Author describes Pacific as the ocean of the future
An award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author says the world needs to listen more to what the Pacific ocean and its peoples have to say about looking after our planet. [Pacific]
An award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author says the world needs to listen more to what the Pacific ocean and its peoples have to say about looking after our planet.
Simon Winchester was in Wellington last week for the New Zealand Writers Festival talking about his latest book "Pacific -the Ocean of the Future"
He spoke with Koroi Hawkins about why he believes the world should listen to what the Pacific has to say.
SIMON WINCHESTER: My thesis I suppose very simply is that the Mediterranean was the in land sea of the classical world and the Atlantic is the in land sea of today's world. The Pacific is where if you look at human development finally the world meets itself. Because those who began human civilisation in Ethiopia fanned out in two directions, one going very crudely up to Europe and others going through India and to China to divide themselves into two basic chunks of people, Easterners and Westerners. The people in the West across the Atlantic, across the American continents stood on the shores of the Pacific now looking at each other. And now at last and ever since Balboa was the first European to do so, entered the Pacific and started as it were confronting, colliding with or engaging with people on the other side of this vast ocean. So it seems to me that now with China particularly being gigantically powerful both socially, economically and militarily and with the United States being somewhat nervous about this, that although the world is easily distracted by what is happening in the Levant, you know all the problems with the Middle East and so forth that the real challenges and the real trade patterns and the real problems associated with things like global warming and climate change and so forth. All will be focused on and around the Pacific ocean, that the Atlantic has had its day, the Mediterranean had its day but the axis that used to be between Alexandria or between New York and London now the axis is between Yokohama and Long Beach the Pacific is the future.
KOROI HAWKINS: You hint at the Pacific now, or always having had something to give back to the world rather than years of the world being able to give things to the Pacific. We got Christianity and development. And something that is not resources and that is not in the form of timber or minerals, that the Pacific actually has a lesson to teach the world.
SW: Well I saw this very powerfully symbolised in this voyage which is going on now of this beautiful and very large traditional sailing canoe or wa'a as it is called in Hawaii waka here in I believe New Zealand, which set out from Maui in 2014 to go around the world without any navigational instruments. No wristwatch, no sextant, no compass and of course no GPS. And blow me down, you know people thought they couldn't do it because this skill had long ago vanished thanks largely to western imperialism. But no it still exists and it is being re-taught now to people in Hawaii and who are teaching it to other Polynesian peoples as well. And the canoe managed to get all the way down here to New Zealand and then over to Australia and then through the Indian Ocean to Diego Garcia and Mauritius the East coast of South Africa. It is now in the Atlantic ocean it has just reached Cuba a few days ago and in a few days or a few weeks rather it will be going up Chesapeake Bay up the Potomac River to the White House to show the Hawaiian president what Hawaiian Polynesian people can do and what they have always been able to do ever since Tupaia stood on Captain Cooks deck back in the 1780s. So I think this, you may think it trivial but I think its symbolic that Polynesians in all sorts of ways have abilities that we have disdained for far too long and now we should offer them what I think we should offer to the Pacific more generally which is our respect.
KH: So many issue going forward climate change one of the larger of them, the Pacific it seems is trying to tell world something about looking after our planet and that we are all on the same planet.
SW: I couldn't agree with you more, I mean we are facing serious problems the report just a couple of weeks ago suggesting that actually the sea level rise now in the Pacific is going to be at least four feet by the end of this century which means that low lying countries like Kiribati and Niue and so forth will be largely submerged the whole problem of climate refugees will become a major topic to talk about. There is some work being done I mean it is not all doom and gloom there are environmental problems being solved, the case of an albatross in the North Pacific, particular birds in Hawaii. But generally speaking the Pacific rather as barrier reefs or coral reefs more generally have been the canary in the coal mine. The sort of obvious and colourful indicator of climate change. Now the Pacific generally with its sea level rise, the rise in its temperature the rise in its acidity, the rise in the frequency of storms is reminding us that more eloquently than other part of the world, I think that the planet is in danger. But if we behave ourselves if we lessen our emissions if we start to behave responsibly towards this ocean then the planet as a whole might under our super-intendence calm down. So the Pacific is the place once again going back to your first question about the ocean of tomorrow, it is not merely the ocean of tomorrow in terms of confrontation but in terms of learning how we can take care of this planet. The whole message of the Hawaiian canoe's voyage is Malama Honua which is to take care of our planet and the Pacific is where we are, I hope, learning to do that.
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