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Make the Right Kind of Impact

There’s a little handful of questions that vegetarians/vegans get asked all the goddamn time.

Frequently they’re asked by people who are genuinely curious, sometimes even people who are idly thinking of taking the leap themselves. Just as frequently they’re asked with less benign intent; sometimes even maliciously, as if to tease compassion as weakness or to treat lack of absolute ideological purity as pointless failure.

In any case, you learn to tolerate them and their variations.

“Don’t you miss cheese/bacon/sushi/chicken fingers/chilled monkey brains/whatever?” “What if you were trapped on a desert island and there were only pigs, would you eat them?” “You know almond milk is four quintillion times more destructive than dairy?” “You know that sweet, little field mice are killed by combine harvesters getting your soy beans?”

I was thinking about these while I was swimming along behind Nelly yesterday through passage that looked only uncommonly traveled.

Nelly, you see, is a far better diver than she will likely ever be willing to admit. She’s not much of a gear-geek, but her form is, more often than not, beyond reproach. She swims carefully and with precision control, moving easily through even weirdly small spaces without making contact with a single thing, nor using even a single fingertip as propulsion or steering.

And yet… as we were swimming visibility behind her was compromised.


With every exhalation (and, indeed, one must exhale), even with her exceedingly low gas consumption rate, a billow of bubbles would hit the ceiling. Where fragile rock, no longer supported by the density of water, and agitated by the rough motion of roiling water and air, would fall loose. And float down through the water column in front of me.

Sometimes in pale, wispy clouds - sometimes in quite large chunks. (These later, larger pieces falling to the ground and kicking up clouds of silt from the ground as they land.)

As careful and composed as Nelly is there is still an impact. Just by virtue of being there.

Some people will make the argument that rebreathers are less impactful because there are no exhalation bubbles. But that’s not totally true. One still vents loop gas or suit or wing gas periodically. One is still moving through the cave, leaving a contrail of disturbance (with a scooter, an even bigger contrail). And most people are nowhere near as disciplined as Nelly… if you doubt that, count the handprints in the floor of frequently travelled cave.

And then there’s always those tetras that will follow you for a good long portion of the dive, gobbling up troglodytic life as your primary lights up all those little isopods and amphipods. Like the barracuda or tarpon that follow divers around on night dives, to devour everything their flashlight shines on.

Every once in a while you hear about people trying to live with a zero carbon footprint. They don’t flush the toilet and only shower once a month using their recycled dirty dishwater. They only eat the food they grow themselves on their roof using compost worms they keep in their living room.

Those people are fucking terrible. Well-meaning. But terrible.

By existing, we all have an impact. When those zero carbon footprint people blog about how holier-than-thou they are… they are doing it on a computer, connected to the internet, which is housed by huge, power-hunger server farms, with HVAC larger than you have ever seen to keep all that processing power cool, that use up almost unimaginable amounts of energy. That is produced, generally, by lighting something on fire and creating more greenhouse gasses.

There is no such thing as a zero carbon footprint… unless you never existed at all.

So what do we do?

Give up? Just use aerosol hairspray, styrofoam Big Mac containers, and cars that get 1/4 mile per gallon? Do we kill 35 million Cattle, 125 million pigs, and 9 billion chickens, and 44 billion marine creatures a year (these numbers are in the United States alone)… because if we can’t live perfectly, we should just destroy everything and cause a full-on, never-ending holocaust?

Since simply being in the cave at all damages it, should we just bash our way through absolutely everything we can find? Knocking down formations, digging out troughs in the silt, writing our names in clay banks?

Because purity can’t be achieved is anarchy the only other acceptable choice?

Or do we try our best? Limit our impact the best we can. Break out of that binary thinking I was talking about the other day.

Every day, in a million small ways, we are all persistently faced with, “try to be a steward of the world before us” or “fuck it, I’ma just do whatever I feel like, everyone and everything else can eat a dick!”

When people ask me about going vegan, I actually recommend not trying to jump in with both feet. It takes an adjustment, takes a little getting used to. I don’t even think about it anymore… but it’s been a journey of almost 20 years.

Cut out meat on one day. If you think you've got it in you: go vegetarian for a while; don’t beat yourself up as a failure if you go out for prime rib with your friends, thinking of it as a relapse, and giving up altogether.

Remember to turn off the lights when you leave a room. If you’ve only got to travel 4 blocks, walk instead of driving. Don’t use single-use plastics. Try to use natural and non-animal-tested products instead of wool or lipstick they rubbed into an immobilised bunny's eyes for a month. Spend your money and time in places that think about and try to work towards better solutions of these things.

As a diver, think about your buoyancy and trim all the time (even in open water). Avoid the temptation to touch anything, ever. Look into places you can shore-dive instead of having to ride a boat everywhere.

Air travel is particularly carbon intensive… but as divers, that’s how we’re getting where we’re diving. There is no way around that. Just something to think about taking small steps to work towards offsetting the rest of the year you aren’t flying places.

But you know, vacation-wise, what is, arguably, the single most destructive industry humanity has created in almost every way (environmental, cultural, economically, and on and on)? Cruises. Don’t go on goddamn cruises. Not ever.

(A vegan magazine I subscribed to back in the states had an ongoing ad about their vegan cruise every year. And every month I wrote an impassioned letter to the editor about how there is NOTHING less vegan than a cruise. Not one letter ever got printed. C'est la vie.)

I’m not saying that giving up plastic straws is going to save the planet. Probably save the lives of some marine life a world away, but the actions of any one person isn’t going to change shit. Especially considering that the VAST majority of all types of pollution is corporate industry.

With almost 8 billion of us, all acting like selfish tools, and each of us only really able to control our own behaviour it seems like a hell of an uphill battle. Statistically, one we (and every other currently extant form of life on the planet) is likely to lose.

But for those of us that try our best to not overtly contribute to the net suffering of the world, by sometimes denying ourselves selfish whims, at least it’s a little easier on the conscience.

Give it a try. You don’t have to be perfect. Just try.

Or, whatever. Don’t. Go spend the rest of the afternoon throwing empty plastic water bottles directly into the ocean and clear-cutting rainforest. I’m gonna go build my rebreather.

Eerie miasma of percolate suspended on the halocline by SJ.

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