Wednesday, June 22, 2011

This Made Me Sick To My Stomach

I just finished reading the report summary of the International Earth system expert workshop on ocean stresses and impacts, released on Monday. Here is what I think the headline of that report should have been:

The Oceans Are Mostly DEAD Unless We Reduce Carbon Emissions Drastically AND Set Up a Global Police Over ALL Ocean Uses NOW

I won’t bother with the evidence of cascading destruction, with more to come, and the explanation of how much of what we do now that affects the oceans reinforces that cascade. That has been covered somewhat in Joe Romm’s blog, I will simply note that the end point will be a mass ocean species destruction comparable to any in the past, plus massive ocean acid “dead zones” where nothing can live and a time to recover in the thousands of years. One species that might survive is jellyfish – and it has “low nutritional value,” i.e., you can’t live on jellyfish.

The one thing that no one seems to be covering is what they say we should do to avoid this. They say that everyone on Earth must stop all ocean misuses now, and to do this the UN should set up a global enforcement body. The burden of proof will be on all ocean users – yes, that includes ocean liners and drillers for oil, gas, and minerals – to show that their next use will not be harmful, else they can’t do it. Contributions to the body would be mandatory, and it would have jurisdiction over the “High Seas” that aren’t the property of particular nations, but obviously it will affect waters that are now said to be the property of particular nations, as well as fisheries.

If you want to go fish, get permission from the global enforcement body. If you want to ship components from abroad, get permission from the global enforcement body. If you want to drill in the Arctic now that it’s getting warmer and less icy, get permission. If you dump fertilizer and waste into rivers and it’s washed out to sea, the commission will be after you. And the commission’s key criteria will be: Does this add to the carbon footprint? Does this make a dead ocean more likely? Is this a sustainable use?

As far as I can see, the only reason the workshop would recommend such a thing is that the situation is that serious. And it’s serious not only because we lose seafood, but because the ocean will reach its capacity for absorbing the excess carbon we’re dumping in the atmosphere, and then global warming on land will get worse, faster than we expect even now – leading to faster sea rise and more massive storms that “salt” estuaries that product a significant proportion of the world’s food, more droughts over much of the world that desertify another major proportion of the world’s food, and possibly to “toxic blooms” in the waters next to the land that periodically release toxic gases that kill those living on the shore.

Just thinking about the ocean, near which I have lived for most of my life, being dead makes me sick to my stomach.

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