At the one hundred year anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, programs about the doomed ship, passengers and crew abound. One of the more interesting ones, to me, was the program by James Cameron, director of the 1997 film Titanic. In his program, Titanic: The Final Word with James Cameron, he gathered numerous experts and carefully studied the latest information on the Titanic, examinations of the wreck and accounts from that fateful night, in order to try to correct some of the wrongs and misconceptions about how the ship went down.
Though the forensic investigation of the most infamous ship disaster in history is fascinating, I will not go into its detail here. To my mind, the most valuable part of the program was the ending, and Cameron’s very appropriate last words. As Cameron saw it, the Titanic was as much a victim of human pride and hubris, as it was a victim of an iceberg. Cameron and his group examined flaws in the ship’s design, which were not as severe as the designers’ assumptions of what the ship could handle, or the officers’ intent to maintain schedules and appearances. When the collision happened, the severity of the accident was not immediately realized; and when it was, they realized that the ship’s emergency systems were ill-prepared to save everyone. The result was a horrible catastrophe in which two-thirds of the people aboard the ship perished, many needlessly because certain precautions had not been taken.
Perhaps this is not surprising from the director that also brought us Avatar, but Cameron’s final words presented a parallel between the sinking of the Titanic, and the fate of the world. He saw the Earth being altered by climate change, caused primarily by polluting human activities; and that even though we’ve come to recognize the threat to the ecosystem that our actions pose, little has been done to reverse those trends, because those with money are more interested in making more money than in mitigating the damage they’ve caused.
In Cameron’s words, we are aboard the Titanic now, and we know the iceberg is coming; yet those in control refuse to steer clear, heading us for an inevitable collision.
Further, Cameron sees prophecy in the division of rich and poor on the Titanic, and the resultant loss of many more working-class lives trapped in steerage, compared to the majority of the rich and famous who made it to lifeboats. He believes it is symbolic of the likely fate of the undeveloped world when we hit our iceberg: When climate change reaches crisis proportions, Cameron predicts that the richer countries will hoard the last available resources and use them to escape the worst of the damage, while the undeveloped countries will be abandoned, possibly shut purposely out of any sources of aid, and will suffer the heaviest losses.
The loss of the Titanic—as well as other famous disasters, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, the Columbia and Challenger shuttles—should have served as lessons to human engineers, to understand that as much as we know, we don’t know everything… and that our lack of knowledge can be deadly.
However, we need to look past the obvious connections to ships, bridges and spacecraft, and realize that our lack of total knowledge extends to the very planet we live on… and that many more people than sailed on the Titanic are at stake. The next iceberg we hit—when we hit it—will not endanger two thousand people, but seven billion.
And there are no lifeboats.