be a great force:
"Like Sylvia, I travel around the world talking to kids...talk to fishery laboratories, and they're feeling a lot of pressure now from young kids who aren't going to put up with what we are turning over to them so I'm hopeful...I'm not extremely optimistic about the future but I'm hopeful..because the kids are going to turn this around, and now with social media we can't let anything slip by."
I gather then it's up to the kids to hold their elders to task...the ones that are flying around the world.
Earle can't resist one last accolade for Cameron, in absentia, even though he was probably in
a limo his helicopter on the way from his 8000 sf mansion to his private jet:
"Speaking for Jim Cameron, who said that he lamented that his direct dive was not more focused on taking care of the place, if you will...and yet I think his approach to explore, to peel back the layers of the unknown, is one of the most important things that we can do. Ignorance is killing us - Knowing is the key...".
What if anything his vainglorious, self-aggrandizing jaunt contributed to scientific knowledge, particularly considering the expenditure in terms of money, energy and resources, has yet to be elaborated upon, but oh well.
A member of the audience said she wanted to "inject a little hope" and asked what the major NGO's are doing.
Earle of course cannot be accused of negativity (never mind that worse sin, alarmism), so she said reassuringly: "Well there is plenty of reason for hope and I think it starts with knowing that the ocean is in trouble, and knowing that it matters that the ocean is in trouble...that the ocean governs the way the world works. If you like to breathe you will care about the ocean. If you like water that magically falls out of the sky you will care about the ocean. You don't have to touch the ocean yourself for the ocean to touch you."
After an almost audible gulp, she continued more slowly, "Knowing that, it is perplexing that it's taking us so long to take action. Our perception that the ocean is so big, so vast we don't have to worry about it, it'll take care of itself, persists. It's there in the way that we treat the ocean, what we put in, what we take out..."
I think she intended for her mention - that all of one percent of the ocean has been designated "protected areas" - to be encouraging, but it is hard to spin it that way, especially because even those protected areas are not exactly completely immune from influence, despite their status. Her forlorn "...it is perplexing" is the same astonished disbelief that climate scientists have been expressing as well. If you make it excruciatingly evident that much of the world is going to become uninhabitable, wouldn't you think the governments would respond with appropriate policies?
When asked about whether she eats seafood, she said she "...stopped long ago. I know too much." She advised to eat "low on the food chain" - plants, because even farmed fish are "like a funnel"...so much goes into it compared to what you get out.
McCosker bumbled through a feeble justification for continuing to eat "sustainable" fish (even though Earle had just made it clear there is no such thing) while zealously ignoring even his own unequivocal statement, that when life is removed from the sea it is not only significant because of the reduction in absolute numbers available for human food, but also because it disrupts an essential balance in the ecosystem. By way of example he mentioned almost in passing that sharks are gone.
Flatow interjected, incredulous: "Sharks are GONE?"
McCosker: "...there's less than 10%..."
Flatow, a bit shrilly: "NINETY percent are GONE??"
Bob, affirmatively: "In my lifetime....now, it's because of the increasing wealth of the Chinese economy and sharkfin soup....It's amazing how few sharks remain in the world's oceans...as many as 73 million are killed every year so their fins can be chopped off."
The sensational cognitive dissonance between the research community's agenda is well illustrated in the following passages from Michael Donnelly's article, "When Environmentalists Collaborate" published in Counter Punch, in which he described the proceedings at last month's 30th annual "Public Interest Environmental Law Conference" (E-LAW):
Obviously, one of the issues with huge Climate Change impact that is never addressed by this nor any other eco-confab is the huge Eco-cost of Jet Flying in this age of Skype. Assembling a large face-to-face gathering such as this with people from all over the country and planet, cannot be done (at least not the way it is done) without there being huge transportation-related environmental costs. And, E-LAW is but one of dozens of such annual eco-gatherings. Boards and staffs of groups like the Sierra Club, TWS, CBD, et al., jet to one fabulous destination after another for multi-meetings per year, when they aren’t flying to and from DC. Paid enviros likely rack up more frequent flyer miles than any profession other than politicians."
