Between the Lines: July-August 2010

The opening chapter of Sylvia Earle’s book The World Is Blue is “The Vision: Limitless Ocean Bounty, Infinite Resiliency.” The second chapter is a more troubling plunge: “The Reality: The Ocean Is in Trouble, So Are We.” A basic lesson from the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico—a lesson that Earle expounds on in the book, published well before the massive spill—is that human fate and the fate of the oceans are intertwined.

Earle A.M. ‘56, Ph.D. ‘66, Hon. ‘93 is this issue’s cover subject; she’s also been among the most authoritative, and impassioned voices around the spill. For more than fifty years, she has worked on, around, above, and under the Gulf of Mexico (and elsewhere) as a marine scientist and explorer. In mid-May, she testified before the Congressional Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. She noted that the gulf is popularly associated with “hurricanes, petrochemicals, shrimp, and, in recent years, notorious ‘dead zones.’ “ What it should be known for, she said, is “its vital role in generating oxygen, taking and holding carbon, distributing nutrients, stabilizing temperature, yielding freshwater to the skies that returns as rain.”

Just before the Congressional testimony, Earle was interviewed by Judy Woodruff ‘68 of the PBS NewsHour. “With every breath we take, every drop of water we drink, we’re connected to the ocean,” she said. “It doesn’t matter whether you ever see the ocean or not. Your life depends on it.”

A couple of weeks later, Earle was on the Charlie Rose Show. How do we measure the environmental damage? Rose ‘64, J.D. ‘68 asked her. “It’s incalculable,” she answered. The value of the gulf—and of the oceans overall—”needs to be on the balance sheet,” she added, rather than seen as a resource ever available for us to exploit.

It’s easy to point a finger of blame at BP, Earle told Rose. “But it’s our demand for these products that drives what’s happening now.”

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