Save the Oceans to Save the Planet: Part 2 Developing Solutions
In part 1 we provided an overview of the existential crisis facing the oceans, and by extension, the survival and the quality of life of humanity and other life on the planet due to the challenges to which the oceans are being subjected. That overview makes it clear that the oceans are integrated closely with events, not just in the oceans themselves, but on the land and in the air. Climate change, pollution, over-fishing, destruction of sensitive breeding grounds, and inefficient agricultural, mining, transport and drilling methods (among others) are wreaking havoc on the oceans. The consequences are large enough that partial solutions, focused on trying to solve just one element of the problem, are doomed to failure. As we noted, there are no walls in the oceans, so the current approach to try to protect, for example, sensitive bio-diversity zones, although well-intentioned and necessary, become counter-productive if they lead us to complacency that with this sole focus we are doing what is possible and necessary to save the most endangered areas of the ocean. In fact, these measures represent little more than band-aids across a massive mortal wound that requires much more sophisticated levels of attention and action than we have heretofore been able to organize.

The good will of those who want to do something about individual elements of the problem, such as banning plastic straws, or protecting coral reefs or other biodiverse hot-spots, is understood and very much appreciated. These steps certainly can and should be part of a much larger solution. What is needed, however, is a comprehensive plan that tackles the big unaddressed harmful activities. There are those who want to motivate the world to ban certain types of fishing, or stop deep sea drilling or mining entirely. Once again, one is sympathetic to their motivations and concerns, yet realistic about the fact that with almost 8 billion people already inhabiting the planet (with ~10 billion projected by 2050), many of them with barely subsistence living (if that), it is certain that the demand for resources in terms of food and various products of our industrialized world, will continue to grow. Thus, any solution that does not take this into account is doomed to failure both at the level of inter-governmental agreement, and at the level of implementation.

There is no doubt that pollution entering the seas from the land and the air, including industrial, agricultural, transport and mining effluents, must be curtailed. This can be done through more stringent world-wide controls of industrial activity and its waste products. There must also be a greater degree of management of the waste produced by the world society that winds up in landfills, or more and more, in the ocean itself. This can include the visible plastic waste, but also the unseen, but just as if not more hazardous heavy metals and chemicals.

There is also no doubt that air pollution not only harms people over the land, but increases the toxic load on the oceans, so air pollution must be addressed. Some places have made notable progress, but others have smog-choked urban centers that are harming the health and wellness of their citizens while pouring this pollution into the general planetary atmosphere, and thus eventually into the oceans.

Climate change, with its effects of sea water heating, acidification, de-oxygenation and noise amplification, global warming, more intense weather events, and massive ice melt from the north and south poles, as well as from Greenland and other highly glaciated areas, is another area that needs urgent action that could directly help solve the problems identified in the oceans as well. The various Climate Summits are a first step, but they must be made legally binding internationally, aggressively implemented and universally enforced, and then improved in subsequent stages as the implementation brings about advances in technology and new ways of meeting the needs of the people of the world that are more environmentally responsible, which includes being climate-friendly.

While all of this is going on, it is also necessary to create regimens that enable the various food chains to reconstitute themselves and to replenish the fish stocks and the other living marine resources. These regimens must include protection of sensitive “hot spots” such as breeding, nursey and feeding grounds, as well as migration routes, and limitations on fishing and other activities in various areas for periods of time to allow restocking of the fish and the other living marine resources. And there must be limitations on the use of aggressive fishing tactics that harm the sea and which catch species not sought in the fishing trade and destroy them at the same time. The fishing industry is already heavily subsidized, and should be further encouraged to adopt rules that will allow the health of the industry to recover and be maintained at a sustainable level in the future, while finding ways to protect those whose livelihood depends on the fishing trade. Those subsidies could be repurposed in that direction, for example. However, we should not allow any single aspect of protecting limiting areas mislead us into thinking we have solved any of the issues. Without walls in the ocean, climate change, pollution, etc. still have serious adverse effects even on the most well-protected zones.

Much of the pollution we are witnessing stems from long-standing reliance on hydrocarbons for fuels and as the basis for manufacturing of chemicals, and particularly plastics. Today advances in solar and wind technology, battery technology, harnessing of tides, hydrothermal and some hydro-electric power generation (dams are environmentally highly problematic) capacities show us that with the right willpower we can move beyond reliance on hydrocarbon fuels. Development of new sources of manufacturing stock, such as the liberation of hemp as a commercial crop in the USA, opens up the possibility of new bio-degradable products similar to plastics from renewable hemp resources, without the numerous point and transport and end-user sources of pollution caused by oil and coal. In this context the highly environmentally destructive patterns of contemporary agricultural practices must be addressed as well.

We, as a planetary species aspiring to civilization, must begin to think and act from a sense of our oneness with each other and with the planet. We must collaborate with, not compete against, each other. Advances in more sustainable technologies, spurred by governmental input with appropriate, not perverse, incentives around the world, must be made available to all countries so that less developed countries do not have to go through the intensive industrial agriculture- and hydrocarbon-based but environmentally destructive development path to raise their standard of living that the Western countries already possess – and have achieved at a sobering environmental cost. The world will not accept any model that allows the West to keep its advanced developments for itself and which then turns around and imposes privation on everyone else. The advanced countries, even if their own best interests are their only concern, should be sharing new technologies and capabilities with lesser developed countries, so they can leapfrog the destructive aspects of the developmental path.

A major issue is the fact that developed countries already have an embedded investment and infrastructure base in the industrial activities, such as the oil, gas, coal and agricultural industries, the combustion engines of the car companies, and the road and bridge systems that are based in a car-centric society. Attachment to the methods developed as a result of the industrial revolution is a formula doomed to fail, as the systems are already breaking down. We must be prepared to shift away from these traditional responses and embrace solutions that are clean, non-polluting and which do not increase greenhouse gases and other forms of environmental degradation.

The issue here comes down to time and urgency. We treat these big issues as if they are something that are too remote, too big to tackle. Yet as we see around us every day, these issues are already adversely affecting the lives of everyone on the planet, and the problems are becoming more extreme every year. Thus, we must find the will to act and the good will to act together rather than protect various vested interests of the past and present. At the same time, we must appreciate and understand that these vested interests have brought us this far, with both good and bad results, and we must find a way to both encourage and support their transition into new ways of seeing and acting.

In subsequent articles we shall explore specific ways we can begin to move forward on the ambitious, but nevertheless ever more urgently required, changes that humanity must make in order to meet and overcome the current existential crisis with which we – and our sole life support system that is our planet - are faced.

Author's Bio: 

Santosh Krinsky has been a student of Sri Aurobindo's integral yoga since 1971. He is also an author with 13 books published and does daily blog posts studying the works of Sri Aurobindo. He is the editor in chief of Lotus Press and is the President of Lotus Light Natural Body Care distribution company. He maintains an active and multi-faceted interest and focus on finding solutions to the problems besetting the world and its inhabitants.