Month 2, Day 18: “…Heard the Roar of a Wave That Could Drown the Whole World”

I was reading about oceanic acidification in another alarming piece at DK — the diarist FishOutOfWater specializes in ocean stuff that’s hair-standing-on-end scary. Another commenter made some powerful suggestions about what humans have to do if we are to head off this catastrophe, and eventually that comment turned into a substantial diary, which you should definitely read. Anyway, I was thinking about all that when I sat down (rather late in the day, actually) to write my LOTD.

I didn’t sleep a lot last night, and I’m too beat to think of a new recipient for this one…so I’ll send it to Time Magazine, and after they don’t print it, I’ll send it somewhere else.

Edward Abbey said it well: “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.” Our national models of prosperity are built on a foundation of quicksand: the notion that endless economic growth is both possible and a good idea. It is a sad commentary on political realities that simply stating the obvious truth that we live on a finite planet is electoral suicide. But if we don’t face that inconvenient fact sooner rather than later, we will be facing a much messier suicide, as the Earth’s resources fail us. Take the world’s oceans, for example.

Oceanic acidification is indisputably caused by human CO2 emissions, and has already reached levels not seen on this planet for fifty-five million years; the entire marine food chain is at risk — and half of humanity depends on the sea for sustenance. If excess acid kills the phytoplankton that provide significant proportions of our oxygen, we can add mass suffocation to the mix. How many people would die? Give or take a few hundred million, we’re looking at something like three billion. That’s a hundred and fifty times the size of the Nazi holocaust; one hundred and fifty Hitlers.

Americans were ready to go to war in the aftermath of 9/11, a tragedy that cost us around five thousand lives. Are we prepared to make drastic changes in the way we live to forestall a slow-motion tragedy equivalent to six hundred-thousand 9/11’s? Are we prepared to radically re-evaluate the way we understand success? Prosperity? Progress? Humanity in general, and America in particular, must effect a profound transformation in our economic thinking if our species is to survive.

Warren Senders

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