Fathoming the New Frontier

hannigan-irish-times-reviewProfessor John Hannigan’s new book, The Geopolitics of Deep Oceans, was recently reviewed in the Irish Times. The full review is available online here. The following is an excerpt:

The Geopolitics of Deep Oceans review: fathoming the new frontier

John Hannigan’s highly readable survey of mankind and the oceans tackles deep-sea mining, superpower rivalries, global warming and popular culture

Apart from their luminary status, what do Leonardo di Caprio, Barack Obama, Vladimir Putin and Arthur C Clarke have in common? All four have taken a keen interest in that “new frontier” below 200 metres, where global oceans become “deep”.

Clarke predicted a moon landing in his space science fiction, but the writer was also a scuba diver and salvage agent who recognised that we would become increasingly dependent on the seas around us. He warned of the risks of over-enthusiasm more than half a century ago. Mining the ocean required caution if “we hope to save our machine-based civilisation from collapsing back into the Stone Age through shortage of metals”, he said.

Future Shock author Alvin Toffler also predicted a “new Atlantis” where competition for underwater resources would herald a “way of life that offers adventure, danger, quick riches or fame.” Toffler echoed the views of Isaac Asimov, who forecast that population growth would force settlement of desert and polar areas, and this would also extend to underwater colonisation of continental shelves.

French ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau, co-inventor of the aqualung, was similarly conflicted about the potential. Solar energy cells transmitting sun to the seabed, allowing for photosynthesis, would revolutionise mariculture, he wrote. He believed a “marine medicine chest” would contribute to development of new lifesaving drugs.

However, the damage done by overfishing, coral reef destruction and offshore oil drilling could be replicated, Cousteau warned, when man “opened the gates”.

Resource experts have forecast that this new century will be marked by “water wars”, as population expansion exerts more pressure on freshwater resources. However, as University of Toronto professor of sociology John Hannigan documents, there is also the potential for conflict in that vast and hidden environment which was once a “theatre of imagination” inhabited by the sort of “submarine aliens” he read about when he was a boy.

Hannigan identifies four competing and often overlapping “master narratives” . The first of these, the “frontier” approach, is associated with technological advances during and after the second World War – although the first serious expedition dated back to 1871-6 when the British Admiralty, Royal Society of London and Treasury Museum supported a voyage by the HMS Challenger to the western Pacific.

Read the full article.

Under the Sea

Hannigan GeopoliticsProfessor John Hannigan has recently published a new book investigating the ways in which we think about and govern the seas.

The publisher has this to say about Professor Hannigan’s book:

Long regarded as an empty and inhospitable environment, the deep ocean is rapidly emerging as an ecological hot spot with a remarkable diversity of biological life. Yet, the world’s oceans are on a dangerous trajectory of decline, threatened by acidification, oil and gas drilling, overfishing and, in the long term, deep-sea mining. Bio-prospecting and geo-engineering.

In The Geopolitics of Deep Oceans, noted environmental sociologist John Hannigan examines the past, present and future of our planet’s ‘final frontier’. The author argues that our understanding of the deep – its definition, boundaries, value, ownership, health and future state – depends on whether we see it first and foremost as a resource cornucopia, a political chessboard, a shared commons or a unique and threatened ecology. He concludes by locating a new narrative that imagines the oceans as a canary-in-the-mineshaft for gauging the impact of global climate change.

The Geopolitics of Deep Oceans is a unique introduction to the geography, law, politics and sociology of the sub-surface ocean. It will appeal to anyone seriously concerned about the present state and future fate of the largest single habitat for life on our planet.