23 August 2018   Leave a comment

Heiko Maas, the German Foreign Minister, has written a very provocative essay for Handelsblatt, a German business outlet.  The very beginning of the essay raises a very serious question that liberal societies have not asked since 1945:

“The fact that the Atlantic has widened politically is by no means solely due to Donald Trump. The US and Europe have been drifting apart for years. The overlapping of values and interests that shaped our relationship for two generations is decreasing. The binding force of the East-West conflict is history. These changes began well before Trump’s election — and will survive his presidency well into the future. That is why I am skeptical when some ardent trans-Atlanticist simply advises us to sit this presidency out.”

Maas goes further and insists that Europe must take a more active role in filling the vacuum created by the US withdrawal.  That position will no doubt make many Europeans uncomfortable.  But that strategy also calls for Europe to take a more assertive stance vis-a-vis the US:  “And where the USA crosses the line, we Europeans must form a counterweight — as difficult as that can be. That is also what balance is about.”  Specifically, Maas called for an alternative financial payment system that will circumvent the US sanctions on Iran.  We shall see if this idea is embraced by other European states and the Union as a whole.


James Bradley has written a long essay about the state of the world’s oceans for the Australian journal, The Monthly,  He touches on a number of different issues that measure the health of coral reefs, fishing stocks, and the varieties of pollution that threaten the life-sustaining attributes of the oceans.  It is a profoundly disturbing essay, set against the backdrop of the fecundity of the oceans before humans began to exploit and misuse its resources:

“It is difficult for us to imagine the oceans before humans transformed them, and how they teemed with life. In Anna Clark’s history of fishing in Australia, The Catch, she describes the “fishing Eden” that greeted early Europeans: “the sea floor off the west coast of Tasmania carpeted red with crayfish; fish so thick that nets could be set at any time of the day; an ‘astonishing magnitude’ of Australian salmon; and mountains of mullet that migrated annually up the east coast”. This accords with James Cook’s and Joseph Banks’ descriptions of the density of marine life they found in Botany Bay, where the crew speared stingrays weighing as much as 152 kilograms and reported catching “about 300 pounds weight of fish” in just “3 or 4 hauls” of the net. In Tasmania, whales congregated in the Derwent River in such numbers they were a hazard to shipping, while on the other side of the globe, off the coast of Cornwall, a shoal of sardines was spotted in 1836 that stretched for well over 100 kilometres. Today there are approximately 90,000 nesting female green turtles left worldwide, but studies suggest that when Europeans arrived in the Americas there were more than 50 million in the Caribbean alone. Reports describe them filling the ocean from horizon to horizon as they grazed upon the seagrass that surrounded the Cayman Islands; as late as the 18th century, ships en route to the Caymans could navigate through darkness by the sound of the turtles’ shells knocking together as they fed. Further back again the Roman writer Oppian describes a Mediterranean so full of fish it was possible to catch tuna by simply dropping a log with a spike on it into the water.”

Bradley then gives statistics on the rapid depletion of fishing stocks and the extensive pollution choking the oceans, and finally concludes:

“Yet while we are accustomed to thinking of the ocean as limitless, it is not. We have pushed many of its inhabitants to the brink of extinction and beyond. We have choked its waters with plastics and other pollutants, leaching poisons into the bodies of fish and other animals as well as ourselves. We have already irreversibly altered its ecology, its biology, even its very chemistry.”

Political action to protect the oceans is very difficult because humans have defined the high seas as a “common”, independent of sovereign control.  T save the oceans, that mentality must change.


Posted August 23, 2018 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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