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22nd April 2016

Environmental activism and shipping

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So what do Capt. Paul Watson of Sea Shepherd fame; Craig Venter, geneticist and Patriarch Bartholomew, Leader of the Orthodox Church have in common when it comes to our industry?

They are all environmental activists with a deep and visceral interest in the continued wellbeing of our seas.

They were once seen by industry as outsiders and mavericks, but our culture has changed dramatically in the last twenty years driven by the multiplicity of images and messages we see in our device-rich, multimedia world extolling new ideas of preservation and protection.

Their core message is: ‘Can we do it a different way? Yes, we can’. A new generation has begun to accept their ideas as the new orthodoxy.

Paul Watson, now 65, is the man Japanese whalers, Canadian seal hunters and illegal fishermen everywhere love to hate.

He co-founded that pillar of the establishment and Non-Governmental Organisation, Greenpeace, in the 70s (he was booted out fairly soon after for his ‘front and centre’ activism) and now has two boats that patrol the world's oceans and confront anyone he believes is acting criminally.

He is regularly denounced by governments as an eco-terrorist and a pirate after ramming and scuttling whalers, but despite some close moments, Captain Watson knows the law of the sea and has never (so far) been prosecuted.

But he and the Sea Shepherd Group are opening up a new role for environmental activists. In December 2000, the Sea Shepherd ship, Sirenian, was sent to the Galápagos to assist in patrolling the 130,000 square kilometre marine reserve around the Islands. Six years ago, Sea Shepherd announced that the Dutch Post Code Lottery was giving them an annual €500,000 grant, and an additional €1 million for their conservation programs in the Galápagos Islands.

The strange idea of environmental activists becoming a new green police force may have a future.

Craig Venter, at 69, is often referred to as a rogue scientist, a bad boy of biology.  He is best described as a person of independent or unorthodox views.

A former high-school drop-out and Vietnam veteran, Venter earned his reputation for working outside conventional science with his efforts to decode the entire human genetic code – the genome.

Some years ago, Venter spent his time cruising the world's oceans, exploring for useful microbes; he was distressed by what he found. He said at the time:

"Not a day went by when we didn't see huge amounts of plastic trash in the water. We're treating the planet as our toilet and we think when we flush the chain the problems disappear, but they don't. We have to find ways to change."

One of Venter's more controversial suggestions for tackling environmental problems involves a synthetic lifeform. There is speculation that this line of research could lead to producing bacteria engineered to perform specific reactions, for example, breaking down plastics or even combating global warming, etc.

Patriarch Bartholomew I, 76, Archbishop of Constantinople and the Byzantine East, is the spiritual leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians around the world. He's also extremely green.

After announcing, on an island in the Aegean, that attacks on the environment should be considered sins, he called pollution of the world's waters "a new Apocalypse" and led global calls for "creation care".

He has made the environment an increasingly powerful strand of Christian thinking in the Western world, but coming from the East.

His commitment to environmental activism is deeply serious, earning him the nickname the Green Patriarch. He has preached that caring for the environment is a religious imperative.

The inspirational Patriarch insists that the real crisis is cultural and spiritual, and can be overcome only by moving away from rampant materialism.

All human beings, he has said, should draw a distinction “between what we want and what we need.”

In September 2012, he published a strongly worded encyclical calling on all Orthodox Christians to repent “for our sinfulness” in not doing enough to protect the planet. Biodiversity, “the work of divine wisdom,” was not granted to humanity to abuse it, he wrote; human dominion over the earth does not mean the right to greedily acquire and destroy its resources. He singled out “the powerful of this world,” saying they need a new mind-set to stop destroying the planet for profit and short-term interest.

With individuals like these seeking to change the way we care for our seas and our planet, the world is beginning, at last, to look a little healthier.

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