They say only a few will ever speak loud enough to be heard over the other seven billion voices on the planet. Today someone is shouting. Screaming off of the pages of “The World is Blue” is Sylvia Earle, National Geographic Society’s Explorer in Residence, and vast contributor to the effort to preserve the planet’s oceans. Earle’s book is not an inconvenient truth, fueled by politics and funding, but rather, by Earle’s heart for the ocean, and its unique residents. Earle explores conflict and resolution, one chapter and issue at a time. Taking Marine Wildlife:
The elephant in the room Earle utilizes her chapter on fish to call the world out on the elephant in the room-overfishing. Earle discusses how at one time in history, people believed that there was an infinite amount of fish to be caught, that there would never be a day when we would see something as popular as tuna, go extinct. We are sitting on the eve of “that day.” Earle really brings out the reality of overfishing, almost mocking our early ideas of sustainable yield. “..but those pesky animals didn’t obey the rules.. So what’s wrong with the concept of sustainable yield?” (Earle)
Earle makes keen note that you cannot possibly create a concept of sustainability, when you know next to nothing about the species you are supposedly “yielding”. Earle debunks the idea of a surplus in the ocean of a healthy ecosystem, stating “What APPEARS to be an overabundance to human observers is a natural insurance policy...” (Earle) Earle applies the same idea of questionable yield to marine mammals.
She spends a fair amount of this chapter on the touchy subject that is almost always controversial-whaling. She lends a nod to her own initial ignorance of marine mammals in an honest confession. “I had come to regard the cats, dogs, horses, squirrels and rabbits I knew personally as individuals, but I did not think of whales the same way.” (Earle) She goes on there after, to explain her emotional experience of “meeting” a whale, and her forever changed perspective.
Whaling is just the tip of the iceberg or in this case, melting glacier, for Earle. Earle shifts into the amount of marine mammals killed as “by catch”, and the epidemic that breeds within the fishing industry. What would the world think if in fact the by catch of their tuna salad was the faithful Flipper? Would they still feel safe about their claimed “dolphin safe” tuna?
I recall my six year old self, carefully checking each can of tuna my mother placed in our shopping cart, seeking out that little smiling dolphin to confirm that my lunch would be free of dolphin massacre. So much has changed since those would be conservation efforts. Earle does not forget to mention the smaller, less thought of creatures-the shellfish. Earle opens her chapter with a history lesson centered on oysters, at one time in our history- she notes “….they were described as hazards to navigation.” (Earle) Today, few would ever say abundant in the same sentence as oysters.
Earle pay homage to the importance of the shellfish in our ocean, discussing everything from clams to my personal favorite-the octopus, whom Earle notes as a critical part of the ocean’s health. Earle closes her shellfish segment with a sentence that hits close to home. “I have decided to cease and desist, hoping that every lobster I don’t eat, will increase the chances that somewhere a lobster might live, and do what lobsters do as a part of a healthy ocean.”
(Earle) With that statement, I immediately connected on a personal level to Earle. As a devout vegetarian, I too, have hopes that every animal I do not eat, will aid in the future of that species, and ultimately, our planet’s future. She lends advice however, to these dynamic and complex issues- and it is all so simple. Do not take, what you cannot replace, and do not take what you know nothing about.
The world is a vampire- sent to drain. Earle’s second major concept of her book is the relentless greed of the human race. Through pollution, ignorance, and pillaging of all resources, the human race has become that of a vampire species, feeding off of the seductive lure of power, money, and claim that our planet’s oceans bring. A particular lipstick wearing, wolf hunting politician made a statement that is becoming unanimous with most of America today- “Drill baby, drill.” For the unknowing, that is Sarah Palin, a woman who agrees with offshore, and in some cases, onshore drilling. The topic of oil is sensitive.
Do you drill in former wildlife and marine reserves to avoid wars with your supplying companies? Most of America, even the left minded Barak Obama was nodding to the idea of on and offshore drilling in the United States’ backyard. The steadily rising price of fuel and oil are making more Americans nod yes, than ever before.
