This Ship of Fools

Antarctica's Larsen B Ice Shelf is likely to shatter into hundreds of icebergs before the end of the decade, according to a new NASA study. Credits: NSIDC/Ted Scambos.
Antarctica’s Larsen B Ice Shelf is likely to shatter into hundreds of icebergs before the end of the decade, according to a new NASA study. Credits: NSIDC/Ted Scambos.

By Debra Chase

“Ship of fools on a cruel sea, ship of fools sail away from me.
It was later than I thought when I first believed you,
Now I cannot share your laughter, ship of fools.” – The Grateful Dead

In Plato’s Republic, book vi, he describes a scene in which a ship that is piloted by a totally inept captain is soon taken over by a slew of people; crew and passengers, who are irrational, empty headed, unconcerned and unaware of their course on the sea. All of the people on the ship argue about who has the right to steer and though none of them really knows how, they are ready to throw overboard anyone who is adverse to their ideas. Ignorant of the true art of sailing they all float on oblivious to their true fate. Written around 380 BC as a Socratic dialogue concerning and defining justice it is a reminder of what can happen in a government where commerce rises above common sense.

Two events occurred this last week that make Plato’s allegory apropos to the state of our planets’ health and all that are responsible for it: the decision on Monday May 11th by the Obama administration gave conditional approval for the drilling of oil by Shell Global in the Chukchi Sea off the coast of Alaska and Nasa released a study that shows the remaining section of the Larsen B ice shelf in Antarctica nearing an end.

The Larsen B “is quickly weakening and likely to disintegrate completely before the end of the decade”.   This is significant in that it is telling us that change in Antarctica can occur much more quickly than our scientists have previously predicted. The next glacier that is collapsing is Larsen C. About the size of Scotland it has been in existence for 150,000 years; without it we will have to re-write the coastal sea level rise predictions world wide. The glaciers in Antarctica provide a natural buffer; without them glacial ice enters the ocean faster which will cause a greater and more rapid global sea level rise. Two other Ice shelves, the Ross Ice Shelf and the Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf are Antarctica’s largest, each bigger than California. When they go the coastal waters will rise about 10 meters. According to a fact sheet by the USGS , “a sea-level rise of 10 meters would flood about 25 percent of the U.S. population, with the major impact being mostly on the people and infrastructures in the Gulf and East Coast States”. As the planet warms the ocean warms and the ice sheets break apart and melt and it’s happening faster than previously predicted.

Named after Russia’s Chukchi People, also known as the Reindeer People, who still inhabit the Western shoreline, the Chukchi Sea is a Southern extension of the Arctic Ocean and home to a myriad of life forms. Audobon Alaska describes the Chukchi Sea as “one of the most productive ocean ecosystems in the world. Its vast, shallow sea floor and seasonal ice cover provide nutrients and pristine habitat for a multitude of organisms, ranging from walruses to ice seals to whales to millions of seabirds to the top predator mammal, the polar bear”. Navigation through the sea is only possible 4 months of the year and these are some of the harshest seas on the planet. The noise of the rigs and the well installations will also drastically affect the fragile ecosystem. Underwater sea life depends on sound as we humans depend on sight for mating, hunting, and general survival; it’s how they navigate in their world. The endangered Fin, Humpback and Bowhead whales as well as a great many Beluga whales will have their communications disrupted from the noise created by the rigs. But that’s not the worst of the risks the Obama administration has taken on with this decision. Over 1000 miles separates the Shell rigs, from the nearest Coast Guard station. If a spill were to occur, there would be absolutely no hope of cleaning it up before it would wreak havoc on the environment.

While Shell may say that they are ready should a spill occur no one has ever been able to completely clean up an oil spill in the colder regions of the ocean much less anywhere else. The Exxon Valdez on March 24, 1989 spilled over 11 million gallons of oil into Prince William Sound and 26 years later the effects of that spill are still being felt by whales and other sea life. NOAA has indicated that some of the oil appears not to have biodegraded at all; it is still there in between the rocks and on the beaches damaging the ecosystem.   On NOAA’s website they state that, “Attempts to recover oil during spills in Alaska have often failed and, in many cases, weather and other adverse conditions prevent any response at all. Oil spills in Alaska have killed birds, tainted shellfish, fouled shorelines, and contributed to declines of fish populations.” “The U.S. is not adequately prepared to respond to a large spill in broken ice conditions in the Arctic and sub-Arctic region,” said Dr. Amy Merten, co-director of the Office of Response and Restoration’s Coastal Response Research Center.

To be sure, one of the greatest ironies of Climate Change is that the companies and countries that are largely responsible for the high Co2 emissions may well benefit from the melting ice, for as long as we allow them to. One has to wonder what the motivation is by Shell to drill in the Arctic. They state that it is for future energy use. According to the BP website; “Total world proved oil reserves reached 1687.9 billion barrels at the end of 2013. Sufficient to meet 53.3 years of global production, which would mean that oil that is being brought up from the ground now will not be used for over 25 years. During that time surly we can move faster towards a much lower oil use than the current trend?

Environmentalist Bill McKibben calls it Obama’s Catastrophic Climate-Change Denial stating; “ Even in this most extreme circumstance, no one seems able to stand up to the power of the fossil fuel industry. No one ever says no”.

Despite all of the evidence and the protests by environmentalists and native peoples of Washington and Alaska, the Shell oil rigs are on their way to the Chukchi Sea and when a spill does occur the Obama Administration will be long gone and all we will be able to do is wish we had been more vigilant of the ship of fools running our government.