"Jet flying contributes some 3.5% of all greenhouse gasses to the air. That’s a low-ball estimate and its Global Warming impact has to be multiplied by a factor of at least 155% as the damage is greater when the carbon is released high in the atmosphere. It may “only” be 3.5%, but it is the fastest growing contributor to Climate Change. And, it is THE single top personal, unnecessary contribution to Climate Change; killing the planet more in a few hours than all one could save in a year of recycling, bicycling, driving a Pius, E-LAW refusing to serve imported java in throw-away cups, etc. combined! One trip across the country and back spews as much carbon per person as driving an SUV for two years. Every one of the E-LAW panelists, as do most Americans, consumes more carbon in a year than the average human will in her lifetime. Talk about your 1%!"
"I’ll predict right now that in ten years E-LAW will feature panels on Abolition of Jet Flying to save the planet. The sad fact is; not even self-declared Greens will give up Darth Cheney’s “Non-negotiable American Way of Life.” As a fellow activist recently noted; “That those who claim to care about fossil fuel abuse and climate will not give flying up, tells you all you need to know about why the other side doesn’t believe us and why we will never win. The right does what they want without shame; we do what we want with shame, and then kick dirt on it like a kitty that just went in its own backyard. It stinks and is destroying the world either way.”
I kind of think it's highly unlikely there will be any E-LAW ten years from now. I suspect by then it will be quite clear that the planet is well past saving, and plus so few people, if anyone, will have the option of flying on jets that it certainly won't be the topic of a panel discussion. But to address his main point, abbreviated as: those environmentalists who will not give up flying tells you all you need to know about why we will never win. I cannot deny the veracity of that. Of course I do realize that we all make compromises, so singling out the scientists, radio personalities, and wealthy media darlings for condemnation of their outsized carbon footprint can be construed as tossing rocks while living in a glass house. And I'm the first to admit that my house possesses an even larger proportion of glass than most.
However, I'm not a leader, a public figure, or a scientist - I haven't got a radio show, I command no attention, Barack Obama doesn't answer my phone calls. Aren't we supposed to expect a little more from people who hold themselves up as role models and/or want public tax money to fund their studies? Compare the frivolity and futility of the prescriptions from Ira, Jim, Sylvia and Bob with the words of young Tim DeChristopher, from an interview by Terry Williams in Orion Magazine titled "What Love Looks Like". Tim is still in jail for disrupting a US Bureau of Land Management auction of drilling rights on public land - which was later declared illegal.
TERRY: In personal terms, your life has been in limbo for the last two years. And that’s my word, not yours. But is it fair to say you haven’t known what your future is going to be? Because you didn’t know when you were going to go to trial, or whether you’d be convicted. How has that felt?
TIM: I think part of what empowered me to take that leap and have that insecurity was that I already felt that insecurity. I didn’t know what my future was going to be. My future was already lost.
TERRY: Coming out of college?
TIM: No. Realizing how fucked we are in our future.
TERRY: In terms of climate change.
TIM: Yeah. I met Terry Root, one of the lead authors of the IPCC report, at the Stegner Symposium at the University of Utah. She presented all the IPCC data, and I went up to her afterwards and said, “That graph that you showed, with the possible emission scenarios in the twenty-first century? It looked like the best case was that carbon peaked around 2030 and started coming back down.” She said, “Yeah, that’s right.” And I said, “But didn’t the report that you guys just put out say that if we didn’t peak by 2015 and then start coming back down that we were pretty much all screwed, and we wouldn’t even recognize the planet?” And she said, “Yeah, that’s right.” And I said: “So, what am I missing? It seems like you guys are saying there’s no way we can make it.” And she said, “You’re not missing anything. There are things we could have done in the ’80s, there are some things we could have done in the ’90s—but it’s probably too late to avoid any of the worst-case scenarios that we’re talking about.” And she literally put her hand on my shoulder and said, “I’m sorry my generation failed yours.” That was shattering to me.
TERRY: When was this?
