The ocean is being burned alive. We might be next.
(I wish this were a joke. I just can’t find any humor in it.)
Ocean warming is killing the greatest places on Earth for life: the coral reefs. This slow warming during the past century has reached its tipping point, and we can now predict with clarity that an entire ecosystem is dying before our eyes.
As the scientist in this PBS report says, we could lose our reefs within 10 years. Predictions like this used to give us 100 years or so to save them, and that timeframe seems manageable, as if the next generation could solve this dilemma with ingenuity. But time is shrinking, and we might need to start thinking about living in a post-reef world—if we can live at all.
Humans have never existed without reefs, and we have no reference point for losing them. We have caused extinctions of singular species, but we’ve never come close to the extinction of an entire ecosystem. It is quite logical to assume that as the ocean and its shallow reefs go, so go we. An indirect, yet self-inflicted Holocaust.
The Greek word Holokauston refers to a burnt animal sacrifice. The slow burning of the reefs has the potential to sacrifice hundreds of coral species, thousands of fish species, and perhaps hundreds of thousands of associated species. We simply do not know the full scope of diversity on the world’s reefs, but they are estimated to contain a quarter of all species in the ocean.
How can such a rich system be dying? It’s inconceivalbe. Yet we know it is happening, we know why, and we know how to stop it.
It’s bloody murder.
Every thinking, breathing person needs to take a moment to decide: Do I care about people who will be alive within 10 years? If so, you must start caring, and caring deeply, about the ocean.
Any person with a heart and a brain will be outraged. You will go into the streets, get mad as hell, and get rid of any politician or business that is tone deaf on issues of climate change, global warming, and fossil fuel pollution. A climate denier, or a convenient “skeptic” who knows better, will be judged by history as complicit in murder.
I’m still not laughing.
With time running out, we probably have about 1 year left to turn this ship around. Even if you’re not convinced about the timing, is it worth the risk? Do you want to look back in a few years and judge yourself, and the human race, a complete failure?
You’ve got 2 marches on Saturdays to join this month.
Stand up for justice. The Holokauston of the Sea can, and must, be stopped.
What does The Red Turtle mean? How are we supposed to interpret a movie with no dialogue and no explanations? Not easily.
The Oscar-nominated animation has not yet prompted an onslaught of online opinion. It offers a green and blue canvas for people to paint their own portraits and impose their own perceptions onto this rectangular dream. Meditative and mysterious, the film also feels allegorical. It’s an extended bedtime story for adults.
Others articles discuss the director (Michaël Dudok de Wit of the Netherlands) and the art of the animation (Studio Ghibli of Japan), but I want to explore the symbolism of the film. Let’s start with the title, which is what drew me to see it.
A sea turtle with a red shell is exceptional, improbable, and startling. The color red could be interpreted to indicate danger, blood, passion, and other strong emotions. But turtles are toothless. Sea turtles do not threaten humans, although this red turtle does disrupt the protagonist’s plans to escape the deserted island. A silent siren, she controls his destiny. She is a stop sign.
The Turtle of the Red Shell
Sea turtles are exceptionally ancient, amphibious survivors in the tree of life, yet they are highly threatened by human activity. They represent our connection to the past and our alienation in the present. They know things that we can’t, and they are pacific. In contrast, humans are young and violent. We’re jealous and discontent.
The nameless main character is a non-turtle, an every-man, representing a lost soul and a frustrated loner. His conscious desire is to escape, like the delicate, hatchling sea turtles that scatter into the sea, but he is a failure. He has no home, no shell. The turtle, in its shell, is always home.
Conception and Rebirth
The film’s narrative unfolds as a creation myth, with Eve eventually arising from the red turtle’s shell and giving birth to a son, creating a trinity. This expansion represents the man’s unconscious desire to create. He believed that his true life existed outside of the island, in another place and time, but his spirit conjured up new life from within. The red turtle is his tormentor, and his deliverer.
The son is a hybrid who is free to join the turtles. He achieves what the father could not, and he chooses the feminine path of his mother. Both father and son experience the same rebirthing process after falling into the cave, yet the son struggles much less. He is becoming more harmonious, more integrated with nature than the father. He is returning to the amphibious womb of the ocean.
But a Dream
The Red Turtle could be enjoyed as an extended dream sequence, like the Technicolor portion of the Wizard of Oz. There are dreams within the dream, as when the man flies over a pier or when he hears a string quartet. But he awakens to the confines of his tropical island.
The island nurtures him with food, water, and eventually a mate. At times it turns violent and dangerous, and eventually he falls asleep on the sand, forever. He achieves peace and belonging. Just as the turtle will return to the sea, he will return to the sand.
