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Humanity fails to grasp that the ocean ecosystem is a planetary life support system.

OceanAs always, there is much happening above ground, giving rise to new and familiar questions. Politically conservative Catholics in the USA have ignored ‘Laudato Si’, suggesting that the denialist mindset is powerful enough to over-ride a clear, strong and evocative message from their leader. Leonardo Di Caprio’s ‘Before the Flood’ has been released, is widely accessible and free to view. The UK government continues to defy environmental concerns and local wishes, in its pursuit of fossil fuels and in acquiescence to airport expansion. There have been token moves internationally to regulate aviation and shipping emissions. The #Exxonknew saga rumbles on. There has of course been fresh evidence of the climate emergency and wildlife collapse from around the world.

More directly psychological and very troubling is evidence, quoted in an Andrew Revkin article suggesting that the young in particular are invested in the socially constructed silence around climate change, judging the topic (the topic note, not a given style of delivery) to be ‘preachy’ and ‘uncool’. This appears to connect with themes in the latest film by Adam Curtis. In Hyper Normalisation he suggests that protest has itself become uncool. Maybe Michael Mann’s collaboration with Pulitzer-winning cartoonist Tom Toles in their book The Madhouse Effect will help to redress this problem.

All these items could be discussed, in relation to CPA’s core themes of denial, radical hope and the filters of emotion, identity and meaning. But they are giving way this time to the subject, previously neglected here, of the Earth’s oceans. These are both the literal depths of our planet and a symbol of the deep – vast, hidden, mysterious and dangerous.

The literal disaster story is widely known: over-fishing, pollution, heating, acidification and reef loss, microbeads and vast gyres of plastic. It is the Anthropocene, writ large and ugly. President Obama has spoken on the subject, pointing out that protecting the oceans is essential in the struggle to limit climate change. He has also acted to create protected areas in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. And in the past week there has been the announcement of the world’s largest marine park in the Ross Sea, Antarctica. Such action can be likened to re-wilding on land – manageable and perhaps ark-like steps to preserve and restore areas of health and biodiversity, amidst destruction. Noah’s Ark is a powerful survival myth which has undergone hundreds of variations since the Old Testament story.

Despite their common concern, Obama’s carefully calibrated blend of alarm and optimism contrasts sharply with the approach of Paul Watson, founder of Sea Shepherd. In a recent interview (which starts in French, but continues in English) Watson combines a forensic analysis of the collapse of fish stocks and the continuing slaughter of whales with deep scorn at absence or lack of enforcement of regulation, the token nature of international climate action and the failure of humanity to grasp the role of the ocean ecosystem as a planetary life support system. He can be compared with Naomi Oreskes in his view that large environmental charities tend to be ineffective and hopelessly compromised components of the establishment. He directs particular scorn at our supposed democracy and political leaders whom he dismisses as puppets of large corporations. He instances Canadian prime minister Trudeau who came to office, and to Paris, full of climate change resolve, but is now a supporter of the Alberta tar sands industry – a contradiction previously covered in this newsletter.

Watson is worth listening to, both for the knowledge he imparts and the psychological profile of his stance. He has helped to spread awareness that whales’ excreta provides essential nutrients for phytoplankton, which in turn have a vital role in carbon sequestration and oxygen generation. Phytoplankton depletion informs his claim, headlined above: ‘If the Oceans Die, we Die’. He is also a champion for those who challenge the ignorant hubris that humans are the most important species on the planet. Worms and bees and trees can do fine without us, he points out, but we cannot manage without them. All good sense, but there does seem to be a contradiction in his own position. Sea Shepherd’s mission, he says, is to enforce the laws pertaining to the seas. But those laws themselves are largely rooted in the very hubris which enshrines and delineates human ‘rights’ over the rest of the planet. So he comes over as a curious blend of policeman and anarchist, passionate communicator and angry judge. But the world needs voices like his. He would probably have little faith in the ark story - adopting, as he does, the view of Earth itself as a spaceship whose life support system we are busy wrecking.

He demonstrates an awareness of our cultural complexes, including the blind and ruthless compulsion of oil addiction. He is also a pragmatist and is comfortable with the use of celebrities like Pamela Anderson and Brigitte Bardot to promote his message and open doors that would otherwise remain closed. Will things work as well for Di Caprio? Can he, an icon of our narcissistic culture, use his charisma, money and influence to build a path away from narcissism towards a wider awareness? The title Before the Flood has resonances with our knowledge, both mythical and factual, that water has many properties. For us and the whole of life on Earth, it is both vital and dangerous, hugely powerful but by no means immune to human corruption.

Places still available at CPA conference 19th November!

Questions of leadership are implicit throughout this letter. There are still places available at CPA’s 19th November conference on climate leadership which promises to be a memorable event. We look forward to seeing as many of you as possible.

Adrian Tait
On behalf of the Executive Committee

Coming soon to website:
Article: "From Climate Cartoons to Catharsis: How a Little Goes a Long Way" by Suzanne Chew

For your diaries....
CPA Event:
Next year's CPA AGM will be on June 10th 2017- morning speaker still to be announced
Others events:
Healthy Planet, Better World - Bringing the health community together to address our global ecological crises. Medact Forum 9-10th December 2016
Edge of the Wild Annual Ecopsychology gathering 13-16th July 2017 "Fraktured Psyche"