TIM: This was in March of 2008. And I said, “You just gave a speech to four hundred people and you didn’t say anything like that. Why aren’t you telling people this?” And she said, “Oh, I don’t want to scare people into paralysis. I feel like if I told people the truth, people would just give up.” And I talked to her a couple years later, and she’s still not telling people the truth. But with me, it did the exact opposite. Once I realized that there was no hope in any sort of normal future, there’s no hope for me to have anything my parents or grandparents would have considered a normal future—of a career and a retirement and all that stuff—I realized that I have absolutely nothing to lose by fighting back. Because it was all going to be lost anyway."
In a surfeit of ironic blasphemy, President Obama yesterday signed tomorrow's Earth Day Proclamation, grandly declaring:
"Today, our air and water are cleaner, pollution has been greatly reduced, and Americans everywhere are living in a healthier environment."
"As we reflect on that historic day of activism and stewardship, let us embrace our commitment to the generations yet to come by leaving them a safe, clean world on which to make their mark."
Unfortunately, that is far from true. Would it be too much to say it is a lie? Here's the blurb for a book published in May 2010:
"Philip Shabecoff was the chief environmental correspondent for The New York Times for fourteen of the thirty-two years he worked there as a reporter. Poisoned for Profit, based on more than five years of investigative research and reporting, reveals the cumulative scientific evidence connecting the massive increase in environmental poisons to the epidemic of disability, disease, and dysfunction among our nation´s children."
And how's that Gulf Oil Spill cleanup going two years on? The rest is an article about that - the very last quote will no doubt be reassuring. Enjoy the weekend and wear green for Earth Day tomorrow!
Seafood Deformities Alarm Scientists [note: it the FOOD part that's alarming - OUR food!]
Gulf of Mexico fishermen, scientists and seafood processors have told Al Jazeera they are finding disturbing numbers of mutated shrimp, crab and fish that they believe are deformed by chemicals released during BP's 2010 oil disaster.
Along with collapsing fisheries, signs of malignant impact on the regional ecosystem are ominous: horribly mutated shrimp, fish with oozing sores, underdeveloped blue crabs lacking claws, eyeless crabs and shrimp - and interviewees' fingers point towards BP's oil pollution disaster as being the cause.
…On Apr. 20, 2010, the BP-operated Deepwater Horizon oilrig exploded, triggering the release of at least 4.9 million barrels of oil. BP then used at least 1.9 million gallons of toxic Corexit dispersants to sink the oil.
Keath Ladner, a third-generation seafood processor in Hancock County, Mississippi, is also disturbed by what he is seeing.
"I've seen the brown shrimp catch drop by two-thirds, and so far the white shrimp have been wiped out," Ladner told Al Jazeera. "The shrimp are immune-compromised. We are finding shrimp with tumours on their heads, and are seeing this everyday."
While on a shrimp boat in Mobile Bay with Sidney Schwartz, the fourth-generation fisherman said that he had seen shrimp with defects on their gills, and "their shells missing around their gills and head."
"We've fished here all our lives and have never seen anything like this," he added.
Ladner has also seen crates of blue crabs, all of which were lacking at least one of their claws.
Darla Rooks from Port Sulphur, Louisiana told Al Jazeera she is finding crabs "with holes in their shells, shells with all the points burned off so all the spikes on their shells and claws are gone, misshapen shells, and crabs that are dying from within … they are still alive, but you open them up and they smell like they've been dead for a week".
Rooks is also finding eyeless shrimp, shrimp with abnormal growths, female shrimp with their babies still attached to them, and shrimp with oiled gills.
"We also seeing eyeless fish, and fish lacking even eye-sockets, and fish with lesions, fish without covers over their gills, and others with large pink masses hanging off their eyes and gills."
Rooks, who grew up fishing with her parents, said she had never seen such things in these waters, and her seafood catch last year was "ten per cent what it normally is."
"I've never seen this," she said, a statement Al Jazeera heard from every scientist, fisherperson, and seafood processor consulted about the seafood deformities.
The Gulf of Mexico provides more than 40 per cent of all the seafood caught in the continental United States.
"The dispersants used in BP's draconian experiment contain solvents, such as petroleum distillates and 2-butoxyethanol. Solvents dissolve oil, grease and rubber," Riki Ott, a toxicologist, marine biologist and Exxon Valdez survivor, told Al Jazeera. "It should be no surprise that solvents are also notoriously toxic to people, something the medical community has long known."
