Japan And The Gulf Of Mexico

Libby Comeaux, April 3, 2011

Before the terrible disaster that befell Japan, a dear friend of Earth Healing Day told one of the founders this story of her youth:

I am a child walking with my father on the beach. It is December 7, 1941, at Pearl Harbor.

We see the Japanese planes come in, they fly very low. I look up, into the eyes of a Japanese bomber pilot. We gaze into each other’s eyes. He has been a child once; maybe he is a father now or hopes to be one. He flies further down the beach. He knows that I know, and I know that he knows, that he did not drop a bomb here on the beach as he was supposed to do, because he gazed into the eyes of a child.

Throughout my life, I have had this awareness, that I owe my life to the mindful gaze of that Japanese pilot.

The Earth and all of us are squirming through an intense vortex, as though wriggling forth from a fledgling maturity in one phase of development, to emerge as infants in the next. As together we face this transformation, we pause and reflect on the similarities of the tragic Japanese experience and that of the Gulf of Mexico one year ago. This may not be obvious at first glance, but if we collapse time as experienced in the Gulf, or expand time as experienced in Japan, we will see certain similarities worth noting. Another way is to take the perspective of a lifetime still in process.

In the span of a mere 65 years, Japan has experienced the terror of nuclear war and the terror of nuclear power. The very floor of the ocean that provides its basic context has buckled, and the ocean itself has wreaked havoc. And in that same approximate time span, the Gulf of Mexico shrank from a vast, deep, pure sea spawning prolific life forms for the delight of sea and other creatures, to a shallower, more polluted slough where the capacity to bring forth and nourish sustained life is at great risk. Though dramatized by the horrific devastation at the time of the BP-Transocean-Haliburton-Macondo oil drilling disaster, this insult has been building and accumulating over decades. Decisions by industry and government to exploit what Earth in her wisdom has protected for millennia are the common thread. Common symptoms are illness and death suffered by humans and other living species.

Amazingly, the Japanese emerged from their 1945 disaster as ambassadors of peace to the US, their former enemy. During the previous US administration, I participated in a march through the streets of New York City to the United Nations for a scheduled review of the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty. Fragile Japanese elders, wounded at Nagasaki and Hiroshima, carried thousands of paper cranes and urged the people of the United States to join the world in honoring that venerable agreement. Yet even the NNPT allows the use of nuclear energy, and Japan’s leaders acquiesced in that awesome and dangerous technology. Governments now subsidize the industries that give us nuclear energy and the ones that dredge up sequestered carbons that foul our oceans and our air, and warm our planet. An ocean in peril anywhere is an ocean in peril everywhere.

The interconnected oceans cover 71 percent of the surface of the globe, so that Earth is sometimes called the water planet. We humans ourselves have been described as aquasapiens, meaning self-reflective water.1 We have a sacred connection to water; we are water. Mindfully attending to the essence and attributes of water, we mindfully attend to our selves and our Source.

The same river deltas that give us nurseries of teeming ocean life put those same nurseries at terrible risk because the oil is there, deep below the ocean floor, the product of millennia of pressurized deposits of the detritus of life in transformation. Of course we will be drilling, they say, and it will be spilling and ruining the nurseries, one of the ironies of life!2 Another view is that wise Earth has for millennia been carefully “cleaning house” by sequestering the carbon safely under the ground and below the sea so that the planet does not become toxic or over-warm.3 Parliaments and scientists debate carbon sequestration to protect coal production from being so dirty. Maybe we should consider leaving it where Mother Earth put it in the first place. Maybe those responsible for spilling over 270 million gallons of oil and adding some additional 1.8 million gallons of toxic chemicals in response to the Gulf oil deluge could compensate Earth by fasting from producing or using that many gallons again – leave that much oil under the ground.4

After Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana officials and the Army Corps of Engineers drew a red line above the coast to indicate what could, and could not, be saved from sea level rise and the vanishing wetlands. Below that line were numerous aboriginal villages whose names are like echoes from my childhood: Pointe Aux Chenes, Isles de St Charles, Lower Dulac. The Houma nation is struggling internally with how to address their vanishing lands. In this they are similar to the Inuit in Newtok, Shismaref, Unalakleet, and Kivalina in Alaska, the Maldives and other island nations – as well as other delta regions like Bangladesh. I once heard the head of Bangladesh environmental ministry say to a public television camera that, since industrialized nations had caused global warming, he expects them to accept the millions of climate refugees that will be coming to their shores soon from his native country. On the south coast of Louisiana, an aboriginal people are also approaching climate refugee status.

