The Irony of Deep Ocean Water
What do our solutions so often look like simple repetitions of our problems?
An emerging new phenomenon called the Global Deep Ocean Water Market involves extracting salt water from the ocean depths, desalinating, trading it as deep ocean water futures, and packaging for distribution and sale.
Over many years observing the ocean and its waves of benefit and decline, I have developed a resistance to irony defined as “the expression of one’s meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite,” the double speak of claiming one direction by turning to another, of watching what people do in contradiction to what they say. In a world of politics and too often commerce, irony is almost the universal language of the modern predicament. Irony was originally intended to be humorous, but I fear it is no longer.
So here is a cosmic expression of irony. Let’s accept that we have consumed and diminished the value of water on land to crises proportion — by pollution, by manufacture and extraction by-product, by aquifer depletion, by salt-water intrusion, and more — behavior that has created a situation wherein the most essential resource for human survival, worldwide, has been reduced to a fundamental challenge to public health, and community sustainability. Add to that the further impacts of extreme weather, emissions, acidification, persistent organic pollutants, and sea level rise and you have a global existential dilemma.
I have advocated here for an alternative paradigm, the organization of society around the protection and conservation of the freshwater/ocean continuum, a hydraulic solution that will enable agriculture, sanitation, drinking water supply, community collaboration, culture and re-creation, and equitable connection for the benefit of all mankind.
One inevitable shift from the present scenario is to look to the ocean as the saving source, through desalination, food security, and regulatory protections to sustain its redemptive power for the future. It seems so obvious to me, and yet the application of such a vision and its existing associated technology has been anecdotal, occasional, and unremarked by the people, and their political representatives, who will certainly benefit by this inevitable change.
We have lived off natural substances since the beginning, and in our wisdom, we have expanded the satisfaction of our basic needs to an addiction of things, many of which are convenient, some of which are improvements to our quality of life, and many more of which are irrelevant. One part of this lifestyle, driven by vectors of unnecessary need, has been the commodification of water, contradictory enterprise that on the one hand poisons and depletes, and on the other is licensed, bottled, and sold as a pure and healthy tonic for refreshment and the good life. The global soft drink companies now make more profit from water. The smart money trades on water, a universal need, a universal human right. Ironic indeed.
But wait, it gets better, more ironic, and worse. There is now emerging something called the Global Bottled Deep Ocean Water Market, food industry companies that are recovering salt water from the deep sea where it is most pure and mineral and nutrient rich, extracted from the ocean depth, desalinated, and traded as an exotic health product exalted as the essence of “organic living.” Yes, ships to suck up deep ocean water like the new oil from the depths, applied salt removing technology, adding chemicals, and packaging for distribution. Will there be a trading desk, managing bids and sales for deep ocean water futures along with coffee, pork bellies, and gold?
In one breathless article I read about this phenomenon, the new market was described as a “game-changer for vendors.” E-commerce, fishy logos, social media influencers, the Super Bowl half time show, exotic water from the ocean has gone viral! What irony! What tragedy! What a financial opportunity! And you can get in on…er, the ground floor somewhere out near the Marianas Trench, at the newest depth measured at 35,875 feet, one dimension of an oceanic volume of 332,519,000 cubic miles of water on the planet.
Sometimes irony descends to pathos. Is this what we have learned after all these years: that our solutions are simple repetitions of our problems, that our future is nothing more than an iteration of our past, that there is no serious discourse or aspiration that cannot, or will not, be undermined by its opposite? Is the only language left for meaning and explanation “double-speak,” deliberately euphemistic, ambiguous, obscure, and without meaning? How ironic is that?
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. He is also host of World Ocean Radio, upon which this blog is inspired. World Ocean Radio celebrates 13 years this year, with more than 625 episodes produced to date.