You can see a lot from 35,000 feet. Alan Parsons Project’s “Eye in the Sky” comes back to me, although I’d never make so bold as to associate myself with Horus. As I’m preparing for my return flight, I wonder what I might see. Not much, I expect, since all the window seats were taken and I’ll be sitting in the middle section. I like to see where I’m going. On the way over, for example, about three hours into the flight, we were over the Grand Banks. I’d just finished Brian Fagan’s Fishing, and the Grand Banks were on my mind. The last land I saw was Cape Cod, although from the monitor I knew we’d passed near Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. In other words, there was nothing but the north Atlantic beneath us. We were hundreds of miles from land. Then I saw it.
Was that an oil platform all the way out here? I didn’t have enough time to wake my napping phone for a picture, but there was clearly a large platform and a nearby tanker. Later I checked and, sure enough, Hibernia, the world’s largest oil platform is smack-dab in the middle of the Grand Banks. A number of thoughts occurred. We’d been flying for hours, and a platform this far out would make a great setting for a horror story. (Okay, so my thoughts move in predictable directions sometimes.) Another thought was this: why are we so dependent on petroleum that we’re all the way out here drilling for a polluting, non-renewable resource? Is it not for profit margin alone? This was an epiphany for me.
I still carry a little cautious hope around in a hidden pocket that there might be some places left for humanity to explore, but not exploit. Fagan mentioned in his book that we’d trawled much of the ocean floor. Although I admiring the engineering that could plant a platform in the stormy Atlantic, I still can’t help but feel a little bit let down that we’ve driven yet another stake into the unexplored world. We really know so little about the oceans (apart from the fact that many creatures that live there can be eaten and otherwise exploited). Our lack of scientific knowledge is addressed by great wells drilled down to draw out pollutants to grease the wheels of capitalism. Yes, I was using fossil fuel in flying. I’d be happy with solar-powered planes, if they existed (they’re above the clouds much of the time, so it would seem worth dreaming about). In the meantime, however, the earth just keeps getting smaller and smaller. Even from 35,000 feet.