The lieutenant governor of Louisiana is making public announcements that residents should understand that not all the villages sinking into the sea will be saved. And in the newspapers, we read of Japanese people weighing the pros and cons of rebuilding their devastated towns. Who can compute the loss in human culture and interwoven enjoyment of land and sea?

The coast can be compared to the meeting of lovers about to start a family. This rich ecosystem is designed to be a region of high creativity to generate the life of the sea from which we all draw nurturance. In this time of unfortunate rupture in the relationship of sea and land, we pause to send our deep compassion.

For both the Gulf of Mexico and the Japan ecosystems, we ponder certain basics. The impacts of this particular incident are deep and ongoing. The problems associated with the industry have not gone away. This is not an isolated incident or in an isolated location, nor are its impacts merely local. And this incident reveals in microcosm the extent of control the industry has over a government and its people.5 People are gaining awareness of these interconnected dilemmas and finding more effective ways to self govern.6 And much more progress is demanded of the human spirit. Fortunately, a comprehensive worldwide strategy of investing in and constructing the green energy grid is within reach.7

And fortunately, people are capable of great compassion such as the Japanese elders with their paper cranes, the Japanese bomber pilot moving on down the beach, and the volunteers from all over the world gathering to clean a beach or bathe a pelican.

With compassion for the suffering of the sea creatures and the birds of the air, for the grasses and the edible plants of forest and stream, for the humans who cling to the battered coastlines and those who live huddled together in cities, this month we hold forth a field for positive transformation for the interconnected oceans and peoples of the world struggling for freedom from harmful sources of energy. We give thanks for Earth’s wisdom in teaching us to sequester carbon and keep it sequestered. We give thanks for nuclear energy’s ability to point us to the power of the sun, the quintessential nuclear generator. And we give thanks for the evolving consciousness available to human beings to transform the structures that are crumbling from their own insufficiency, and to be ready to rise from the ashes and the oil slicks to create the new green energy era.

This month as we ask participants in Earth Healing Day to hold a positive energy field for the healing of Japan and its waters and airstreams that connect to the whole planet, may we also remember the one year anniversary of our prayers for the Gulf of Mexico, its creatures and atmosphere and humans. May all who are already one in dependence on the beneficence of the sun realize our oneness in spirit and renew our determination to come home together to honor and respect our beautiful planet Earth.

May profound goodness arise from this noble endeavor. May all beings be blessed a thousand-fold, and may life be richer, fuller and kinder to the children and grandchildren of the oceans, the forests, the cities, and the coastlines.


1 Linda Gibler, OP, in a talk on Water and Cosmology at the San Antonio Water Symposium, 02/14/2010

2 Rowan Jacobssen, Shadows on the Gulf (Bloomsbury 2011).

3 It was Cormac Cullinan, author of Wild Law, a Manifesto for Earth Justice (Syber Ink 2001) who first made me aware that Earth had sequestered carbon for millennia.

4 A lawsuit based on international jurisdiction and filed under Ecuador's constitutional provision that recognizes the rights of Mother Earth (Pachamama) has demanded just that, as legal remedy.

5 Antonia Juhasz, author of Black Tide, speaking at Gulf Gathering, Weeks Bay, Alabama, 03/14/2011.

6 Self-organizing complexity is one of three essential themes in the cosmos (the other two are diversity and communion) according to Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme in The Universe Story. A group that helps humans in the US self govern in the face of corporate intrusion into the political process is the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, http://www.celdf.org/

7 World Council for Renewable Energy (WCRE), Action Plan for the Global Proliferation of Renewable Energy.