A marine biologist explained coral reefs to me when I was on a kayak trip in Belize one year. In a coral colony, millions of tiny jellyfish-like animals called polyps work cooperatively to create the limestone skeletons that are the framework of the coral reef. Corals feed both passively on plankton and get nutrients from a symbiotic relationship with microscopic algae living inside their tissue. Symbiosis is when two or more organisms closely interact. The relationships can be classified as mutualism (where both parties benefit); parasitism (where one feeds off the host); or commensalism (one gets all the perks, the other is unaffected).
Coral reefs are second only to tropical rainforests in their rich biodiversity – in fact they are often called the rainforests of the sea. These ecosystems are home to a quarter of the world’s marine species and yet they take up only .07 percent of the ocean floor (about the size of Texas). Coral reefs provide food and income for local fishers. They also buffer coastal communities during storms. They feed the larger economy too through trade and tourism. But of course we know that this very traffic is also threatening the colonies. Overfishing, boats carelessly dropping anchors, divers and snorkelers clipping the fragile coral with their fins, fertilizer and pesticide run-off and all the other toxins being dumped into our oceans is killing the coral. And when a coral colony dies, the entire ecosystem and all the reef creatures are at risk, their food and shelter gone.
Like the coral reefs, our world economic structure appears to be collapsing, too. I am mystified by the trillion-dollar bail out for the very people who caused the 2008 crisis. (To put this money into perspective, a million seconds is twelve days, one billion is thirty-two years; a trillion is 32,000 years!) I wonder why they didn’t just renegotiate the mortgages for all those people who have lost or may lose their homes because of the sub-prime mortgage fiasco. Then money would keep flowing in to the banks, people would have places to live, food to eat and they would keep supporting their local economies.
Economists would probably have many reasons why that wouldn’t work. And yet clearly the old paradigm isn’t working. Nothing is trickling down in this trickle down system. Protectionism is now a dirty word, even when it comes to protecting our own little colony. Whether or not this is a calculated plot, it is clear we need a new paradigm. A new vernacular. A more productive landscape so we cannot be held ransom by global power structures and transnational corporations. Even if we think those in power are not willing to listen to alternatives, it is our job to have the models in place.
Thanks to Norman Hill of the Vancouver Chapter of the Council of Canadians for two recent and excellent posts that give a brilliant analysis of this second world economic crisis, a view not usually seen in mainstream media. The first is a very engaging animation on the Crises of Capitalism by sociologist David Harvey. You can also see his non-animated presentation here.
The second is an article by Harvey that shows that the recent riots in the UK are a symptom of capitalism’s systemic issues (U.K. riots: Feral capitalism is at least as big a culprit).
Even Harvey admits he does not know what the solutions are. But he encourages us to join the dialogue about a new social order, one he says that would be more responsible, just and humane. And probably a lot more like a coral colony.