Sunday, June 13, 2021

Not My Brother's Reefer


Sometimes when I’m kneeling on the outermost rocks in my favorite cove in Big Sur, the spray hitting me in the face and the endlessly popping champagne stallions rearing up on both sides of the cliffs, I feel one with this powerful dynamic being called Earth. I understand that, though I will disappear, it has been a great privilege to have been here. The Earth will go on, regenerate, prevail. If necessary, it will shake off the “disease” of humanity, as my favorite movie hero, Agent Smith of The Matrix, called us. I’m feeling one with the eternalness of the Earth and I’m positive that I know what’s goin’ on, what’s goin’ on — it’s washing over every cell in my body, it is my body. I’m in tune.

And then I see a documentary like Chasing Coral about the destruction of the world’s coral reefs and I think everything could be gone in about 50 years. The Earth does not seem so powerful. 

Here are the film’s/life’s “spoilers”:

1) Time-lapse photography covering a two-month span of a section of the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of northeastern Australia. Day 1: amazingly colorful and thick vibrant forests of undulating striped and spotted corals, inhabited by fanciful fish and other creatures — symbiotic, neighborly, cooperative. When the corals open their mouths their insides are as spectacular as their outsides. Everything about the corals illustrates “Pied Beauty” by Gerard Manley Hopkins:


Glory be to God for dappled things—

For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;

For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;

Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;

Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;

And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;

Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)

With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;

He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:

Praise him.


But by day 60: the variegated coral forests are “bleached out,” ghostly, skeletal, completely white, which they do as an emergency survival mechanism and then, ultimately, they turn gray and brown and die, almost flattened, looking like bombed-out Aleppos, Gazas and Mosuls. A few fish, who don’t look all that vibrant themselves, investigate the ruins. The cause of this destruction, says the film, is a rise in sea temperature caused by climate change. 

2) The largest structure ever created by any human or non-human, the Great Barrier Reef is 133,000 square miles and as long as the eastern seaboard of the US. In 2016 alone, 29% of the Great Barrier Reef died.

3) Lame attempts by the film’s scientists to get us to care about the fascinating corals by telling us how much income the fishing industry would lose if the other 71% of the Great Barrier Reef dies. Is uninspiring speciesist utilitarianism supposed to activate our revolutionary fervor?

4) The scientists board a floating restaurant near the Great Barrier Reef and walk among the drinking, dancing, karaokeing crowns of creation who have no idea about the incredible undersea world not all that far away from them. Close to the reef physically, they checked out of the natural world socially, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually a long time ago, if they were ever in it at all. They aren’t their brother’s reefer.

5) The film emphasizes the whiz-bang technology that the scientists use to film the corals and study the data on the long walk/short pier, somewhere in the future, to “save” the corals. But we already know it would be better for the corals and every other living thing on Earth if none of this technology existed in the first place. What’s powering all those boats? And how many more millions of Congolese are going to be killed to get the coltan out of the ground and into those fancy cameras and phones? 

6) At the film’s end, the scientists fight back by giving lectures to sparsely-peopled auditoriums — and one guy turns an RV into a living classroom of the ocean to take the story of the corals on the road to educate people, especially the kids because, if you didn’t know, kids are the future and the future is something we have a whole shit pot full of.

I totally respect the hard work and good hearts of the scientists and volunteers who are trying to save the corals. They’ve got the emotional investment and the passion. (If you don’t tear up watching the turtle at the end of the film, you don’t have what it takes to save the world.) But how many of these disempowering dead-end environmental films have I seen where either no answers are presented or completely inadequate answers to the disasters that are shown?

The film doesn’t mention them but a quick glance at Wiki shows that some of our old friends are also destroying the corals: overfishing, mining, dumping, agricultural runoff, coastal development, oil spills (282 between 1987-2002), ocean acidification, illegal fish poaching, ships running aground, waste and foreign species discharged from ships’ ballast water and — capping off “the beauty of our weapons” as Brian Williams might say — joint US and Australian military exercises in 2013 when US Harrier jets deliberately dropped four thousand pounds of unarmed bombs on the Great Barrier Reef. In short: our non-negotiable sacred way of death. 

In every one of these films about the environment and “sustainability,” I think there should be a baseline, some minimal amount of information for viewers to consider — and for the filmmakers to cross-examine the subjects about just so we can see where their heads are:

1) Every film about the environment ought to promote veganism. Concerned about climate change, the villain in the lineup fingered for killing the corals? In 2006, the UN reported that animal agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse gases than the combined exhaust of all transportation. 

Veganism isn’t just right for the earth and the animals, it also empowers its adherents because it directly saves animals’ lives. Consider: we vegans make up a tiny percent of America but we raise hell completely out of proportion to our numbers. We set the food trends and our views from 35 years ago about animal agriculture have been totally vindicated. We vegans swim against one of the greatest tides imaginable but we don’t feel disempowered.

In contrast to vegans: America has constant war but no anti-war movement, more blacks locked in cages than were in slavery but no civil rights movement, and only pockets of effective grassroots environmental groups swimming in Gang Green’s noxious, suffocating, spirit-depleting sea — despite the offenders being more outrageous than ever: ghost reefs, Canadian Tar Sands, thousands of fracking-caused earthquakes, etc.

Tolstoy called vegetarianism the “first step” toward leading an ethical life and George Bernard Shaw said, “Meat eating is cannibalism with its heroic dish omitted.” There are no morally relevant differences between us and the animal species we eat and it’s unjust to raise and kill them for food. Be a better person, be a bigger person: stop eating them. Leftists, your smug human supremacy is more offensive than the rabid right’s open bloodlust because you should know better. Where’s your questioning, your skepticism that you just might not be right about your relationship to other beings? If you really were as superior as you think you are, you would have kicked the right’s ass a long time ago. Right now it looks like you’re just a bunch of small, bullying, violent oppressors of fish, chickens, cows and pigs.

2) Veganism is something we can do individually and immediately but there is something we have to do collectively: replace the production for profit of capitalism with the production for need of socialism. No individuals should privately own productive property. Decisions about what to produce, how it’s produced and whether it’s produced at all should be made collectively by the working class majority. Under capitalism, we have industries fighting to the death to preserve destructive, wasteful, polluting, unnecessary and sickness-spreading work. As Upton Sinclair said: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

Capitalism is what prevents the work of the scientists in Chasing Coral from being more widely known, let alone acted on. The coral chasers have the science and truth, in the same way that vegans have it: every human nutritional study done over the last 100 years — not funded by the meat, dairy or egg industries — has concluded the same thing: for optimum health, eat more whole grains, fruits and vegetables and eat less animal products. The science is in. But capitalism has to be kicked out. 

Bonus Fidel Fun Fact: 2006 and 2016 reports by the World Wildlife Fund found that tiny quasi-socialist Cuba, the great bane of the United States of Satan, is the only country in the world with “sustainable development,” defined as a country that “covers their present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” This fact should also be in every documentary about the environment. 

3) Veganism and socialism aren’t the final answers — they are ethical, just, wise, liberatory, mandatory, health-enhancing and the bare minimum. But their chief value is that they buy time. We stop flooring the accelerator to our destruction. Because what really needs to be put out there for discussion, thinking and planning, in all of these “environmental” films, is how to wind down “civilization” as much and as quickly as possible.

Chairman Mao intuited that we were all going to end up as peasant farmers and, perhaps, if we press on and get back to primitive communism, he says hello to his little friend: Jesus of the Essenes. And in that future ancient world, I hope those commies will have the good sense to stay there.

published 7/29/2017