'The Years of Living Dangerously'
'The Years of Living Dangerously'

Given your experience with submersibles, do you have any insight into the challenges of finding flight MS370?

Well, I know how it will be done. If these pings that they're receiving are confirmed as being from the flight recorders, then they'll triangulate the acoustic data that they have so far, and they'll generate what's called a search box. I don't know how big that will be, but it might be 25-30 miles on a side, it might be a very large piece of ocean. Then there are a suite of tools that can operate at the kind of depth we're talking about, I believe between 4000-5000 meters. My ultra-deep submersible would not be required at those levels, that's half of the level it's designed for.

The next step would be to use an AUV, an autonomous underwater vehicle, and have it run at 400 or 500 feet above the bottom and do a sonar profile of the bottom, it does that by running a search pattern, kind of like mowing the lawn. That takes days or weeks to do. Then you analyze any signatures that are anomalous, that don't look like flat bottom, and you say are those rocks, is that geology or does that look like the piece of an aircraft? And then once you have those targets, you know where they are on the bottom, then you go back, either with that type of vehicle or an ROV (a remotely operated vehicle) that would be hanging down from a ship on a cable. And you'd take a look essentially with a videocamera. And then you'd be able to identify whether that target was in fact the aircraft you are looking for. So that's how it would be done. But it all hinges on whether or not those pings are actually from the black box, and not from something else, like a scientific instrument that's drifted off course or whatever.

What was the biggest challenge you faced when you traveled down the Mariana Trench? Since when were you planning to do it and why?

James Cameron
National Gerographic James Cameron

Well, there were a number of challenges leading up to the dive in terms of creating a new submersible from scratch that involved many new technologies, and anybody who has ever built a complex new technological system from scratch knows what I'm talking about. But the biggest challenge on the day of the dive itself was the sea state, we had a 2 and a half meter sea, so talking close to 8-10 foot waves. That was bigger than we were supposed to launch in. And during the launch process, one of our key safety systems got broken on the submersible. And I elected to dive anyway. Then it turned out not to be necessary, it was a backup system, and the dive went fairly well after that.

Your ears don't pop, because the submersible is designed to withstand the pressure. What you feel is the cold, and the confinement. Now your MIND is very aware of the pressure, because if the submersible were to fail, you'd cease to exist in a microsecond. I call it "being chummed into a meat cloud." Needless to say, that didn't happen, unless we're in one of those parallel universes we were talking about before.

On that dive, we discovered a number of new species, they were very small, including a new sea cucumber, it was very small, I referred to one of them as a "little sea pig" because they look like little pink piglets. They're about as big as your thumb, or maybe smaller. Technically, they're called Holothurian. And we also discovered a large number of new bacterial species that live in the bottom sediment down there. But the impression is of a very desolate landscape, like the moon. You have to look very closely to find life down there.

Is there any chance that well be seeing pictures or footage from this trip? I've been extremely curious.

Yes. We shot the whole expedition and I shot the the dives in the 3D. There's a 3D film called Deepsea Challenge that is from National Geographic that will be released theatrically.

Can you tell us the story of the coolest deep-sea creature you've ever encountered? Not necessarily the biggest, but the one you thought was the most amazing?

I was diving a site called Lost City, which is an enormous hydrothermal structure, and I saw a creature which we believe to be a new species, it hadn't been seen before, which was a seven foot diameter jellyfish, very diaphanous, very thin and elegant and otherworldly. And this was at a depth of 850 meters. I photographed it for 20 minutes in 3-D high definition, and it's in a film that we put out called Aliens of the Deep.

It looks to be related to a species that is known in the Pacific called Deepstaria Enigmata but we didn't capture ours, so we can't claim a new species without a specimen. He looked happy, we didn't want to grab him and tear him to the surface. We just called it the "space bagel" because it was kind of donut shaped.

Where did you love of nature begin?

Well, it must have begun in early childhood, because most of my childhood memories involve being outside, in the woods, hiking in summer, winter and spring. Collecting bugs and butterflies and snakes, there wasn't anything that crawled, swam or flew in our little area of Canada that I didn't want to grab and study. I also spent a lot of time with my microscope studying little creatures in the ponds and streams as well.

I’m really excited to see "Years of Living Dangerously," I think the format will get a lot of people to learn more about climate change that might not have otherwise. My questions are: What is the best thing we can do to help combat climate change? 

Dorian, this may surprise you, because it surprised me when I found out, but the single biggest thing that an individual can do to combat climate change is to stop eating animals. Because of the huge, huge carbon footprint of animal agriculture. I was shocked to find out that animal agriculture directly or indirectly accounts for 14.5% of all greenhouse gas emissions, compared to all transportation - every ship, car, truck, plane on the planet only accounts for 13%. Less than animal agriculture. So most people think that buying a Prius is the answer, and it's certainly not wrong, but it's not the biggest agent of climate change.

Does this mean that you yourself have stopped eating animals? If so, how long ago did you decide to do that?

It's been almost two years. It'll be two years on May 4th since I had a single molecule of anything that came from an animal. This includes meat, eggs, dairy, cheese, fish, etc. I feel great. I feel like I've set the clock back 15 years.

What would be the best thing after becoming vegetarians? Because I just can't realistically see myself making that switch.

The next best thing, I would say, is to vote responsibly. We really need better leaders, and we need to demand of our leaders the things that they need to be doing, like creating a tax on carbon.

What prompted you to purchase a winery in the beautiful Comox Valley? (my hometown)

Well, it's actually next door to an 80 acre sustainable organic produce farm, which is what I was primarily interested in, and then I thought that if i wanted to enter the relatively small regional market there for organic produce, it would be good to have the winery as well, because you deal with all the local restaurants and foodies and so on, it's not as simple as just going to the farmer's market. Plus it was literally next door, and it was an award-winning boutique winery, and it seemed like those two businesses would compliment each other. It's a beautiful place and I'm happy to be returning to my Canadian roots by having a home and a farm business there!

When his "War of the Worlds" came out, Steven Spielberg stated that his own personal view was still that aliens would more likely resemble the benevolent ones of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and "E.T." Do you think humanity’s first contact with aliens would be closer to "Aliens" or "The Abyss"?

I believe that human history and the history of evolution on this planet indicates that our first contact with alien species might not be as benign as Steven thinks. The history on our planet is whenever a superior technology society encounters a society with lesser technology, the superior technology supplants the lesser society. There has never been an exception. So if the aliens come to us, it probably won't go well for us. A thousand years from now, if we're the ones going to where the aliens are (like the story told in Avatar) it won't go so well for the aliens.

What's your favorite thing to do in your off time?

Just hanging out with the family, with the kids, that's my #1 thing. And my sort of private time thing I like to do the most is scuba dive or free dive.

Mr. Cameron please describe how your experience was at the bottom of the ocean? Do you think it would be possible to construct a community/society down there at some far point in the future? 

I think it's possible, but I can't think of a situation in which it would be necessary or economically feasible. But it's certainly possible with human technology right now. I've even heard of a proposal from a company in Norway that would develop a deep-sea habitat that would operate under the deep sea ice to maintain oil production infrastructure, not dissimilar to what we show in the Abyss, but I don't know if they're actually going to do it. But living deep underwater in a closed system is almost as hard as living in the moon or on Mars.

Is there any part of the world that you want to explore that you have not already?

Personally, there are places under the antarctic ice that I'd like to look at, there's some interesting biomes there. In terms of cities, there are many cities that I would love to see. I haven't spent as much time in Asia and the Middle East as I would like to. Europa, would love to see Europa, or Titan. I would settle for Mars.