The dispersants are known to be mutagenic, a disturbing fact that could be evidenced in the seafood deformities. Shrimp, for example, have a life cycle short enough that two to three generations have existed since BP's disaster began, giving the chemicals time to enter the genome.
Pathways of exposure to the dispersants are inhalation, ingestion, skin, and eye contact. Health impacts can include headaches, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pains, chest pains, respiratory system damage, skin sensitisation, hypertension, central nervous system depression, neurotoxic effects, cardiac arrhythmia and cardiovascular damage. They are also teratogenic - able to disturb the growth and development of an embryo or foetus - and carcinogenic.
Cowan believes chemicals named polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), released from BP's submerged oil, are likely to blame for what he is finding, due to the fact that the fish with lesions are from "a wide spatial distribution that is spatially coordinated with oil from the Deepwater Horizon, both surface oil and subsurface oil. A lot of the oil that impacted Louisiana was also in subsurface plumes, and we think there is a lot of it remaining on the seafloor."
Marine scientist Samantha Joye of the University of Georgia published results of her submarine dives around the source area of BP's oil disaster in the Nature Geoscience journal.
Her evidence showed massive swathes of oil covering the seafloor, including photos of oil-covered bottom dwelling sea creatures.
While showing slides at an American Association for the Advancement of Science annual conference in Washington, Joye said: "This is Macondo oil on the bottom. These are dead organisms because of oil being deposited on their heads." Macondo is the well that ruptured in the BP accident.
Wilma Subra, a chemist and Macarthur Fellow, has conducted tests on seafood and sediment samples along the Gulf for chemicals present in BP's crude oil and toxic dispersants.
"Tests have shown significant levels of oil pollution in oysters and crabs along the Louisiana coastline," Subra told Al Jazeera. "We have also found high levels of hydrocarbons in the soil and vegetation."
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), PAHs "are a group of semi-volatile organic compounds that are present in crude oil that has spent time in the ocean and eventually reaches shore, and can be formed when oil is burned."
Cowan explained: "The fish are being exposed to PAHs, and I was able to find several references that list the same symptoms in fish after the Exxon Valdez spill, as well as in lab experiments. There was also a paper published by some LSU scientists that PAH exposure has effects on the genome."
The University of South Florida released the results of a survey whose findings corresponded with Cowan's: a two to five per cent infection rate in the same oil impact areas, and not just with red snapper, but with more than 20 species of fish with lesions. In many locations, 20 per cent of the fish had lesions, and later sampling expeditions found areas where, alarmingly, 50 per cent of the fish had them.
"I asked a NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) sampler what percentage of fish they find with sores prior to 2010, and it's one-tenth of one percent," Cowan said. "Which is what we found prior to 2010 as well. But nothing like we've seen with these secondary infections and at this high of rate since the spill.
"What we think is that it's attributable to chronic exposure to PAHs released in the process of weathering of oil on the seafloor," Cowan said. "There's no other thing we can use to explain this phenomenon. We've never seen anything like this before."
Questions raised by Al Jazeera's investigation remain largely unanswered.
Al Jazeera contacted the office of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who provided a statement that said the state continues to test its waters for oil and dispersants, and that it is testing for PAHs.
"Gulf seafood has consistently tested lower than the safety thresholds established by the FDA for the levels of oil and dispersant contamination that would pose a risk to human health," the statement reads. "Louisiana seafood continues to go through extensive testing to ensure that seafood is safe for human consumption. More than 3,000 composite samples of seafood, sediment and water have been tested in Louisiana since the start of the spill."
At the federal government level, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the EPA - both federal agencies which have powers in this area - insisted Al Jazeera talk with the NOAA.
But the NOAA won't comment to the media because of its involvement in collecting information for an ongoing lawsuit against BP.
BP refused Al Jazeera's request to comment on this issue for a television interview, but provided a statement that read:
"Seafood from the Gulf of Mexico is among the most tested in the world, and, according to the FDA and NOAA, it is as safe now as it was before the accident."