This interpretation is one of many possibilities, such a this one from Paste, calling it “more impressionistic than thematic.” You could look at the silence as ambivalence; the island could be the protagonist; the turtle could be a hallucination.
My mother is a turtle.
I may find another meaning in the future, but today I see it this way: the turtle is a higher being, a more advanced consciousness, and we are struggling to connect with it, just as many people are struggling in today’s world to reconnect with Nature. We are lost. Despite our wired world, we are disconnected.
So many people today envision the world in screens. They fear peering away from their phones and their computers, lest they miss something important. They need a reminder that stories have magic and power to heal, whereas a screen is only a tool. Screens can convey stories, but only the interpreter can infuse them with meaning.
The Red Turtle, while only a film, is also a chance to meditate on a moving yet perplexing story. It’s an invitation to dream of something beyond the rectangle.
It’s more than climate change we face. Much, much more.
DOWNER WARNING: Do not read this if you’re feeling blue. Come back after you’ve put on your rainbow coat of many colors.
Climate change is as real as cancer, and it is caused by us. Just as we have the power to quit smoking, we have the power to quit burning fuel. We can do this.
But the imbalance we face is not just one, discrete cancer on Earth. It is akin to multiple cancers, multiple diseases. It is a full-on, multi-symptom, doctor’s check up from hell.
It could be worse, I guess, because daily life goes on. Yet we’re distracted and dumb. Our planetary IQ is dismally low. People are foolishly debating the reality of climate change, while other, planetary changes demand a growing awareness–not a stifled second opinion.
Don’t even listen to the quacks. Keep learning about cancer number 1, climate change, while expanding your knowledge to cancers 2 through 25 of the environment, such as ocean pollution, the depletion of soil, and the extinction crisis. Listen to what the planet is telling us.
What’s Going On
We need to find new terms to deal with our syndrome. Some scientists have agreed on a new geological term of Anthropocene, meaning that the dust of the Earth is being shaped by humanity. That’s a good start.
I’m using analogies to human disease, because we can understand them intuitively. We can conceive of Mother Earth as a person with a deadly illness. We know what a sick person needs and doesn’t need. She doesn’t have a chance if the air she breathes is toxic, the water she drinks is poisoned, and the food she eats lacks nutrition.
She is faltering. As Mother Earth goes, so go we.
Do we call it a syndrome? Does Mother Earth have AIDS? She is metaphorically HIV-positive, and we desperately need a cure. Just as we fight for a cure to real AIDS, we must learn how to fight for a cure to planetary disease.
Planetary change is happening on the ground, just as climate change is happening in the atmosphere. At the core of the change is humanity’s imbalance with Nature.
This concept is really hard to digest. I’m not even sure what to call it. Maybe you have an idea that will give us a vocabulary to deal with it.
Climate change is very important and very real. It is part of planetary change caused by humans. The sooner we accept it and learn how to deal with it, the sooner we can move on to deal with the other cancers we are unwittingly creating.
Ignorance is death.
For more photos of signs, check out My favorite signs at the Women’s March on Washington from The Washington Post.
All my life I’ve been proud to be an American. I’m worried that those days are ending.
To all the nations of the world, let me say: I’m sorry that we’re letting you down. I’m so embarrassed. I can barely express my anguish.
Please don’t give up on us. Maybe this is temporary insanity. Maybe we’ll renew our belief in the true American dream—freedom—that our true leaders have shared with the world.
We still have one day more to dream.
On this holiday in memory of Martin Luther King, Jr., pause for a moment to think about the world’s population by race. Things are not black and white.
The majority is Asian, with nearly two-thirds of the world’s 7+ billion people living in the region shared by India and China.
As the world’s second most populated continent, Africa has more than 1 billion people, which is larger than North and South America combined. Combine Europe and North America, based on these Wikipedia numbers, and it reaches 1.4 billion. But it’s unclear if the world is more “white” than “black.”
Here’s a map that tries to visualize nations by their population instead of their geography alone:
If the world’s most populated continents could be represented by a classroom of about 25 students, you would expect to see this approximation: 15 students from Asia, 5 from Europe and North America, 4 from Africa, and 1 from South America.
This worldview may be disturbing to people who want to think they live in the center of the universe (I’m talking to you, New Yorkers). It may be disturbing to those who think their survival depends on being a part of the majority. Yes, there is a certain truth behind the saying of “safety in numbers.”
But you are a minority. Whether by race, or religion, or sexual orientation, or economic status, you are a minority. In one way or another, everyone falls into minority status. And there’s nothing wrong with that! Diversity is reality.
you are a minority.
Does that scare you? Does than make you unsafe or weak? That is for you to decide. MLK Jr. says it could make you better.
Today, you could make the world better. But first, it may require you to accept the fact that you, yes you, are a minority.