Awakening groggily I reached out and pulled the dark drapes apart in the penthouse room of the hotel and was instantly blinded by the rising sun, reflected off the Pacific Ocean. I turned my eyes away and saw the metallic arms of the loading and unloading cranes for the container ships, over the port of Long Beach. The port was piled with rows upon rows of stacked empty containers and there were not as many ships; as the rush of the incoming goods had abated, before the greatest shopping season of Thanksgiving and Christmas. Instead as I watched I saw a mammoth ship slipping out of port fully loaded with containers; many stories high, and slowly heading out to sea. The economy must be picking up and now it seemed that exports from the US are actually on an upswing; as a fully loaded ship was rare to see, as mostly only empty containers were returned to China and the trading nations to the east earlier.
I turn my eyes back and see the triple funnels of the giant Queen Mary ship; that has found its final resting place, as a hotel on this water front. Yesterday it had been dwarfed by a far large modern cruise ship; that must have brought tourists from far away, to enjoy the sights of the city of Los Angeles. It was many stories tall and a sight to behold, and ferried people in the latest luxuries with food and entertainment, for its travelers. The scale of these cruise ships appears to be growing larger and more opulent, with each successive generation. They are floating castles that ferry people about to resorts and exotic locations; as people escape from the bitter cold and ice and snow, of the heartland. People sun bathe on the decks and enjoy the passing sceneries; as palm trees and pristine beaches await their arrival, from sunny port to sunny port.
Late last night I had been watching the waves from the breeze seem to come in from the sea; but the water from the Los Angeles river was actually flowing outward, and it was just a mirage. I had seen a black long shape swim down the river and could not make out if it was a sea lion, or a dolphin or a very large fish, that was making its way back out to the sea. These used to be the giants of the sea like the whales and the sharks, which ruled the open oceans. Now man has launched his nuclear submarines, naval air carriers, and the giants that feed the world’s commerce. Far away in the distance I had seen a giant oil tanker pull away from the large Chevron refinery; and today I saw another giant waiting patiently for its turn, to feed the inexhaustible thirst of the naphtha crackers and petroleum refinery. America is turning into the biggest exporter of refined products like aircraft fuel, diesel and other petroleum products; and these giant vessels will only increase and grow bigger, to meets the needs of the teeming billions.
I take a walk along the river and as the wind shifts I can smell the familiar smells, and am transported back to exit 13 of the New Jersey turnpike decades ago; where I had first smelt the fumes of the giant refineries. Now I am a continent away on the west coast; but the smell remains the same, and reminds me that this is the bedrock of our modern economy. Fuel is what we need and energy from petroleum is overtaking the energy from coal; as carbon dioxide continues to build unabated into our atmosphere, at a scale where Al Gore had to use a mechanical lift to show, the extreme rising graph of the current century. Now scientists are saying that there are giant rock formations; where we could easily sequester the carbon dioxide and store it away safely, and help to reverse global warming. The oceans make up the vast surface of our dear Earth, and have turned our planet blue and they are the next frontier.
Will we be able to convert the oceans into the next habitation and source of food; just like we have done as sources of energy with deep sea drilling, and massive wind farms, which will supply our future needs for a hungry population? Will tidal power be harnessed for energy and will we have giant conversion plants that turn sea water, into fresh potable water to meet future human needs. There are mammoth projects that can be built for living and aqua culture, on a scale we cannot imagine today. We are confined to land for now; but the oceans await our quest for sustainable living, and all we need are the new technologies for harvesting the giant spaces, as Dubai has done with its sprawling palms housing developments. We are only limited by our imagination and our resources, to make great strides into developing these resources.
Already the giant tankers, container vessels and the development of ports and facilities for them; have unleashed a cheap and easy transportation system, that link the greatest economies of the world together. The more ecofriendly and economical we make these modern giants; will in the end show how well we can better utilize resources and labor effectively, for the betterment of man. The ability to move vast quantities of raw materials from mining and agricultural producers; to the modern processing plants, and then the finished goods to the hinterland for consumption, are required on ever larger scales if we want to meet the projected population of 7 – 8 billion, in the near future. Great strides continue to be made in technology and construction with new materials that are revolutionizing our capabilities.
The Queen Mary is a stately ship and as I walk by in its shadow in my after dinner walk; I am reminded of a gentler age where all the gentlemen and ladies that sailed its luxurious furnishings and trapping, lived in a different world. It was a world of formal dinner ware and music and dancing under the moonlit skies, to live bands and entertainers. The privileged few enjoyed the trans-Atlantic voyages between the great cities of London and New York, bringing the old and the new world together. A week at sea; was not hurried by instant communication, and 24\7 information overloads. The mammoths of today’s seas are of a different breed and a different technology. GPS systems navigate them and people spend more times on their personal devices, than staring at the palms floating gently by. I feel suddenly very small against the hull of the ship towering over me; and turn back to another restless night, of wondering where these mammoths will take us next.