Clear-Cutting Earth

Water is the blood of the Earth. As the industrial age of humankind has developed, ecological devastation has taken place. How many of us go to the ocean for rest, sit on the beach and listen to the waves roll in to bring peace to our spirits?

We have love affairs with the ocean, wilderness fresh water lakes, rivers racing through our forests singing to our ears. I sit with my wife by the lake, we hold hands, close our eyes, and listening to the water.

There is Fish Lake, and I saw dead fish there. You know when you see dead fish in a river, you know something is wrong. Like I said, the people have been mining there since I can remember. What have they been putting into that lake? Makes you wonder.

—John Starr, Tanana

In January 1995, a huge chunk of ice the size of Rhode Island broke off the Larsen Ice Shelf in Antarctica. The waters have been rising slowly, slowly, but steadily. Sit by the ocean now. Watch. Giant fishing boats are just off the horizon.

Just a short while ago, the industrial ships, as large as factories, worked in pairs and dropped what they called drift nets. These nets measured over twenty-five kilometers in length. Some people call them “Curtains of Death” because they catch everything in their path. They kill everything they catch: dolphins, turtles, sharks and manta rays. They fill with unimaginable creatures.

Sometimes a drift net will get away from the ships and just drift through the ocean, a giant predator more horrible than nature could dream. The fishermen calls the lost nets “ghost nets.” After a while they are found, filled with what was once sea life. Rotted, the catch of the ghost nets are too old to be used.

There used to be a lot of herring, but in the last 10 years they have started to disappear. It took us a long time to understand what was happening. The foreigners keep on coming back and talking money, money, money. How do we cover the damages done by their sailors? They’re taking everything we’ve got. The foreigners take what they want from us and haul it across the ocean.

—Richard Dalton, Sr. Hoonah

Over 3 decades ago Alaskan Native communities saw the signs of global warming. The taste of their fish changed. The ice became thinner and did not come back during the winter. The people noticed strange illnesses amongst the wildlife that deformed the animals and killed them.

For many centuries, humanity lived in harmony with the Earth. The fact that all is connected was felt in the heart of all communities. The true inheritance we leave for our children is the Earth itself. Food will get us through times of no money better than money will get us through times of no food.

There are a lot of things happening. The weather has gotten warmer. The taste of the plants has changed. The fur is coming off the seals like they are molting but it is not molting time. We’re wondering if Chernobyl is responsible.

—Eric Iyapana, Little Dionmede Island

Less than 10 days ago, Hurrican Sandy smashed into the Atlantic Coast giving humanity a taste of what it will be like when climate change really kicks in. On the Jersey shore, ocean water filled the streets, washing cars and trucks away as if they were toys.

The subway systems in New York City were partially underwater and parts of the city are still inundated. The Atlantic Ocean has come to life and it has cast its specter over the villages and cities on the shoreline.

This week, in one or two days, another tropical storm will hit the Northeast. What will it bring? Winds are expected to reach thirty to fifty miles per hour and at least 2 inches of rain are forecasted. Mitt Romney scoffs at climate change as it strikes the country and which he hoped to preside. Let’s hope that Barack Obama makes the right choices. We are already behind when it comes to Climate Change.

Water covers over three-quarters of our planet. Humans and other land animals have been involved in fishing from the beginning. Water life has been the pillar on which many civilizations have grown.

While talking about Beluga whales discussions in one group interview suddenly turned to the increasing population of beaver in the region. I was caught off-guard . . . Seeing my confusion, one of the elders of the tribe explained to me why beaver were relevant to Beluga whales: the beaver dam streams where some salmon spawn, reducing salmon habitat, and thus potentially affecting the abundance and distribution of the salmon on which the Beluga feed.

—Huntington H., “Ecological Applications”

We know that many fish come from fish farms created by agri-businesses that make net corrals in the ocean. Salmon raised in the fish farms are fed a diet different than they would eat in the wild. Consequently, the fish farmers use red dye in the food, otherwise the farm salmon would be white.

Scientists say that we are heading towards a giant eco-tastrophe in the oceans. As many of the top predators, such as shark and tuna, are being fished out due to factory fishing, the balance inside the marine ecosystem’s food chain has been twisted as some species, such as the jellyfish, are becoming the dominant species in the ocean.

Another way we fish is called “bottom trawling.” Boats equipped for this type of fishing have giant nets attached to the sides and backs of the ships and the nets are lowered to the seabed like snowplows. The net scrapes the seabed. Corals, sponges and bottom dwelling fish, are all cut down and dragged up.

Ironically, almost half the global fish catch is used as industrial feed for pigs and poultry at the giant factories where these animals are kept. Another portion of these fish is used for pet food. Things have gotten so out of hand that the pig is now the top predator of the ocean.

The ocean, once thought vast and inexhaustible, is in danger of being fished out. Giant water vehicles roar through the ocean, both on the surface and below. Whales and dolphin, which communicate by sound in the water, are being driven insane by the sounds of the engines and throw themselves on the beaches to die.

There have been a lot of changes in the sea ice currents and the weather. Solid ice has disappeared and there are no longer huge icebergs during fall and winter. The ice now comes later and goes out earlier and it is getting thinner. The current is stronger. We used to have a very low tide down at the head and it is windier on the island. We had a bad hunting season with lots of high winds. Our elders tell us that our Earth is getting old and needs to be replaced by a new one.

—Jerry Wongittilin, Sr., Savoonga, St. Lawrence Island

No one talks about what is happening to the Earth. We’re getting old but our children are young and our grandchildren are younger. Even if we left them a legacy of money, what would they do with it on a planet that is dying?

–Marc D. Goldfinger

Marc D. Goldfinger is a member of the board of directors of the Homeless Empowerment Project, which publishes Spare Change news. Formerly homeless, he serves as the paper's poetry editor.

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