James Cameron wants us to stop treating the ocean like a toilet

Sep 27, 2019 by


ocean at sunset
Public Domain Unsplash / Joseph Barrientos

The film director believes that ocean exploration could help us to prepare better for climate catastrophes.

When you’re the first person ever to visit the deepest part of the ocean all alone, it’s safe to say you have a unique perspective on things. Movie director James Cameron has this claim to fame – along with creating Titanic and Avatar, also noteworthy accomplishments! In 2012, he dove to the bottom of the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean, landing at the deepest point called Challenger Deep – and he’s been processing the experience ever since.

Now, as global panic mounts over the climate crisis, Cameron had some choice words about the state of the world’s oceans. He told Newsweek, “Our so-called civilization is using the ocean as its toilet. Unless this changes, and fast, ocean ecosystems are going to continue their rapid collapse.” Cameron went on to explain:

“Plastic waste in the ocean is horrific but is only the most prominent of our many deadly waste streams, which include carbon that’s heating the atmosphere and making the ocean acidic, and the run-off nutrients from all the world’s agriculture, which is causing anoxic dead zones the size of countries.”

There is a tendency to think of these deep parts of the ocean as pristine, untouched places, but as Newsweek pointed out, a recent visit to the Mariana Trench by Texan explorer Victor Vescovo resulted in the discovery of plastic trash on the bottom of the ocean floor. Vescovo says he saw a plastic bag and candy wrappers while diving in April of this year, which echoes an October 2018 study that found the same thing at a depth of 36,000 feet inside the trench. A study published this past February found synthetic fibers in the bodies of amphipods, little crustaceans taken from the Mariana Trench, among others.

Cameron is right to be seriously concerned about ocean health, and the rest of us would do well to get worried, too. What he would like is more funding for ocean exploration, as only 5 percent has been explored so far. He has suggested the deployment of a “global fleet of swarm robotics to investigate the oceans’ depths and give us data on the effects of climate change.” Because of the oceans’ intimate connection to weather systems, knowing more about their function could help us to prepare better for natural disasters.

While I understand and support the need for greater oceanic research, I fear that dumping piles of money into this area of study could distract from the less glamorous and far tougher solutions that we know must be taken immediately by governments worldwide to ensure that the climate crisis does not worsen any more than it’s bound to at this point, such as creating conservation areas to prevent overfishing, slow habitat loss, and reduce pollution, and curbing total greenhouse gas emissions. As Greta Thunberg put it to world leaders this very month,

“For more than 30 years the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away, and come here saying that you are doing enough, when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight. With today’s emissions levels, our remaining CO2 budget will be gone in less than 8.5 years.”

By all means, let’s keep researching and discovering, but let’s also start taking real, measurable action in ways that we know can make a difference.

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