“People ask: Why should I care about the ocean? Because the ocean is the cornerstone of earth’s life support system, it shapes climate and weather. It holds most of life on earth. 97% of earth’s water is there. It’s the blue heart of the planet-we should take care of our heart. It’s what makes life possible for us. We still have a really good chance to make things better than they are. They won’t get better unless we take the action and inspire others to do the same thing. No one is without power. Everybody has the capacity to do something.” – Sylvia Earle, PhD – Marine Biologist

For more information about this decision see: The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management – Shell Chuckchi Sea Exploration Plan and BOEM Conditionally Approves Shell’s Revised Chukchi Sea Exploration Plan .

Debra Chase is a self-taught traditional chef with over three decades of professional experience.  She currently resides in Colusa County on a small farm.  


About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

Related posts

19 thoughts on “This Ship of Fools”

  1. Topcat

    Two other Ice shelves, the Ross Ice Shelf and the Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf are Antarctica’s largest, each bigger than California. When they go the coastal waters will rise about 10 meters.

    Davis is about 52 feet above sea level, so a sea level rise of 10 meters (about 30 feet) would leave us still about 22 feet above sea level 🙂

    1. Barack Palin

      Allright, beach front property.  Our property values will double.

      Of course, how many catastrophes have the climate alarmists predicted over the last 40 or 50 years that didn’t come true?

      So I guess I won’t go right out and buy a Skidoo.

      1. Tia Will


        how many catastrophes ……” 

        An event does not have to be  immediate or on a global scale “catastrophe ” to be worth preventing. I would have liked to have prevented the Deep Water Horizon spill or any of a large number of other geographically limited but locally devastating catastrophes which have occurred due to our never ending demand for more and cheaper products.

    2. Tia Will


      a sea level rise of 10 meters (about 30 feet) would leave us still about 22 feet above sea level”

      Using the rationale that has been expressed by some posters here that the denizens of Davis should not change their behaviors since those behaviors do not directly affect the ocean, we won’t have to think about this issue at all !  ( Tongue firmly in cheek lest anyone be offended)

      1. Barack Palin

        Yes Tia Will, I’ll bet that one Davis Nugget plastic bag that somehow made it all the way to the ocean is responsible for at least a one foot rise in sea levels.

        1. Tia Will


          one Davis Nugget plastic bag that somehow made it all the way to the ocean is responsible for at least a one foot rise in sea levels.”

          Thus confirming my point about turning legitimate concerns about local impacts into parodies of what is being said instead of choosing to admit that there might actually be a point to be addressed if one would but listen instead of constructing ridiculous fairy tales to debunk. But I guess the latter is much more fun.


    3. Topcat

      …a sea level rise of 10 meters (about 30 feet) would leave us still about 22 feet above sea level.

      But Sacramento and West Sacramento will be under water, so we’ll need to build a big fence to keep out all the people that will be trying to move to Davis 🙂

    4. tribeUSA

      If the sea level rose 10-meters = 33 feet, it is likely that the Davis area (and most of the delta area) would be flooded by the (backed-up) Sacramento River during the spring and during high tide–though dykes should protect us.

    1. Barack Palin

      Not at all, I’m just trying to make the best out of the latest global climate catastrophe warnings.  There’s nothing we can do so why not enjoy it?  Would you like a ride on my Skidoo?

      1. Tia Will


        There’s nothing we can do so why not enjoy it?”

        I believe that there is much than we can do. However, there may be nothing that we are willing to do to minimize the negative impacts of these changes. One thing that is within the capability of each and everyone of us is to stop belittling the concerns, whether small or catastrophic, and realize that many of the choices that we make as individuals, in the aggregate, are responsible for deleterious affects on our environment, both local and global.  Each of us has the ability to choose to use thoughtfully and deliberately rather than by habit, and that to consume less is in the best interests of all. These are very simple principles that if broadly applied could make a huge difference both to our well being as individuals and to the well being of societies and other species as well.

  2. Frankly

    Finally, some hope that California will have enough water to irrigate all that preserved farmland that we currently don’t have the water to farm.

  3. DavisBurns

    Thank you for this thoughtful article. Stanford University professor, Mark Jacobsen has a 50 state plan to meet all our energy needs, including transportation using renewable energy. The Solutions Project has the information online for every state.  Even Jerry Brown thinks we can provide 50% by 2030.  Let’s leave the oil under the ocean and embedded in sand in the ground and let’s begin to strictly limit the use of what we have.

  4. Frankly

    Another ship of fools includes all of those demanding definitive human-condition-damaging actions in the name of inconclusive theories of man-caused global warming.

    Might we all just be two ships of fools passing in the night.

    1. Barack Palin

      LOL Frankly, two ships (of fools) passing in the night.  Just think, in 10 years those two ships can pass each other right here in Davis.

  5. Miwok

    Mentioning the whales is fine, but these industries destroy much more than that. It is funny we know more about the ice shelf in Antarctica than the Texas oil fields, which must have destroyed many small creatures?

    It is significant that the whales are in danger, but the reason is going to be starvation from destroying their food chain, as some industries try to destroy the Human Food Chain while pretending to save it.

    Another typical response is the real estate people already figuring their profits! Welcome to Davis!

  6. tribeUSA

    Seems to me its a good idea to drill sooner rather than later–the reason being that we are not in an emergency situation now, and so we can ensure that strict adherence to environmental guidelines is followed, to minimize risk of and size of spills. If we wait until an emergency (e.g. sudden war in the middle east and closing of the gulf to shipping) or wall street crash/setback; we will need to drill and pump rapidly, in which case environmental concerns will have a low priority and increased odds of major spills.

    So drill now with stringent environmental oversight (including FBI oversight for payoffs); but produce at low rates; then if an oil emergency erupts, the USA will have an oil reserve ready to be pumped quickly.

Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
Sign up for