The world’s oceans are in trouble.
Overfishing and careless fishing methods, coupled with climate change and pollution, threaten, in a matter of decades, to leave the seven seas acidic cesspools, where the highest life forms are plankton and jellyfish.
To any reasonable mind, this situation has long since passed from emergency to crisis.
Last week the United Nations met to try to come up with a solution to one threat facing marine ecosystems today: high seas bottom trawling.
Bottom trawling is the practice of dragging the ocean bed with huge nets that destroy everything in their path.
It’s done in both international and inland waters despite repeated studies showing that it’s responsible for sharp drops in the numbers of fish, and sometimes irreparable damage to the ocean floor.
The UN has been debating an immediate moratorium on high seas bottom trawling, which, at present, faces little regulation and less enforcement.
Last week, a group of scientists released the results of a UN-backed study, which found that high seas dragging destroys stony coral, on which many species depend.
None of the nations opposed to the moratorium changed their position as a result of this new evidence.
Not surprisingly, the nations that oppose the ban are fishing nations with their own bottom-trawling fleets and their own powerful fishing lobbies.
Curiously though, the perceived leader among those who oppose a ban is Canada, a country whose dragger fleet operates only in inland waters.
The proposed moratorium would have no immediate effect on the Canadian fishery, but the industry opposes it on thin-end-of-the-wedge grounds.
Just let them start banning destructive fishing practices, the reasoning goes, and who knows where it might end?
According to an Fisheries and Oceans official, “The debate cannot be simplified, in this very complex question, to being either it’s a moratorium or nothing.”
In lieu of a moratorium, Canada proposes “interim measures” such as “regional bodies to manage unregulated areas.”
Note the term “manage,” as opposed to “regulate,” a clear indication that these “regional bodies” would be industry-driven, and focused more on production than protection.
Here are the Harper government’s cornerstone principles at work: respond to crisis as slowly as possible, and then only by sending wolves to guard the sheep.
It’s typical of Canada’s patently interim government that the only measures it seems able to commit to are interim ones.
Maybe they think it best to leave the important stuff for Bob Rae — or perhaps on a long shot some Liberal PM not of Power Corp’s choosing.
Last year, Greenpeace and the Ecology Action Centre released a survey showing that 78 per cent of Canadians want Canada to reverse its stand and support a moratorium on bottom-trawling.
Thousands of non-industry scientists agree, but the government clings to the industry’s position, captured in the motto, Party on!
It is still possible that, if we start now and put all of humanity’s efforts into it, we might leave something for future generations in the planet’s great treasuries — the oceans, the forests, the lakes and streams, the soil and air.
Or, we could stay the course and use it all up now, as if the planet was one giant motor home, whose bumper sticker brags, “We’re spending our children’s resources”.
Bottom dragging for fish is just one example of the rapacious way we approach the planet.
In the face of repeated studies showing this fishing method to be highly destructive, what could be more obvious than that we need to stop it at least long enough to look for a sustainable level, if such a thing exists?
That’s what you do in a crisis: you take strong measures.
If they turn out to be more than is necessary, it’s always possible to pull back.
This is called stewardship.
Despite having saddled ourselves with a Dubya clone for an interim prime minister, Canada still has a few shreds of credibility left on the world stage.
That credibility is one of the resources Harper seems prepared to squander till it’s gone, in pursuit of those lofty goals, sustained growth and a solid bottom line.
There’s no telling what might be achieved with a concerted effort on the environmental front, if we start today.
Our grandchildren may yet know the taste of fish, of fresh water, our coastal cities may be saved, we may still manage to leave living forests.
It’s a monumental task, and we will go down in history as heroes if we achieve it.
More likely though the Steve Harpers of this world will have their way, and we will be remembered, if there’s anyone left alive to remember us, as a generation of bandits.