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Excerpt from Endgame

Defending the Indefensible (p. 235)

From chapter "Why Civilization is Killing the World, Part II"

Why civilization is killing the world, take ten. It’s 2003 and I read in the newspaper that “Industrial fishing practices have decimated every one of the world’s biggest and most economically important species of fish. . . . Fully 90 percent of each of the world’s large ocean species, including cod, halibut, tuna, swordfish, and marlin, have disappeared from the world’s oceans in recent decades. . . . [F]ishing has become so efficient that it typically takes just 15 years to remove 80 percent or more of any species unlucky enough to become the focus of a fleet’s attention.”Although these three sentences by themselves starkly reveal how and why civilization is killing the world, neatly tying together economics, technology, and planetary murder, there are other things about the article and others like it that reveal even more about what we are up against.

The first is the placement of the article, on page A13 (and taking up about one- fourth of the page, with the rest devoted to an ad for the new PCS VisionTMPicture Phone with BUILT-IN Camera). This is a point I’ve made before: if the murder of the oceans doesn’t deserve to rank as front page news, I don’t know what does.

The next is that, somewhat contradicting the first, I’m not sure this is really news at all. I told several activist friends about the article, and most responded, “I thought we already knew this.”

They’re right. Anybody who doesn’t understand that industrial fishing is killing the oceans is either an industry stooge, a politician, or a bureaucrat. Or maybe a moron. But I repeat myself.

Time and again scientists put out studies showing how the natural world is being killed, and time and again the culture keeps killing the planet. I can guarantee that in three or four years another study will come out saying that the oceans are being killed. This study will make a big splash on page A13 of many papers. Ho hum. Wanna hand me the sports section?

For example, about thirty seconds of searching the internet revealed articles from 1996 and 1999 detailing how industrial fishing—in each case the technique of long-line fishing where lines thirty or more miles long holding thousands of hooks are strung behind boats—are killing the oceans (including seabirds such as albatross, who are getting absolutely hammered). 1996, 1999, 2003. Let’s wait for 2006.

The world is not being destroyed because of a lack of information: it’s being destroyed because we don’t stop those doing the destroying.

The third is the entirely predictable yet still horrifying response by industry representatives. Linda Candler, speaking for the trade group International Coalition of Fisheries Associations, revealed that my conflation of industry stooges and morons was not in fact a slur by saying, “Research shows fisheries are more productive when fished.” She noted that “fish populations respond by reproducing more” when a new predator, in this case the exact same long-line techniques decried in 1996 and 1999, doesn’t overdo it.

She’s right, of course. Think of your own body. When you bleed, you obviously produce more blood to replace that which is lost. Using her logic, the more you bleed, the more you produce: QED, bleeding is actually good for you. Putting her logic in context, if someone were to drain 90 percent of Ms. Candler’s blood, making sure, of course, to not overdo it, her body would presumably go into hyperproduction, and she would be even healthier than before.

Defending the indefensible makes anyone who tries it absurd.

The fourth is the entirely predictable yet still horrifying response by those other industry representatives, those who work for the government. Michael Sissenwine, director of scientific programs with the National Marine Fisheries Service and head of fisheries sciences at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, revealed that my conflation of bureaucrats and morons was not in fact a slur either when he responded to the death of the oceans by saying, “We shouldn’t . . . conclude that a substantial reduction is a problem,”and, further, that the “expected outcome of fishing is that stocks will decline. Even with very efficient sustainability [sic] plans in place you have to expect declines, sometimes of 50 percent or more. The issue is how much of a decline is reasonable and sustainable.”

Read this last sentence again. My dictionary defines decline as to slope down- ward. I learned in grade school math that if a line slopes downward, it eventually reaches zero. If a line slopes downward by 90 percent over fifty years (even assuming the line to be linear, while in this case the decline becomes ever-steeper as civilization approaches its endgame), this means in less than ten years the line will cross zero. My dictionary defines sustainable as “using a resource [sic] so that the resource [sic] is not depleted or permanently damaged.”

I must be stupid. I cannot for the life of me understand what Michael Sissenwine, who is in charge of the two largest federal bureaucracies ostensibly tasked with protecting ocean fish, is saying. He seems to be saying that declines are sustainable, that declines of 90 percent are sustainable. And reasonable. And not a problem.

But he can’t be saying that. Nobody can be that stupid. Or that brazen. Not even someone whose job it is to oversee the systematic murder of the oceans.

In a mere twelve words he has rendered the words decline, reasonable, and sustainable meaningless. Add his first sentence and he has destroyed the word problem. If the death—the murder—of the oceans isn’t a problem, what is? Not only are these people vacuuming oceans, they are killing discourse. Defending the indefensible makes anyone who tries it absurd.

Ninety percent of the large fish in the oceans are gone. Those making decisions concerning the fate of the remaining fish do not consider this a problem. What are you going to do about it?