Mapping the Ocean: Material Survey

Part twenty-two of the multi-part BLUEprint Series: How the Ocean Will Save Civilization

For many years, we have improved our lot through technology and our ability to explore for natural resources — coal, oil, gas, iron, lead, gold, silver, copper, magnesium, and other geological remnants from below the surface of the earth — to recover and consume and drive our notion of progress through technology and consumption. Most of us have benefited from this in myriad ways, with perhaps the exception of the miners and drillers who risked their lives doing very dangerous work, and, subsequently, the rest of us who have now become aware that those physical dangers can be extended into our water and air with serious, measurable detriment to our personal and societal health.

We learn the legends of those first explorers: excavating in caves and shafts, digging into near-surface deposits, prospecting for gold, scaled to build an enormous fossil fuel economy, with railroads to transport materials to smelters and refiners, with ships to carry the loads across the seas, removing mountain tops, fracking farmland, filling rivers with sludge and toxic residues, and denying the possibility of safety regulations, health care, and alternative energy development through their political contributions, lobbyists, buy-outs, and relentless public relations, all in the context of denial. That a global climate crisis ensued, that workers died from residual conditions, that water supplies were corrupted, that the air was acidified to deposit in the fields and ocean waters, to change the natural nutrient systems, and the very air we breathe, was of no matter. And when the land was exhausted, and the air befouled, they turned to the ocean with their offshore drilling platforms, deep ocean mining, spills and disasters, and destructive impact on coastal ecosystems, adjacent living, and real people, their lives disrupted.

They were able to build this empire of destruction through survey, the use of tools and underground mapping to examine the depths of the earth, to extend what had become, in effect, an anti-social business concerned only with stock price, bonuses, speculation and trade on the global markets. We knew the location of everything that remained, and would go for it whether in nature reserves, national parks, near coastal areas, the ocean water column or deep ocean floor, at any cost, with any consequence.

In truth, those material surveys were maps of pain, greed, and power, lines on a grid, production statistics, numbers on statements of profit and loss, shareholder value, pollution of land and water, community and family disruption, and indifference to values beyond materiality and monetary return, exclusive of equity and justice.

What may save us is the international realization of the advantage of alternative energy generation technologies that has exploded in relation to a comparable disadvantage of fossil fuels, discredited as reflected in price and trading, with oil-dependent economies in full flight toward wind, solar, geo-thermal, conservation, and dramatic shifts away from the old paradigm. Additionally, the global pandemic has challenged all associated patterns of production, consumption, and distribution toward new designs, new behaviors, new inventions, and new values that require a different preservation/sustainability market reality, new investment, new accountability, and a new definition of profit. We are conducting new surveys, and making new maps for a very different future.

PETER NEILL is founder and director of the World Ocean Observatory, a web-based place of exchange for information and educational services about the health of the world ocean.

Dedicated to sharing information about ocean issues: climate to trade, culture to governance. The sea connects all things. Online at WorldOceanObservatory.org.

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