Earle is shaking her head no. “largely because the action occurs underwater, out of the public view, little attention has focused on what actually happens on the ocean floor where drilling takes place, or what creatures are displaced by the thousands of miles of pipeline laced across the bottom…” (Earle)Despite my serious vendetta against Sarah Palin, I myself, had not actually considered the impact of pipelines on the ocean floor, I was always more focused on oil spills and the tragedies which take place thereafter.
Earle does make serious mention of oil spills, reliving the Exxon Valdez casualty that permanently damaged the Alaskan shoreline. The book even features the text of Earle’s testimony before Congress on the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. It is not the spills, the pipelines, or the seeping of the oil that sets a tic for Earle… it’s the use of the oil itself. The subject everyone has heard about, even if they didn’t want to. It doesn’t take Al Gore to make one think or hear about climate change.
The 1950’s were a time for poodle skirts, milkshakes, and good old fashion family values, along with cigarettes, seat beltless cars, and DDT. My point is it should not stun anyone that emissions are impacting the planet in a “negative” way. Earle seems to feel the same. “Civilization currently thrives on oil based economies, and is continuing to do so despite herculean efforts to move away from fuels that pollute the planet today and will potentially shorten the number of tomorrows our species will have.”
(Earle) Sylvia Earle is not an extreme leftist; she is an educated woman who has worked beside oil engineer leaders, government officials, and offshore experts. I believe it is these credentials that make her so magnetic, and tune readers’ thoughts to her direction. Her powerhouse chapter on oil has an Achilles’ heel, her lack of insight on solution. It is not as though she has an answer and it is not as if she is not willing to share, it is that no one has a surefire way to reroute the flight of emissions. This chapter, though mind-blowingly effective, still has an unfinished climax, much like our planet.
Uneducated or Unwilling to learn? Earle is consistently using the same explanation throughout her book as to why individuals are not taking more action. In every chapter, she highlights examples of attitudes and expressions from people associated to the topic. Earle’s book is one of the tools our society now has to combat the epidemic of the uneducated on the subject of anthropogenic damage to nature.
There is not a single environmentalist who at one time did not face the reality transition of a need for change. The issue is entirely complex and tedious because alongside the uneducated, are the unwilling. There has been an outward cry on the subject of climate change from Christians, denouncing it as political corruption, or that climate change is merely an effect listed in the book of Revelations.
Earle does not seem to let the major issue of uneducated and unwilling affect her view on the future. She positively lists the strides being made to better understand the ocean. In Earle’s closing chapters, it is as if she is taking the reader by the hand, and showing how we can all make a difference.
I found Earle’s book to be stirring. I have definitely become something of a cheerleader for Earle after reading this book. As a woman pursuing conservation science as a career, I found Earle to be a keen example of what one person can do in their field that can change the thoughts of others worldwide. Earle took her opportunity as an author, and produced an extraordinary document that covers every issue associated with the ocean and humans, but goes a step beyond outlining what’s wrong. Earle uniquely includes what is right, and what is currently being done to change the course of the future.
I have read several books on environmental issues, and none have so effectively utilized the opportunity to educate and motivate individuals like Earle has done in her book. Earle has motivated me to keep fighting the good fight. I often struggle over if my work with polar bears will ever be worth anything, and Earle’s book was the push I needed to continue on. Even if I do not know the outcome, at least I can say, I have made the effort in my lifetime to try.
Earle sets a standard for each reader, to simply make choices in favor of the planet, and its oceans. We may not all have the ability to write books, give speeches, or work directly alongside the ocean, but we all have choices we can make to better our tomorrow. We are living in a time of great uncertainty, and are all faced with a forked road ahead of us. One leads us to certain extinction, the other to opportunity to at least try to change for the better. The world is blue today, but what will it look like tomorrow?
What will our children see when they look to the sea? The answer lies entirely on our willingness to change. Will we be the generation who turned the course of the planet around? Or will we be the generation who had the opportunity and denied our own species, and so many others a future?
Works Cited Earle, Sylvia A. The World is Blue. Washington DC: National Geographic, 2009.