This has nothing to do with the Climate Conference - but it truly is a pirate ship with Danish quotations. I say, "close enough!"
During a recent trip to a bookstore I came across Michael Crichton’s newest – and posthumous – book, Pirate Latitudes. That’s right. Mr. Crichton’s legacy, in this humble editor’s opinion, will not be dinosaurs or terminal men or aliens or medical dramas or climate change. It will be pirates. But, wait a second, let’s go back to that second to last topic. The climate change one. Mr. Crichton’s controversial piece on climate change, State of Fear, combined with his newest work, Pirate Latitude, rolled into the most recent – and hilarious – prank by The Yes Men inspired an epiphany and gave me an idea: what can the heads-of-state, protesters, businesspeople, lobbyists, scientists, fake-scientists, corrupt-scientists, students, and spectators learn about the environmental landscape as it relates to pirate communities?
Obviously, the answer is that we can learn a lot about the relationships between pirates, culture and the environment. So, Copenhagen, I hope you’re listening. Because it will be pirates, not lobbyists, businesspeople, scientists, or governments, who will save the environment. Here’s why and how.
Pirates as Environmental Stewards
Copenhagen stakeholders – Copenholders – pirates can teach you, all of us, really, about reducing and reusing; they know how to help people get by with less. Just ask any Fleet Street Banker or Liverpudlian Businessman or West Indies Plantation Owner or Admirals of the Royal Navy during the seventeenth and eighteenth-centuries. These Captains of Industry and Government changed the environmental and cultural landscapes of our planet (slaves from Africa and introduction of new crops to the New World) to produce millions of things that made them millions of dollars. From time to time, though, pirates reduced the flow of such overproduction and – ahem - reused it themselves or recycled it amongst their brethren. Here is a specific example of how pirates don’t use the natural environment to produce things, in the recorded and unrecorded history of pirates, only one Captain ever commissioned a ship; pirates don’t build new ships. They reuse them. In 1695, Captain William Kidd (the self-proclaimed “Pirate Hunter”) built himself, I kid you not, a galley in England – no, he was not a viking. This was an odd decision. Speaking of odd decisions, here is a lesson for the COP15 decision makers to consider: use what’s already there! A recent story I had to hear from Fox News, divulged that over 1,200 limosines and 140 private jets had to be imported in order to accommodate the climate conference delegates. Pirates would’ve commandeered a bus and shared it. I’m just saying…
Pirates as Creators of a new Cultural Landscape
What happens on a pirate ship when the captain chooses a direction that the crew doesn’t like? Well, the captain changes his mind or goes overboard. It’s democracy at its finest. A recent article in The Independent by Johann Hari suggests that modern day pirates, like their historic brothers and sisters, have rejected today’s unequal, corrupt and punishing global “system.” Hari cites the last words of William Scott, a pirate hanged in Charleston, South Carolina during the Golden Age of Piracy: “What I did was to keep me from perishing. I was forced to go a-pirateing to live.” In spite of the consensus amongst the planet’s brightest minds, well, alarm bells aren’t really going off around the world. Greed is a big part of it. Manipulation and spin are parts of it. Fear of difference is a huge part of it. And the authoritative concentration of power is, perhaps, the biggest part of it. Many pirates could have been members of the East India Trading Company or Royal Navy – some were and chose to leave the respective greed of the Merchant Marine (merchant ships were notoriously and unsafely under-staffed, as less sailors meant less overhead and more profit for businessmen in London, New York and Boston) and authoritative culture of the Royal Navy (apparently, you weren’t allowed to throw your captain overboard or take a nap that wasn’t scheduled). If true democracy really allows us to chuck our captains overboard then what do we really have now? Most of the world is on board with re-examining and altering humanity’s relationship with the environment. And the majority of our planet is also part of this wholly elaborate, interconnected global system that is moving forward like the smelly inertia-proof juggernaut that it is. For anything to change, our system as it exists today must be transformed. Or rejected and created anew. Whatever the case, pirates can – and should – be the drivers of such change. After all democracy existed on pirate ships before it ever existed in France or the United States. I’m just saying…
Pirates as a Product of their Environmental Landscape
Over the last two decades an unknown amount of toxic waste has been dumped off the coast of Somalia – what would cost $1,000 USD per tonne in Europe costs $2.50 USD per tonne in Somalia. Combine this with the overfishing along Africa’s longest – and most unprotected – coastline (nearly 3,000 kilometers long), and a different story of what makes a Somali pirate a “pirate” begins to develop. Greed and corruption from the rest of the world have thrust upon the people of Somalia, Nigeria, and the Strait of Malacca material conditions that represent just how much we need to take matters into our own hands. For example, over 70 per cent of Somalians refer to their former fisherpeople as “The Somali Coast Guard” not as “pirates.” Let’s take this as a horrible synecdoche of how things may very well unfold for the rest of the world; soon the coastal communities of Vancouver Island may harbour a few more pirates than they do today. I’m just saying…
Whether we all believe it or not, our planet is being pushed to the brink. We are a part of its landscape. As part of Team Earth, the world needs people to protect it from what is happening. So, play within the system or take a Yes Men approach and mock it through covert operations. Just take piracy as a metaphor and be nice about it, okay? I’m glad we had this chat. Now get out there and change the world!
- Sir John the Pirate Piratologist