Following article by Arnd Bernaerts was
published 1994 in ‘L.O.S. Lieder’ of the Law of
the Sea Institute, William S. Richardson School of Law;
University of Hawaii
correspondence from the
Law of the Sea Institute
William S. Richardson
School of Law,
University of Hawaii;
BACK TO WATER - CHEERS
The most fascinating thing about the day
on which the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention comes into force
in a few months' time will presumably be the fact that
hardly anyone will be fascinated. While the Earth Summit
forced 170 countries to fly their leaders and delegates to
Rio in order to plan the planet's preservation, not even two
heads of state will meet on 16th November 1994 to pay
tribute to the 1982 Convention, although this paper will
pave the way for rediscovering that water matters and that
its source is the oceans.
The 1982 Law of the Sea is to further
understanding on the natural commons buried since the
industrial revolution 200 years ago. To the ancient Greeks,
Mother Earth was Gaia. Once she and her fellow planets had
found their place in orbit they lived as fire spitting
rocks. Only Gaia had a son, who is still alive, Prontus, the
oceans. Thales of Miletus (640-546 B.C.), the
earliest philosopher and considered to be
one of the Seven Wise Men of Greece, called water the
fundamental element of all things. As this thesis was only
preserved for several hundred years by oral tradition before
being written down by Aristotle, Thales' thoughts fit well
into the picture of Gaia and Prontus. A mother born in the
depths of the universe, aged, wrinkled but still alive, as
shown by volcanic activities, and a son in his best years,
strong, dominant and the source of life on earth.
More than 2000 years later the poet
Johann-Wolfgang v. Goethe (1749-1832) gave Thales a voice in
his drama, Faust II:
comes from water!!
is maintained through water!
us your eternal power.
Goethe, known for his interest in the
young discipline of modern science, never lived by the sea.
The Mediterranean was the only sea he ever saw. While 20,000
people from all over the world flew across the oceans to the
Earth Summit in Rio, Goethe only crossed the sea from Neales
to Palermo in 1787. A bit seasick, he stayed in bed enjoying
the unfamiliar environment as he felt relaxed and wrote in
his diary "Italian Voyage":
one has experienced the sea around one,
one has no
idea of world and its relation to the
He himself was delighted by this 'simple
but great' line and mentions that it changed his thinking.
The foundations for the dramatic figure Thales in Faust II,
finished 40 years later, were laid. At the same time, global
average temperatures fell dramatically, something which
Goethe called the Cold Epoche.
While this expression is still used in
science, the Epoch after Goethe lost touch with basic
principles. They strived to understand the natural commons
by means of mathematical and statistical tools, most visible
in the field of weather and climate.
The rule of the oceans was forgotten and
buried for two centuries. Now the 1982 Law of the Sea
provides a chance to rediscover the lost common
understanding of how nature works. In addition, Prontus
still offers politicians and other interested people the sea
for personal experience, either now, or while traveling by
sea to the next Earth Summit. A lesson which he was able to
teach Goethe and the Greeks, should still be possible today.
Even though only few will probably have taken the
opportunity to relearn the basics by 16th November 1994,
welcome the 1982 Law of the Sea anyhow.
A nip from the ocean, a glass of water
will be just fine.
Bernaerts, “ BACK TO WATER - CHEERS ” , L.O.S. Lieder
#33 Vol. 6, No. 1, April. 1994 , Professional correspondence
from the Law of the Sea Institute, William S. Richardson
School of Law, University of Hawaii.