It's nice that Frank Ocean just released his long-anticipated new album, 'Blonde', that some say is truly awesome. But the fact that 12 of 20 stories on a Google News search under the word "ocean" on Sunday were about his music and that on Monday it had proportionately grown to 6 out of 9 "ocean" news stories might also indicate a larger problem with our culture, society and survival odds as a species.
Our increasingly urbanized celebrity-driven culture and corporate ratings-driven news media are reducing people's awareness of how essential the seas are to our economy (90 percent of trade, also fishing, tourism, real estate, etc.) national security (we're still a maritime nation) and yes, survival. Over half the oxygen Frank Ocean breathes in before singing some of his haunting "baritone with tenor moments" comes from the photosynthesis of ocean phytoplankton that is now in decline for reasons science does not yet fully understand.
The global ocean is experiencing a cascading series of disasters linked to industrial overfishing, pollution, loss of habitat and fossil-fuel fired climate change. By mid-century, by weight, there could be more plastic than living fish in the seas. The ocean's basic chemistry is being altered by climate-linked ocean acidification that is making it harder for shell-forming creatures to survive be they plankton, coral, crab or clam. And a warmer more acidic ocean also holds less dissolved oxygen. Within decades it could look more like the seas did 20 million years ago, meaning more jellyfish, harmful algal blooms and microbial mats and far fewer bony fish, seals, whales and dolphins.
Certainly the flooding disaster in Louisiana that reflects how fossil-fuel fired climate change can and will put low-lying coastal regions at risk and the mucky green algal bloom that's choking parts of Florida's shoreline are two reasons we ought to be seeing more news stories about our coasts and ocean than we are. Frank Ocean and his family were themselves forced to leave New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. And while no single weather event can be directly linked to climate change, that's kind of like saying no single medal won by Russian athletes at the last Winter Olympics can be directly linked to Russia's state-sponsored doping program, yet the trend lines are clear. Just ask the next president.
As much as some would like to think it's about Donald Trump's policy choices like climate denial, his celebrity status and the media's love of spectacle were contributing factors in turning a former reality show TV star and real estate developer into one of this year's two major party contenders for President of the United States. Still, neither Mr. Trump nor former Secretary of State and Senator Hillary Clinton have mentioned ocean issues on the campaign trail. I don't know if they've mentioned Frank Ocean but I'd be less surprised.
In the past two weeks, I've written about what a good ocean policy for the next President should be (in Sierra magazine) where the presidential candidates stand as best we can tell (in The Progressive) and why President Obama should establish an Atlantic Ocean Monument before leaving office (in The Hill).
I've also helped launch a letter to Secretary Clinton and Mr. Trump signed by 115 prestigious ocean leaders in the hope we'll get a response from their campaigns in September and thus make the blue in our red, white and blue something voters get a chance to learn and think about when they cast their ballots.
But if the media won't address serious issues beyond border walls and emails then we'll just have to continue to work at the marine grassroots (seaweed) level and hope for a breakthrough in public awareness and citizen action. And of course it would help if some of our major celebrities would also speak out for healthy seas and the practical solutions that can still help turn the tide. That bait ball is in your court, Mr. Ocean.