Year 2, Month 7, Day 6: La Mer? Merde!

The ghastly news in the IPSO report on our oceans has brought forth a number of articles. Time magazine notes:

But while news of the Earth’s impending doom can sometimes seem exaggerated, there’s one environmental disaster that never gets the coverage it really deserves: the state of the oceans. Most people know that wild fisheries are dwindling, and we might know that low-oxygen aquatic dead zones are blooming around the planet’s most crowded coasts. But the oceans appear to be undergoing fundamental changes — many of them for the worse — that we can barely understand, in part because we barely understand that vast blue territory that covers 70% of the globe.

That’s the conclusion of a surprising new report issued by the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO), a global panel of marine experts that met earlier this year at Oxford University to examine the latest science on ocean health. That health, they found, is not good. According to the authors, we are “at high risk for entering a phase of extinction of marine species unprecedented in human history.” It’s not just about overfishing or marine pollution or even climate change. It’s all of those destructive factors working cumulatively, and occurring much more rapidly than scientists had expected. “The findings are shocking,” said Alex Rogers, the scientific director of IPSO. “We are looking at consequences for humankind that will impact in our lifetime, and worse, our children’s and generations beyond that.”

Lots of stuff about the ocean now, but not as much as I get when I ask for information on Anthony Weiner’s junk. Sigh.

Sent June 21:

As a kid growing up in America’s turbulent 60s, I remember vividly a certain man on television who was universally respected and trusted. And I don’t mean Walter Cronkite. Reading about the IPSO report on the terrifying decline in the health of our planet’s oceans reminded me of the late Jacques Cousteau. Remembering the diminutive Frenchman who showed us all the beauties of the undersea world, I wonder: what would he say about the acidified seas, bleached corals, ravaged fisheries and polluted ecosystems that humanity has left in its wake? After a few unprintable Gallicisms, I’m sure he’d embark on an activist campaign to persuade the world’s industrialized nations that it was time for them to show genuine leadership on climate change and carbon emissions. Long ago this eloquent and passionate explorer spoke to our current condition, saying “We forget that the water cycle and the life cycle are one.”

Warren Senders

Month 10, Day 6: Deep Blue Sea, Baby, Deep Blue Sea…

Last week’s Time Magazine had an article about Sylvia Earle, who’s trying to establish marine reserves — internationally protected parts of the ocean. It’s worth a read; she’s clearly one of the good guys. While it’s a little late now that the new issue of Time is out, I thought I’d write and cheer her on a bit.

Sylvia Earle’s proposal for Marine Protected Areas is essential. Whether our rationale for attempting to restore the health of our oceans is aesthetic (because a living sea is beautiful), moral (because it is wrong to use the ocean as a dump) or practical (because if the phytoplankton that provide much of our oxygen die, so will we), it makes sense to establish a precedent: this part of humanity’s common property is inviolate. Indeed, if we are really interested in our own long-term survival, it’s clear that Mission Blue’s plans don’t go far enough. It’s not just that we need to stop treating the oceans as supermarkets and sewers — we must recognize that an economic system which rewards environmental destruction and exploitation will bring severe and tragic consequences, not only for our species, but for all the others with whom we share our planet.

Warren Senders

Month 9, Day 9: Sea Sea Rider, See What You Done Done…

I didn’t want to write about, well, anything. But I found an article in TIME on a climate monitoring project run by the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences, and used it as the hook for a pretty standard screed.

Compared to the crisis in Earth’s atmosphere, the increased acidity of our oceans have received scant attention, which makes Bryan Walsh’s article on the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences very welcome. Radically altering the nature of our seas is likely to lead to disastrous consequences for all life everywhere. If the oceanic food chain collapses due to acidification, the lives of billions of people will be jeopardized, along with those of the other creatures with whom we share the Earth. Giant corporations and the climate-change denialists they fund are symptomatic of a short-sighted and ignorant fixation on immediate profits; when a good quarterly report outweighs the long-term health of the planet, humanity becomes an endangered species…which will surely be bad for business. America is the world’s largest per capita emitter of greenhouse gases; we must take responsibility for the natural systems we are destroying.

Warren Senders

Month 4, Day 6: Horse, Horse, Tiger, Tiger

One day up, one day down. This is good news: President Obama has opened the door to potential regulation under the Clean Water Act (CWA) of CO2 that causes ocean acidification.

I’m now writing him twice a week, it seems.

Dear President Obama,

I am writing to applaud your initiative in considering using the Clean Water Act to regulate CO2. Oceanic acidification is one of the most pressing elements of the hugely complex conundrum that is global climate change, and it has not received as much attention as atmospheric greenhouse gas emissions.

Huge numbers of marine species depend on coral reefs for food and habitat, and the world’s corals are dying, killed by changes in the acidity of seawater as it absorbs more carbon dioxide. These changes have the potential to radically alter the food chain for much of life on earth; quite literally, the lives of billions of people depend on the sea. Furthermore, some species of phytoplankton will be unable to survive the increased oceanic acidity — and these tiny creatures are essential to the earth’s oxygen supply.

Food and breathable air for the world’s population. That’s what’s at stake in this decision. You’d think it’d be obvious, even to the Republican party (I’m afraid you’d be wrong). Please use the power of your presidential “bully pulpit” to make the case for strong action on oceanic acidification, and for increasing the power of the EPA and its use of the Clean Water Act.

Thank you.


Warren Senders

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