By JOHN MERRYFIELD | Kings Beach
Tahoe/Truckee mountain folks appreciate powder days on KT-22, fat skis, fresh air, and the crystal-clear waters of Lake Tahoe. The Pacific Ocean, a distant body of water west of our imaginations over Donner Summit, is key to all of these. Yet to most of us here in the mountains, the ocean is out of sight and out of mind.
Herman Melville suggests in Moby Dick that the ocean is our unconscious. Even to those standing on the beach facing the water, they only see the surface of the ocean, never the life underneath — or in the case of what’s happening now, the accelerating absence of life below. To our sight, the surface of the ocean would look the same, whether it had abundant life beneath it or none at all.
According to scientists, by 2048 most large marine ecosystems will have collapsed from over-fishing. According to a 2006 study led by Dr. Boris Worm and a group of international ecologists and economists, three quarters of the world’s oceans are already exploited or depleted and the oceans may be fishless in the near future.
A massive 40 percent of the world’s ocean catch is bycatch. Collateral damage. Caught, unwanted, killed, and discarded at sea. These animals include whales, dolphins, seals, sea turtles, sharks, and an infinite variety of other unwanted sea life.
The oceans are also by far the largest carbon sink in the world. Some 93 percent of carbon dioxide is stored in algae, vegetation, and coral under the sea. A functioning ocean filled with life provides the oxygen we breathe, absorbing more carbon dioxide than all forests on land. More than all the pine trees, fir trees, cedar trees, and sequoia trees on land, a functional ocean with its currents exchanging cold and warm waters, upwelling nutrients, and with a healthy, vibrant fish population supplies us with the oxygen for a temperate, survivable climate, and, you guessed it, snow.
Every breath we take has passed through the ocean first. Fish are more valuable to us alive in the ocean than they are as a source of food.
A healthy ocean helps provide a healthy climate, which in turn provides the optimal temperature for lake level snow to occur, which gives us what we love, skiing. Our lives and our winters here in the mountains are as connected to the ocean as are surfers and the waves they ride. An ocean full of life fills us in ways we aren’t able to easily quantify. Yet I imagine if we didn’t have life in the ocean, we would quickly understand that loss. There is a way to preserve the ocean in your everyday life.
If everyone on the planet went vegan for just one day out of the year, we would save 2,739,726 ocean animals per day. A plant-based diet also reduces our carbon footprint by as much as 51 percent.
The ocean is the cornerstone of Earth’s life support system. It also shapes climate and weather. We can do so much harm, or so much good, simply by the foods we choose to eat.
A plant-based diet is not only better for our earth and oceans, it’s also healthier for us. Experts estimate that we could save 70 percent on health care costs by shifting to a whole foods, plant-based diet.
My hope is that we can use our imaginations to look west toward the Pacific and gaze below the surface of the ocean to see ourselves. As marine biologist Sylvia Earle often says, “No ocean, no life. No blue, no green. No ocean, no us.”
~ John Merryfield lives in Kings Beach and is co-author of the book Vegan 1 Day: Stories of Living the Good Life.