Besides….Two Essays 1993/94
William S. Richardson School of Law; University of Hawaii

L.O.S. Lieder it 28/36, 1993/94, Professional correspondence
from the Law of the Sea Institute,
William S. Richardson School of Law, University of Hawaii.


The climatic change issue has recently become one of the most serious challenges facing humankind. As L.O.S. Lieder insists on brevity, even though this issue deserves to be discussed at length, I beg your forgiveness for formulating my thesis directly and perhaps somewhat dramatically: climatic specialists and those people who have contributed to recent debates are possibly as much of a threat to the climate as the pollution caused by industrialization. For almost one hundred years, science has failed to realize that climate and the oceans are one and the same thing. As a result, the 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, the only true treaty dealing with climatic change issues, was thwarted the moment it came into effect over ten years ago.

Although climate should long ago have been defined as “the continuation of the ocean by other means,” the Framework Convention on Climate Change of June 1992 came up with an alternate definition: “The totality of the atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere and geosphere and their interactions.” What this all boils down to is that climate is nature working in all its forms – a nonsensical definition and useless as a basis for legal regulations.

As recently as 1990, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) came to the conclusion that CO2 was altering the climate and that “understanding and detecting the earth’s climate system must surely be the greatest scientific challenge yet to be faced by humankind. It is a worthy banner under which the nations of the world can unite” (IPCC, Working Group I, p. 328). Certainly not a bad thing for science. The 1992 Earth Summit resulted in an unprecedented success for the scientists working in the climatic area, forcing politicians to listen to them and paving the way for greater financial backing in an effort to understand and come to terms with the climate system.

Yet, what is good for scientists is not necessarily good for the climate. The simple fact of the matter is that meteorology has never been particularly inter­ested in climate except for statistical purposes, defining it as the average weather over a given period of time. On the other hand, there are the mathematicians, physicists and chemists, who do little more than apply their laboratory findings, theoretical conclusions and abstract calculations performed on greenhouse gases to a real natural system with little regard for the true essence of climate.

But while the seas continue to influence the climate, science is staring into the air (or, to be more precise, the atmosphere) in an attempt to find out what makes the climate tick. What is more, scientists have misled the international community of nations by claiming that greenhouse gases are the actual cause of climate change. This may yet prove to be the real tragedy of the climate change issue. After all, the oceans are still the part of the world about which the least is known. There is neither an “inventory” of the oceans nor an observation system. What is even sadder is that climate is still far from being acknowledged as the blue print of the oceans.

So beware of IPCC’s call for unification in its attempt to come to terms with the climate. The climatic change issue is far too serious a matter to leave to those who should have known better for many decades and who were not interested in or aware of matters relating to the oceans. It is high time to enforce what is by far the best convention for under­standing and protecting the climate — the 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea — before it is too late. After all, it is the first global constitution and would therefore compel humankind to ensure that the planet remains a place worth living in. There is no need to “detect the earth’s climate” and even less is there a need for a banner to serve IPCC’s “greatest scientific challenge.”


The most fascinating thing about the day on which the1982 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, Pontus, 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:

Everything comes from water!!
Everything is maintained through water!
Ocean, give 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”:

Until one has experienced the sea around one,
one has no idea of world and its relation to the world.

He himself was delighted by this ‘simple but great’ lineand mentions that it changed his thinking. The foun- dations 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
(Warming Up, LOS 5/93, P.6)*.

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. Cheers!

Arnd 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.

Arnd Bernaerts, 1993 in ‘L.O.S. Lieder’ of the Law of the Sea Institute, William S. Richardson School of Law; University of Hawaii]

Arnd Bernaerts, “Warming up — Science or climate” , L.O.S. Lieder it 28, Vol. 5, January 1993, Professional correspondence from the Law of the Sea Institute, William S. Richardson School of Law, University of Hawaii.

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