Transcript: David Helvarg, "50 Ways to Save the Ocean", May 15 2006

David Helvarg is the author of "50 Ways to Save the Ocean". 71% of our planet is under stress. Cascading disasters; industrial over-fishing for the global sea food market, nutrient poisoning from urban agricultural runoff of our near-shore oceans. Dead zones.

Thom Hartmann interview with David Helvarg 15 May 2006 on KPOJ

[Thom Hartmann] We have with us David Helvarg. He is the author of a number of books; a little while ago, The War Against the Greens, more recently Blue Frontier and 50 Ways to Save the Ocean. Tonight he will be at Powell's on Hawthorne at 07:30 PM, speaking tonight, "50 Ways to Save the Ocean". David, welcome to the programme.

[David Helvarg] Thank you.

[Thom Hartmann] Great to have you here. 70% of our planet under stress, in trouble?

[David Helvarg] 71% of our planet. I mean, you know, we launched our books on Earth day, which is a misnomer itself. It's obvious, our air breathing biases; if you go into space and look back it's clearly ocean planet. It's a big blue marble. And even saying 71% of the surface kind of underestimates it, because about 97% of all the living space on out planet is salt water. We terrestrials, we're sort of living between, you know, the moles in the ground and maybe the birds nesting in the top of the trees 300 feet up. You've got life from the surface where turtles are munching on jellyfish, to occasionally mistaking plastic bags for them, down to the Marianas Trench, 37,600 feet, 7 miles down. In 1960 to humans, the only 2 humans ever to go to the bottom of our planet, where they saw fish and a sea star. And one of them, Don who lives here in Oregon, he told me it was the height of the cold war. He said, "Had I seen a soviet footprint instead of fish we still might be down there". The reality is, we're sending hundreds of people into space. We've only had 2 people to the bottom. We've only mapped our ocean planet with about 10% of the resolution we've mapped Mars and the moons of Jupiter and we're spending billions to go there. Why are we going there in search of water? Because water is life and we've got a whole water planet that's under tremendous stress. And, you know, we get so much out of it in terms of recreation, transportation, trade, energy, protein, and just that sense of awe and wonder, that I think it's time we start giving something back before it's too late.

[Thom Hartmann] So, the original question, is the ocean at risk? Are the oceans at risk?

[David Helvarg] It's a moment of crisis. There's these cascading disasters; industrial over-fishing for the global sea food market, nutrient poisoning from urban agricultural runoff of our near-shore oceans. The UN says there's 146 coastal dead zones now around the world, and a third of them here in the U.S. because we dump so much nitrogen fertilizer on our industrial farming; 140 pounds of this per acre of corn in Iowa. All that surplus follows gravity down the streams and rivers, creates a second crop of algae during the spring floods in the Gulf. Little copopods - little pinhead creatures - feed on it and sinks in the water column where bacteria then suck all the dissolved oxygen out of the water out of the water. It's kind of like these cable pundits, they suck all the oxygen out 'til even they themselves die. Anything that can't flee dies on the bottom and this is repeated with harmful algal blooms, concentrated agricultural feedlot operations for chickens, for hogs, I mean, it's the chicken factories on the Chesapeake Bay, the hog farms, hog factories really, that built up in the flood plains of North Carolina, all contribute. And on top of this, what we need for restoration; the salt marshes and the mangrove swamps and the sea grass meadows, are all going away cause of coastal sprawl. By the 1980's, 70 of our 20 fastest growing counties were coastal, and the sprawl, this hardening of surfaces, means faster runoff of pollutants. On top of all these disasters, the industrial over-fishing, the coastal sprawl, the pollution, we now have fossil fuel-fired climate disruption, and that's eroding beaches, raising sea levels. I've been and looked at bleaching coral from Florida to Fiji to Australia. The best scientists tell me that even if we get our carbon fuels tomorrow, we've probably lost half our tropical corals to the heat we've already put in the system. And now we're discovering it's also as a carbon sink, this excess carbon is acidifying out oceans.

[Thom Hartmann] Right.

[David Helvarg] They're more acidic; it's creating carbolic acid which makes it harder for corals trying to recover to get the calcium carbonate out of the sea water.

[Thom Hartmann] Right.

[David Helvarg] So, you know, it's definitely a moment of disaster. We've had 2 major commissions; the independent Pew Commission and the actually the Bush-appointed U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy that reported, and with very different makeups. One was elected officials, scientists, environmentalists, fishermen. The other, the Bush-appointed, was top-heavy with admirals, shipping industry, oil guys and academics. But they went out, they spent 2 years doing I think fair and dispassionate hearings around the nation. They reached very similar conclusions; that the ecological collapse of our public seas is a threat to our national security, our economy and environment. And unfortunately, about a month ago the chairs of the two commissions; Leon Panetta, lifelong Democrat, Chief of Staff under President Clinton, and Admiral Jim Watkins, who's a life-long Republican; he was Bush 1's Secretary of Energy, before that Chief of Naval Operations came to D.C. And 2 and 3 years after their reports they gave a report card to the White House and Congress; how they responded to their recommendations; they gave them a D+ and personally I think they were grading on a curve.

[Thom Hartmann] You think they were being generous. We're talking with David Helvarg, he's the author of "50 Ways to Save the Ocean" plus the "Blue Frontier: Dispatches from America's Ocean Wilderness" and "The War Against the Greens". David, we just have a couple of minutes left here. You wrote a book, "The War Against the Greens". Is that war ongoing, and if so, what's the state of it?

[David Helvarg] Well, it's the war against the greens, and clearly the war against the blues. I mean, it was almost otherworldly, the response of the administration to getting a D+. They said, well this is a sign of progress and we're looking for more. So just as they've had anti-environmental policies they've called, you know, Clear Skies and Healthy Forests, I think they're now giving us Happy Oceans. And I think the alternative is, since we set up our Blue Frontier campaign, what we call a Seaweed Rebellion". Marine grass roots. People, citizens who, as I say, get so much out of the ocean, they want to give something back. The "50 Ways" is for people who just aren't clear how. A lot of people I talk to, they say "well the collapse of marine wildlife, climate change, what can I do, I'm an individual?" And that's where it all starts, from the heart. If we act as citizens, as consumers, as people who want to give something back, we can. An opportunity to do it, to come together and to create a dynamic new movement.

[Thom Hartmann] Wake up, get out there, get active, get involved. The web site bluefront.org, if you want more information. And also, tonight 7:30 at Powell's on Hawthorne, ocean activist David Helvarg. David, great having you here with us.

[David Helvarg] Thank you.

[Thom Hartmann] Thanks for dropping by.

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