3 The blue planet

The view from space

The march of climate change.

The uneasiness expressed by Arvid Parvo to the UN General assembly in 1967 has grown to alarm among the world’s scientific community. Global temperatures continue to rise and carbon emissions increase. Pictures coming back from the International Space Station reveal a world undreamed of by its inhabitants. Most Earthlings are unaware that about 75 per cent of our planet is water.  Water is what distinguishes our planet from the rest of the Solar System and possibly the whole universe. It’s lonely out there in the dark. Astronomers anxiously scan the heavens for signs of life or even a drop of water- the first requisite of life, or is it the end of life, the last gasp of a doomed planet? This planet is the only one known to have produced any life-form more complicated than a germ. It should be called Oceania, not Earth, and hence-force shall be.The interior of our planet is beginning to give up some of its secrets as intrepid scientists venture into the deep ocean. Alex Rogers, one of the leading marine biologists in the world is director of the Norwegian Foundation REV Ocean. His book Hidden Wonders of the Oceans and How We can Protect them describes distinct species of bizarre animals in a hostile environment thousands of metres underwater with high temperatures in icy seas. Hydrothermal vents spit out fluids rich in hydrogen sulphide.

The deep oceans are teeming with life-forms still unknown to science and Rogers points out that more is known about the Moon, Mars, Venus and Jupiter than about our own planet. He is deeply concerned that humans are damaging the oceans catastrophically through ignorance of the biggest eco-system in the world. The significance of Victoria’s circumnavigation is that it opened up the world to centuries of colonialism and what is now called globalisation. The next stage, called the Anthropocene, or era of humans, is upon us as the blue planet gives rise to the blue economy.

Many of those strange creatures in the deep ocean are valuable commodities,already sought by pharmaceutical companies who seek to patent them for medicinal or cosmetic purposes. Our experience hunting creatures like whales, seals, rhinoceros,elephants and various species of fish almost to extinction should be a lesson but every year the United Nations issues a warning about more extinct and endangered species. International conventions seem to be of limited authority, especially in regard to whales.

Whaling was a thriving industry throughout the 18th, 19th and into the 20th century. So valuable was the product that industrial tools such as the explosive harpoon were brought to increase the slaughter and the South Pacific whaling fields ran red with blood. In 1926 the London Times editorialised that whales would soon cease to exist unless action be taken to protect them. The 1946 International Convention for regulation of whaling,the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the 1979 international moratorium on all commercial whaling reduced the slaughter somewhat and the humpback whale seems to be staging a recovery. According to the World   Economic Forum, plastic rubbish will outweigh fish in the oceans by 2050. Fine plastic fibres are more  lethal for fish populations than explosive harpoons.

The oceans of the world play a huge role in moderating the planet’s climate and absorbing C02 . They absorb about one third of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere by humans and ocean currents circulate around the fringes of continents,  cooling and warming. Oceans are under severe stress from over-fishing, destructive trawling, pollution and invasive species, while at the same time contributing to many nations’ economies. So long as prudence prevails, the oceans can  contribute to a prosperous future for humans but the key word is prudence.

Coral reefs are especially threatened and environmental populariser Sir David Attenborough warned the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference:”If we do nothing the coral reefs will end up as slime-covered rubble piles. Many environmental groups regard  inaction by politicians and corporations as a betrayal of the citizens of Earth. What does this have to do with the measurement of time? Everything! Neither creatures of the wild nor human beings are immortal and we have no clue how much time remains for our planet.

Professor James Lovelock described what he called the Gaia hypothesis after the Greek Goddess who bore Uranus  by  Oceanus. The planet is regarded as a living organism in all its complexity, transforming itself continually. Creation was not a single act of God over 7 days but an eternal process. God did not create the Earth. The Earth is God or, as the ancient inhabitants of Australia called it, the Rainbow Serpent.

European invaders of this southern land set about conquering the wilderness to make way for their own crops and livestock. They regarded the environment and its creatures as a hindrance and a barrier to their prosperity. After more than than 200 years of progress and prosperity the ancient land is blighted by increasing droughts and wild fires, by the disappearance of native flora and fauna and large sections of the biggest coral reef in the world. It’s a sunburnt country, a land of sweeping plains, of ragged mountain ranges, of droughts and flooding rains. It’s falling on hard times and water, or the lack of it, is key. Australia’s biggest river system, the Murray-Darling, is drying up and fish die in their millions. It never seems to be the right time for politicians to do something meaningful, like hand over stewardship of the land to the blackfellas who have lived here for   60,000 years.