The Dark Side of Jacques Cousteau — Dennis Behreandt

by Dennis Behreandt

June 11 marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of explorer, scientist, and environmentalist Jacques Cousteau. Born in 1910, he served in the French Navy before and during World War II, and went on to invent the “Aqua-Lung” which revolutionized underwater diving and exploration. He became famous with the production of his television specials, including The World of Jacques-Yves Cousteau and later, The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau.

Today he is viewed as a hero by many, and is fondly remember by the generation of Americans who as children in the 1960s and 1970s were transfixed by his television programs, which at the time were nearly as stunning to the imagination as the Apollo program. As such the media, in marking the anniversary of his birth, has a produced a swarm of articles fawning over Cousteau’s admitted successes.

In its coverage, for example, Wired republished an article on its homepage from one year earlier calling Cousteau “Champion of the Wine Dark Sea” and remarking on the many honors he was awarded: “introduction into the Television Academy’s Hall of Fame, the National Geographic Society’s Centennial Award, the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom and France’s Grand Croix dans l’Ordre National du Merite.” noted Cousteau’s impact on popular culture: “He has been name dropped in even the most unlikely places, including in songs by the hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan and the rock band Incubus. Even John Denver wrote a song called ‘Calypso’ as a tribute to Cousteau and his crew.” Moreover, notes LiveScience staff writer Brett Israel, “in Star Trek, the captain’s yacht of the USS Enterprise-E is named Cousteau. The 2004 film “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” is equal parts homage and send-up of Cousteau’s career.”

While Cousteau is loved and cherished by millions because of his accomplishments, and dare it be said, propaganda about the nobility of his life’s work, there is nonetheless an unfortunate dark side to Jacques Cousteau. This was revealed in an interview he gave to the UNESCO Courier, a publication of the United Nations, in 1991. The interview is particularly interesting today given the disastrous underwater oil plume from the leaking British Petroleum well that now mars the Gulf of Mexico.

Asked about his successes as part of the interview, Cousteau admitted his role in helping make underwater oil exploration and recovery a reality. Discussing a contract he held with the Darcy Exploration Company in 1954, Cousteau bragged: “We were the people who discovered oil in the Gulf! It was us who made the emirate of Abu Dhabi rich!”

That contract proved lucrative, and allowed Cousteau to “install radar and measuring equipment that we lacked.” But it wasn’t the last time that he contributed to the oil industry. “In 1962,” Cousteau recalled, “we also carried out experiments in which men lived and worked underwater at considerable depths. The first of these, known as Conshelf I, was carried out at Marseilles. Then came Conshelf II, in the Red Sea, and finally in 1964, Conshelf III off Cape Ferrat.”

During these experiments, Cousteau and his team used a “spherical vessel” with a mixed atmosphere of oxygen and helium that was “maintained at the surrounding water pressure.” Six people lived in the sphere for three weeks, after which decompression took another week. Summing up these efforts, Cousteau noted: “With this experiment we became the first people to do what is known as saturation diving. Since then, the offshore oil industry has gone in for this in a big way.”

While Cousteau deserves considerable praise for his visionary work in developing the oil industry he deserves equal condemnation for his admitted zeal and desire for mass human death, and for making the vague but apparent suggestion that it is Americans who should have their population radically reduced.

Speaking about the damage he believed was being done to the planet, Cousteau singled out Americans as the chief culprits. “The damage caused to the planet is a function of demography but also of levels of development,” he said. “One American tires the planet far more than twenty Bangladeshis. Damage is also linked to consumption. Our society is geared to increasingly useless consumption. It’s a vicious circle which I compare to a cancer.”

A thoroughgoing Malthusian, Cousteau argued that growth could not be allowed to continue: “After travelling the world as I have for years on end, and seeing it from helicopters, as a diver, from on board ship . . . I would sum up my feelings by saying that the resources of our planet are finite, that there is a limit that should not be exceeded, a habitability threshold that must not be crossed.”

As a result, he said, we must embrace death, on a massive scale: “It’s terrible to have to say this. World population must be stabilized and to do that we must eliminate 350,000 people per day. This is so horrible to contemplate that we shouldn’t even say it. But the general situation in which we are involved is lamentable.”

Whatever else his contributions, it is this statement that we should remember when we utter the name Jacques Cousteau. Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao, Hitler — these despicable tyrants, and others like them, killed millions and millions to satisfy their bloodthirsty ideologies and power-mad ambitions. By his own admission, Cousteau would have done the same.

Dennis Behreandt is a long-time contributor to The New American magazine, its former managing editor, and currently web editor for the John Birch Society. He has written hundreds of articles on subjects ranging from natural theology to history and from science and technology to philosophy. His research interests include the period of late antiquity in European history as well as Medieval and Renaissance history. Visit his blog and article archive at