- Ocean activist and author David Helvarg deals with dark thoughts about the state of the world environment with humor in a new op-ed.
- “As a professional ocean advocate, I try and see the bright side of environmental and climate impacts such as sea level rise. While the ocean today covers 71% of the planet, it could soon cover 75%. More ocean means more ocean to love,” he jokes.
- This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily of Mongabay.
Today I’m a waterlogged Californian, but soon I’ll be baked dry as a bone. The intensity of extreme drought and rainfall has “sharply” increased over the past 20 years, according to a new study published in the journal Nature Water.
Next July – ‘Hey kids, I’m putting on my Dune vapor recovery suit, is there anything you want from the abandoned gas station?’
Next February – ‘Hey kids, I’m hooking up the shopping float to the outrigger, is there anything you want from the Interstate marina?’
Today, the best available science is creating the worst imaginable scenarios for our immediate futures. Unfortunately, scientists are not always the best communicators of coming disaster. If your house were on fire and your best friend was a scientist, you might not understand her urgent call warning you that a rapid oxidation process was occurring in the living room… ‘What?’ you might ask, to which she’d frantically reply, ‘An exothermic reaction is underway resulting in the evolution of light and heat of various intensities and… never mind. I got your mother out. She’s still respirating.’
So, when climate scientists warn us that we are crossing dangerous tipping points for the planet most people think, ‘Tipping points? I could use some. Is 20% really the new minimum for tipping? What if I don’t like the service and why am I expected to tip for take-out? I mean it’s 120 degrees outside. Do they really think I’m going to cook at home?
A number of elected officials understand the cascading disasters these scientists are warning about, but given the deep and oily pockets into which many of them have curled up, Upton Sinclair’s axiom remains salient: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”
And of course at least one U.S. Senator from Arizona proves the same is true for women, while a Congresswoman from Georgia imagines physics and science leading to ‘Jewish Space Lasers’ igniting rapid oxidation of western forests.
Even such an oblique reference to Marjorie Taylor Greene of course brings us to another relevant question: is there a general dumbing down of the U.S. population under way? These days war seems to be the main way Americans learn geography and a large number of white Americans can no longer read the alphabet beyond the letter Q. Just one example among many is a man named (Senator) Ted Cruz, who attended Princeton and Harvard and as recently as 2016 could understand that 306 electoral votes was a greater number than 232, but when presented the same exact numbers in 2020, he became angry and confused. It seems there’s a regulatory argument to be made that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lied to us and never took the lead out of the paint.
Of course, at the time the EPA was founded, the world’s human population was 2.5 billion, but now it’s approaching eight billion and continuing to rise. Luckily many other species have gone extinct in order to give us more room. Thank you, river dolphins, for your service. Also, our meat animals have proliferated. Today, there are more chickens in the world than wild birds of all feathers. So why did the chicken cross the road? Because there are more roads than ever – some 40 million miles – resulting in some two billion road-killed animals per year, no doubt including many chickens.
However, as a professional ocean advocate, I try and see the bright side of environmental and climate impacts such as sea level rise. While the ocean today covers 71% of the planet, it could soon cover 75%. More ocean means more ocean to love. Sure, it will also be warmer (which is kind of hot) and more acidic (which is a trip) with less dissolved oxygen, but it’s not like anyone can breathe underwater anyway, except maybe Jason Momoa.
Plus, not all of our present challenges were fully foreseen. At the first Earth Day protests in 1970, people carried signs reading ‘Mother Nature Bats Last.’ We just didn’t realize actual bats would be involved.
Still, when I meet and speak with the outraged and committed youth of Gen Z (the kids behind them will be assigned letters from the Greek Alphabet), their passion for change makes me want to act more boldly, which is why I’m considering getting my eyebrow pierced.
I’m particularly drawn to the young journalists, writers, bloggers and online influencers whose unique social media skills are allowing them to report on what I never could – the end of the environment. I only wish I were around to see what they might accomplish in the emerging new media of cave scrawling.
David Helvarg is the Executive Director of ocean policy group Blue Frontier, co-host of Rising Tide–the Ocean Podcast, and an author.
Banner image: “Deregulated” depicts men in suits playing in a children’s playground and is part of a series of 300 sculptures by Jason deCaires Taylor installed in the sea near the Canary Islands.
Related audio from Mongabay’s podcast: Top journalist and activist Bill McKibben discusses how climate movements continue to push for real change in spite of dithering by world leaders, listen here:
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