Security and Peace on the Ocean
Part One of the multi-part BLUEprint Series: How the Ocean Will Save Civilization
Refugees seeking escape from injustice, tyranny, and life-threatening circumstance look to the ocean as a means toward security and peace. We see it throughout history; political upset or religious bias or natural disaster or pandemic, from which we all seek refuge and solace, physically and spiritually, frequently across the ocean.
The great oceanic reserve that covers 71% of Earth is by nature a diverse place where myriad species coexist in circles and cycles of nurturing and predation. On the surface, some days, the ocean may seem benign, and even on its days of tumult and upheaval, there remains a sense that out there, down there, things operate on principles of synergy and symbiosis different from that on land. There is an order to things, up and down the water column, in and about, feeding, spawning, and survival, that might appear a tranquil, however transitory, state of being when compared to the cruelty and chaos alongshore. Afraid, hopeful, we climb into our boats, with few possessions beyond our hopes and dreams, and risk passage toward opportunity, toward security, toward peace that eludes us. It sometimes does not fare well.
The ocean separates, just as it connects. If you reverse depiction of land mass and sea, you can envision the continents as islands floating in an all-encompassing water world, frail, apart and vulnerable. That separation protects us in so many ways: oceanic systems providing food, oxygen, clean air, energy, and community. But it also can attack and compromise our well-being by wind and wave and flood that can reclaim its giving in an instant and reduce our happiness to misery. We have continuously from the first launch tried to close that separation, to navigate the ocean as if was nothing more than fluid land to cross, conquer, and change from mystery to known, from resource by consumption to extinction. We fight about it. Are we really secure when we try to control the uncontrollable? When we attempt to own the un-ownable? When we decide to exclude others from approach and access to what the ocean provides?
Peace is another matter. We all want peace, but we are confused over what each must sacrifice to have it. What if in a radical move toward peace we try to start all over again, abandoning our past behavior, abrogating our established attitudes and norms, to view the ocean as a place where, with wisdom and collaboration, we might design new forms of relationship, nationality, cooperation, and progress toward a world characterized as peace in our time?
How would we proceed? We would, of course, have to question everything, put aside conventions and interests, knowing that they have not served us well enough. We would have to examine definitions of outcomes desirable as opportunity for a new progress. We would need to consider matters of equity, justice, value, and universal moral standards. We would have to analyze and re-assert value and values. We would need to know much more, achieve much more, through technology and science. We would have to account for the true impact of our consumption. We would need to educate and engage the public as Citizens of the Ocean, literate in the understanding, conservation, and sustainability of all our natural resources, on land and sea, to maintain continuity and viability through generations over time. We would have to study, communicate, legislate, regulate, and govern in new ways. We would need to compromise and share, to welcome inclusion and diversity, to understand parity and equity, and to welcome each other into a newly self-defined and engineered global community.
These are not idle or naïve dreams. There are millions of people today who wish for such resolve. We have the tools; we have the intellectual and financial capital; we have the impetus of pandemic as an urgent context for change; but do we have the will?
Do we have a choice? I think we do not, and I know there are many like me, and you who have the concern, ability, and determination to join together not as ocean refugees, escaping, but as ocean activists, resolved, with energy and commitment and a plan. Over the next months, I will dare to outline a provocative blueprint for how the ocean will save civilization, and I urge you to listen, share, talk back, and join me.
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.