On Environmental Care
The Mariana Trench Challenger Deep is the deepest place on earth, and likely the most alien. It is 36,037 feet (10,984 meters; 6.825 miles) deep. Mount Everest rises 29,035 feet above sea level. If you dumped Mt. Everest into the Mariana Trench, its peak would be 7,000 feet under water.
Named in honor of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute oceanographer Allyn Vine, “Alvin” is a human occupied vehicle (HOV) that is part of the National Deep Submergence Facility and which enables scientists to observe and collect samples as deep as 4,500 meters (2.8 miles) in the ocean during dives that can last up to ten hours. I stood gazing at Alvin I (it has been upgraded numerous times) on the deck of her mother ship when I lived in Woods Hole and dreamt of what it would be like to descend into the ocean depths where humans had never before seen the strange and wondrous creatures that live there.
At noon on Monday, March 19, 2012 local time (2200 hours, Sunday, March 18, 2012, Eastern Time), National Geographic photographer James Cameron resurfaced in the western Pacific Ocean having just dived over 6 miles deep into the Mariana Trench. His submarine has been called “a vertical torpedo,” and had to withstand 8 tons of pressure per square inch at depths over 35,000 feet below sea level. (That’s like putting a 2,365 pound weight on your fingernail.)
What wonders lie in the depths? Frilled sharks, giant spider crabs, wolffish, fangtooth fish, tube worms, vampire squid, viperfish, xenophyophores (resembling giant amoebas), amphipods (shiny, shrimplike scavengers), andholothurians, which may be a new species of bizarre, translucent sea cucumber.One of my father’s graduate students was the first to discover microbe life in sulfur trenches at the bottom of the ocean.
There, vents bubble up liquid sulfur and carbon dioxide, microbes rely on chemicals such as methane or sulfur rather than oxygen, creatures gobble marine life lower on the food chain,and active mud volcanoes erupt. And there, sadly, chemicals caused by human pollution reside.
Although massive oil spills are horrendous, they account for only 12% of the oil in the oceans. Most of it comes from runoff from our roads and fields and from ship engines.
We dump 8 million metric tons (17.6 billion pounds) of plastic into our oceans every year – a garbage truck full every minute. In 30 years, plastic will outweigh all ocean fish combined. After all that plastic breaks down into microplastic, it enters the food chain causing disease in everything that ingests it, humans included. Four hundred years later, when plastic finally breaks down, it releases toxic chemicals.
There are five huge floating garbage dumps in the ocean, the largest of which is twice the size of Texas and contains some 1.8 trillion pieces of trash. There are over 400 hypoxic dead zones in the oceans caused by human pollution. One, the size of New Jersey sits in the Gulf of Mexico.
With each load of laundry, 700,000 synthetic microfibers are washed into our waterways. Plasticized fibers do not break down.
70% of ocean garbage sits on the seafloor.
Agricultural fertilizers like nitrogen stimulate massive algae blooms that kill off fish by the millions.
Greenhouse emissions from coal-fired power plants and vehicles are increasing ocean acidification resulting in the demise of shellfish.
Noise from ships and the military is harming invertebrates like anemones, a vital food source for larger animals.
Ancient Neareastern peoples like the Canaanites, Hittites, Egyptians, and Hebrews feared the sea. In their collective cosmology, the earth was a flat oval-shaped disk held up on pillars. Over it was a hard canopy, above which was water. Windows in the canopy could be opened to permit rain. Below the earth was more water, which was personified as a mythological chaos monster named Yam, Rahab, or Leviathan. One can easily understand the beliefs – with the human eye, the earth looks like it might be a flattened oval, the sky a dome with lights screwed into it at night, and chaos often does come from the sea in the form of hurricanes or tsunamis. The sea has swallowed many a person, many a seaside village, and many a ship. Even today, the ocean refuses to be tamed.
It was there, in the sea, that life began on planet earth. How it went from nothing to something, then later from chemicals to living organisms, no one yet knows; but it did, and the wonder of evolution by natural selection began its creative painting while the Master Artist smiled. A Master Artist so brilliant that he knew (and knows) every possible combination of every possible genetic mutation and every possible choice of every being; and, therefore, has a contingency plan for every possible outcome. The Artist is never surprised, but always delighted. His creation is good. The Divine Artist pushed back chaos to create order. The natural world is a Temple erected in honor of the Artist.
In the Ancient Neareastern religions, temples were erected to the gods, and, when completed, an image of the god was placed in it. Nature is God’s Temple. He placed His image therein – human beings – the image and likeness of the Creator, the Imago Dei– and charged those primal humans with the protection and care of the natural world. Humans were never given dominion over one another, but as kings and queens, they were charged with the oversight of nature. The intricate, delicate web of interconnected life from xenophyophores in the Mariana Trench to playwrights in New York is all connected in a grand systemic family. What happens to one affects the other.
Humans are to protect all of nature. In one of the two sacred creation myths in Genesis, a serpent enters God’s garden. Serpents universally represented evil and chaos throughout the Ancient Near East. Rather than protect the Artist’s garden from a return to chaos, evil, and destruction, the humans allowed chaos to return. Humans began murdering one another. Violence and war spread. False gods like Mammon were worshipped. Greed became a virtue. The tender, delicate, wondrous, beautiful garden of God was raped, ravished, decimated in exchange for caviar and mistresses. Environmental violence and human on human violence are closely related. Jesus forbids both.