What does it mean that the sea is dying? That it is being killed, by us.
This death is going on, out there, where the sea’s mysterious processes have always occurred. Out beyond our conscious awareness, below a surface translucent, transparent, reflective; but, for all of that opaque to our full and direct awareness. As it’s always been.
The sea has died before, we “know” of half a dozen times in the course of its existence when major catastrophe has struck not just here or there, this family or that one, but all over and destroying most, leaving none untouched. Of course these all happened before we were born. Before there was anyone to say things like “Before we were born.”
When we talk about something mattering, we automatically put weight on its aspects that touch on human values and the lives we lead, inside as well as out. If we were not here, and some earth process outside of our doing were destroying the sea, it would matter to someone, but not to us. This “selfishness” is inherent in any value, and is not the same as the death-wish driving the destruction now becoming plain. That destruction is being carried out in-the-name-of all manner of “higher” principles, all supposedly beyond any so minor question as whether we are selfish or magnanimous. If only we could recognize and accept the depths of selfishness and not be condemned to act out such destructive consequences because of our refusal to acknowledge its existence.
My father, born on the day of Queen Victoria’s funeral, had some unshakable beliefs among his many doubts and uncertainties. One of these was that the ocean sea was infinite in its capacities, both in its abundance and its abilities to overwhelm any and all we puny humans could ever possibly do to hurt it. This was a widespread belief in the Twentieth Century, held by the heirs to the spear point of Progress that was the Nineteenth; seemingly contained beneath the voluminous, chaste yet prolific, and awesome – both in what they hid as in what they stood for – skirts of that British Queen, Empress of half the world. So much was hidden, not just under skirts, or in closed yet powerful minds, but also beneath a sea that, while being vigorously probed and randily exploited, maintained its air of invincibility and presented an endlessness that comforted as much as it challenged the boy-explorers who poked at every hem of its margins. We were powerful, clever, and always getting better; and the sea, along with her broader mother earth, would abide with a maternal patience any intrusion and accept any insult as the price of our enduring stellar Progress.
This overwhelming positivism covered over a growing list of what their practitioners would call barbaric acts – if anyone else tried to do them – while they insisted that they did what they did out of necessity and duty, honor, an entire list of vague and sentimental clap-trap intended to fog over any mind attempting to see through their posing. These Jungian “Shadows” grew in power and their actions resounded across the world in prodigies of exponential growth and increasing horror.
As the “ante” rose, the response kept apace. Enemies proliferated well beyond what any but the most obtuse and literal minded – those who tended to be rewarded with the greatest positions of power and status – should have been able to see through, but none did. The rationalizations kept up, the “compensations” continued to beguile.
The oceans died. Only the world wars – even with their wholesale destructiveness, they provided a net relief on the ravages of “peace time” – slowed the march. Fisheries, the way we’ve grown accustomed to see vast swatches of the sea’s fabric as so many tons dead on a dock, relented, our efforts turned to destroying our enemy’s machines and people instead of directly against the fabric of the world. That we have any Whales, or Cod or Tuna left at all today we probably owe to these unintended moratoria that took the pressure off just when they were at their greatest direct risk.
Those who made the Bomb had serious, though deemed “minor,” doubts about whether setting one off might not start a chain reaction that would consume the entire atmosphere. They went ahead. What possible “ends” might “justify” such “means?”
This is just one question whose answer might lie beneath the surface of our dying seas.
Tying our existence to a belief in destruction as the ultimate good is such a contorted position to be in! How we got here, what it means, where it will all lead; these are also questions whose answers appear in glimmers and hints, passing doubts, premonitions and inklings of what is down there, at least as it all appears from “up here.”
Water has broken in waves upon a shore for 3.5 billions of years, more or less. It will continue to do so for at least a few billion more. That’s not what’s at risk here. Something will find a way to live in and of the sea in the fullness of time and beyond any conception we might ever reach of its possibility. That’s not what’s at risk here. Those may be the only certainties left after the hangover that was the Twentieth Century. They leave plenty of room for a world of hurt and pain as we continue to make these bargains, and get caught up in our reflections imperfectly cast upon a changing and dying sea.
In the meantime, in that period that encompasses all real life, as opposed to memory or projection, we have some time to ask and to wonder what all this means.
Ignoring these questions, sidestepping them, hiding from them behind rationalizations; have all led us here into a trap of our own devising. It might be time to look at these questions more closely and ask, “What does it mean?”