JAWS: The Lurking Shark of Climate Change

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What's JAWS got to do with climate

Written by John St. Augustine

Blood in the water…

Forty years ago today I agreed to take Val’s shift at Dunkin’ Donuts so she and her boyfriend could go to see the movie that “everyone” was talking about.

It’s a day etched in my mind because not only did I roll out some serious donuts at the shop on Irving Park Road, but I also had my very first “Whopper” from Burger King as payment from Val for the switch. I will also never forget the look on her face as she came in the back door of DD with BK bag in hand.

It was a look of pure terror.

“I will never, ever go in the water again!” She cried eyes wide and telling. “I shit you not, never, ever…” Her boyfriend stood behind her in silent agreement. Something on the screen had forever changed the way she saw the water.

The legacy of JAWS was already intact

I half listened to accounts of sharks that ate a license plate (do you remember then number and what state it was from?) kids chewed up in the surf, legs falling to the ocean floor and the thing that scared her most.

Ben Gardner’s head missing an eyeball scared Hooper so bad he dropped that tooth but it wasn’t until a couple days later that I scrunched down with some buddies in the front row of the Portage Theater and heard John Williams haunting score that heralded the coming of the beast and the subsequent horror that I too decided that going into the water—any water—was a bad idea.

So visceral were the effects of JAWS that I had a hard time going into my dad’s buddy Tom’s in-ground pool, especially at night. With a diving mask on in the deep end…with the underwater light on…no way!

So what does JAWS have to do with climate change?

In 1974 the novel by Peter Benchley hit the bookstores of America. It was a great success, with the hardback staying on the bestseller list for some 44 weeks and something else big and scary came out in 1974.

Two American scientists, Mario Molina and F. Sherwood Rowland, proved that chlorofluorocarbons, commonly used in aerosol spray cans and refrigeration, could destroy ozone in the upper atmosphere, the United States and a few other countries began regulating their use and scrutinizing the ozone readings already being collected by NASA satellites.

Once the “hole” was confirmed over Antarctica and the cause (propellants in refrigerants like air conditioners and aerosol sprays) were discovered to be the culprit people took action and here’s why.

The ozone case was understood comparably well by lay persons with easy-to-understand bridging metaphors—”There is a hole in the protective layer of Earth we caused it and now we have to do something about it…”—and Americans voluntarily switched away from aerosol sprays, resulting in a 50 percent sales loss even before legislation was enforced and CFC’s were banned.

Potential progress

In the decades since, the ozone hole has been slowly repairing itself, because science shows it takes that long for the toxic propellants to work their way out of the system. System failure does not have an exemption that is determined by political party, or whether or not you even believe its failing.

But understand this. The ozone hole was created by human activity plain and simple and everyone got the memo and did something about it. There was no major debate on the floor of congress whether or not the science was “correct.”

We recognized a hole we created in the protective sunscreen of Planet Earth, took action and it has gotten to be a smaller problem over time. Bravo! We decided that adding chemicals to the atmosphere that allow for life to exist wasn’t very smart and the companies that made those chemicals found replacements that worked just fine and did not eat away the ozone like some rogue Pac-Man.

So what has changed since science confirmed the ozone hole, and what was causing it?

Unfortunately not much.

Even with all the evidence, both scientific and otherwise, the Mayor of Amity (played brilliantly by the late great Murray Hamilton) is in complete denial of the existence of the killer great white shark that has set up a smorgasbord off the coast of his little kingdom. It’s all about the money so when bathers are getting chomped up in the surf, The Mayor is more concerned about the graffiti on a billboard than the actual threat itself. 

“Amity is a summer town, we depend on summer dollars and if people think there is a shark they will go swimming somewhere else. I don’t think either of one you are familiar with our problems.”

Hooper in one of many classic lines from the movie gets in the Mayor’s grill and says with all certainty. “I think that I am familiar with the fact that you are going to ignore this particular problem until it swims up and bites you in the ass!”

Even with the unseen threat causing chaos and costing lives, money triumphs over common sense….until…Mayor Larry Vaughn’s kids are on the beach. That’ is when the threat becomes real. That’s when money no longer matters. That’s when he signs the paper to hire Quint. That’s when the Great White Shark becomes real.

An even bigger shark

Forty years have passed since JAWS had people living in Kansas afraid of taking a bath, and just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…

An even bigger shark in the form of climate change lurks off shore and has been causing havoc for some time. It’s a shark we helped to create, like it or not. It’s a shark we have a problem admitting exists and that perhaps our actions keep feeding it.

In response to this massive beast and the controversy that surrounds it, Pope Francis states in his just released paper

“All is not lost, human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start.”

That is a wonderful thought and concept, but billionaires who run their own little Amity kingdoms will not get on board because it’s the morally right thing to do for those who would suffer the most, the poor. There is too much profit to be made in denying the existence of the shark.

I applaud the Holy Father for his faith, but my experience has been that much like the shark in JAWS, we will “ignore this particular problem until it swims up and bites us on the ass.” 

Something chew on…or not… depending on if you think the shark poses a threat…and that someday your kids might be on that beach too.

Bonus: 

Here’s the latest episode of The Green Divas Radio Show for more on green and healthy living…

Listen to the latest Green Divas Radio Show—and other green and healthy living podcasts—daily on GDGDRadio.com (or get the GDGD Radio app)! Green, free radio!

Image via ShutterStock


john st. augustineJohn St. Augustine has been called “The Voice of America” by veteran broadcaster Bill Kurtis and “the most influential voice on radio” by best-selling author Cheryl Richardson. In 2007 The Visionary Project (UK) compiled an international list of 500 people that have been deemed “visionaries” in the arts, sciences, politics and other areas of human achievement. The list includes names such asPresident Jimmy Carter, Oprah Winfrey, Nelson Mandela, and….John St. Augustine for using his voice on radio for positive change. He is creator and executive producer of “Earth Matters” a one minute radio vignette. Learn more at johnstaugustine.com and follow John on twitter @AugieStuff.

Earth News, Environment, Featured, GD Ticker, Green Dudes, Nature

About the author / 

The Green Divas

The Green Divas share low-stress ways to live a deeper shade of green through a weekly radio show, podcasts, videos and blog posts. Working with talented partners and credible sources, the Green Divas produce content on a variety of topics relating to a healthy green lifestyle. Visit The Green Divas website to learn more, and check out The Green Divas on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter too!

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