Perched on a red chair at pseudo-Mafioso bar Vito’s on First Hill last week, giraffe-legged, rock-jawed Ted Danson presented me with an environmental riddle: He does not surf. Or dive. Or even go sailing, unless someone he likes insists on it. Yet he spends most of his time on the water.
That’s because the one-time Cheers actor and now snow-haired star of the HBO sitcom Bored to Death, has been a die-hard ocean activist for thirty years. He protested against offshore oil drilling in Southern California in the 1980s. As the author (along with writer Michael D’Orso) of the new book Oceana: Our Endangered Oceans and What We Can Do to Save Them, Danson was in Seattle for a Town Hall talk about the book with Chip Giller of locally based environmental magazine Grist. Danson also serves on the board of the oceans advocacy non-profit Oceana. At the pre-talk cocktail event at Vito’s, dozens of fans lined up to buy copies from the Elliott Bay Books table ($33 apiece).
Nursing a mug of green tea (in a hot toddy cup) to soothe his lecture-weary throat, Danson says Oceana’s campaign to halt overfishing is urgent. “It’s the most immediate threat facing the oceans,” he says. “Seventy percent of the world’s fisheries are fully or overfished. Ninety percent of the “big fish” such as tuna, sharks, and swordfish are gone.” While celeb-gawkers at the next table snap pictures, Danson tells me some really bad news. “Some scientists feel we could fish out the world’s stocks.” He searches for a place to put his tea, but a platter of salami and coppacola hogs the table. He leans in, broad shoulders seemingly unstoppable. “But that’s not going to happen,” he says. “Because the good news is, we can stop it.”
And here’s the power of his star wattage in action. I believe him when he says there’s good news, and that we need to approach ocean activism, or any activism, from a place of love, not fear. Doom and gloom won’t motivate anyone. I will download the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Pocket Guide. I will never, ever, eat Queen conch or monkfish liver. I don’t even want to talk about farmed salmon.
But, er, what about the terrifying threat of ocean acidification (as I reported in my story "Ocean Acidification: Global Warming's Doppelganger" in the March issue)? It’s scary, Danson says. But it’s not a reason to give up hope. In fact, it boosts the argument for keeping fish stocks healthy. We should keep small, healthy quotas to give ocean life a fighting chance.
Later, at Town Hall, Giller says he’s been invited to go on a cruise for work, and is feeling guilty about it. Does Danson do cruise ships? “Never,” he says, twisting his glasses in his hands. “Henry Winkler told me it was one thing I should never do. He went on one at the height of his fame, and…” He shakes his head. “No escape."