I started to leave a comment on Stephen C. Webster’s appropriately angry post but decided it might be worthy of its own post instead. This is my only active outlet for writing, so I hope you don’t mind if I don’t write about Korea for once. I’ll try not to let it become a regular thing.
One of my English lessons today was about a manmade environmental disaster, so I thought I’d engage students in a little bit of extra conversation by asking them to name some other manmade disasters. Only one or two were aware of the month-long catastrophe taking place in the Gulf, so I drew a map of the US and described what was happening.
Then I showed them a Youtube video of oil billowing from a burst pipe, at the rate of one Exxon Valdez every 96 hours. (For those counting at home, we’re now up to the equivalent of seven Exxon Valdezes.) As boring as it looked, they actually paid attention. A few were wide-eyed. When it was finished, a student raised his hand and said, “Teacher, you are angry.” I thought I’d done a good job of maintaining a conversational tone — I guess they saw it in my eyes.
Mr. Webster’s very personal post makes me think of everything else humans have done to our oceans and my own personal relationship with them. One side of my family goes back generations as fishermen. They emigrated from Portugal and my uncles, their descendents maintain independent operations to this day. At least one relative has died at sea in my lifetime.
As children, my father taught my brother and I about every sea creature we encountered and how they made their living; that sea horses were birthed by their fathers, that crabs’ skeletons were their shells, that sharks urinated through their skin, that lobsters would eat a cigarette butt, no questions asked. He taught us how to dig for clams with our feet. He taught us how to find the North star. He taught us how the tides work. My father depended on the sea and respected it, and he tried to make sure we respected it too, even as he hoped neither of us would never have to do such a dirty job to make a living. (Instead I currently teach middle-school aged children.)
Author Mark Kurlansky’s history, Cod, explains how the world’s most bountiful fishery was destroyed by increasingly efficient technology. People my age and younger are now deprived of ever enjoying a cod fillet (or at least one with no guilt attached). The Grand Banks, discovered and fished for centuries by my Portugese ancestors, may never rebound. My father says lobster remain plentiful because a more efficient technology for trapping them has never been widely adopted. (Also, they are cockroaches with claws, so I wonder if they could ever truly be eliminated.)
Watching “Most Dangerous Catch” on TV, I’m awed by the boats’ technical prowess even as I’m disgusted to see the ocean’s life turned into nothing more than a product to be hoarded, by men who know nothing of the sea, so that men who know even less than nothing of the sea can profit by getting more fishsticks and imitation crab to market than their competitors. Meanwhile, the TV show profits from the spectacle of it all.
When the Titanic sank, lifeboats for every man aboard became a requirement on all future ships. “Most Dangerous Catch” shows that the death of the Grand Banks is completely in vain. Driving the point home, Japan refuses to curb bluefin tuna harvests, despite the species’ certain demise at the current rate of capture.
And of course, let’s not forget the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, or its recently discovered sister in the Atlantic. It’s a Texas-sized sludge of plastic particles, ingested by fish and then back into our bodies when we eat seafood. Will we ever get labels to ensure we are buying BPA-free fish?
The result of all this is that I can no longer enjoy what my father and generations of his ancestors did. What will the children of the Gulf coast be deprived of experiencing as a result of BP’s colossal failure? I was in New Orleans last April, as the city celebrated the first shrimp catch of the season. It might be the last one they have for a while.
With that in mind, how can anyone fill up their car with gasoline and not feel nauseated at the thought of supporting such a necessarily nasty and rapacious industry? After this, how can anyone look at a 50-foot windmill and say “I don’t want that eyesore in my backyard, buddy”? How can anyone chant “Drill baby, drill” without wondering what kind of world might be foisted upon his or her children?
People wonder why I drink… At least I don’t need to buy a tank of gasoline as long as I live in Korea.