A Mass Extinction

A mass extinction is underway that is not visible to us it is taking place under water; in our oceans, our lakes and our rivers. Changes in the climate have recently manifested itself in the form of increases in the frequency, strength and intensity of severe weather. A recent example of this is Hurricane Sandy, which increased in intensity as a result of the warmer ocean waters and higher sea levels. In some areas the oceans have warmed 9 degrees Fahrenheit and while to some this might not appear to be significant, it is. The reason it is, is because while we can observe on land the effects of global warming (both at the coasts and interiors), we do not and cannot easily observer the impact of global warming on the workings of the oceans.

The oceans are dying. The recent news of fish and sea birds massive die offs is indicative of the condition of the food web that supports these beings. In addition to the fish and sea birds dying off, there have also been observations of unusually high number of orcas, dolphins, sea turtles, and major fish species supporting these such as herrings and sardines. The coral reefs, which are the nurseries for so many pelagic species, and support approximately 25% of all marine life (and make up just one percent of the ocean floor), are expected to be extinct by 2048!

This is a very concerning problem: they are not getting enough food (protein) and oxygen.

The hidden problem we have is the changing chemical makeup of our seas. The absorbtion of CO2 into our oceans has altered the pH level enough to alter the basis of our food web. In our oceans there are “rivers”, called thermohaline currents. These currents have been carrying nutrient rich waters from deep in the ocean to the surfaces. These nutrients feed algae and shrimp-like krill populations that provide the base of the oceanic food web. They provide protein for every important marine animal, from seabirds to fish and marine mammals. However, these currents also carry the CO2 that was absorbed from the atmosphere. In the Pacific Northwest the thermohaline current cycle is fifty years, which means that the CO2 absorbed by the oceans fifty years ago is now coming to the surface and impacting web.

When the thermohaline currents fail to provide the upwelling of nutrients, (which was observed for the first time in 2005) the seabird die offs have increased five to ten times what is considered normal death rates. When the currents work, they bring up CO2 stored from fifty years ago.
The reason that the protein is not available is because the waters being brought up from the ocean floor are acidic enough to kill off these critical species.

in order to prime the viewer, this excerpt from Bill McKibben was written on 7/19/12:

‘Some context: So far, we’ve raised the average temperature of the planet just under 0.8 degrees Celsius, and that has caused far more damage than most scientists expected. (A third of summer sea ice in the Arctic is gone, the oceans are 30 percent more acidic, and since warm air holds more water vapor than cold, the atmosphere over the oceans is a shocking five percent wetter, loading the dice for devastating floods.) Given those impacts, in fact, many scientists have come to think that two degrees is far too lenient a target. “Any number much above one degree involves a gamble,” writes Kerry Emanuel of MIT, a leading authority on hurricanes, “and the odds become less and less favorable as the temperature goes up.” Thomas Lovejoy, once the World Bank’s chief biodiversity adviser, puts it like this: “If we’re seeing what we’re seeing today at 0.8 degrees Celsius, two degrees is simply too much.” NASA scientist James Hansen, the planet’s most prominent climatologist, is even blunter: “The target that has been talked about in international negotiations for two degrees of warming is actually a prescription for long-term disaster.”‘

McKibben goes on to say:

‘…Since we’ve increased the Earth’s temperature by 0.8 degrees so far, we’re currently less than halfway to the target. But, in fact, computer models calculate that even if we stopped increasing CO2 now, the temperature would likely still rise another 0.8 degrees, as previously released carbon continues to overheat the atmosphere. That means we’re already three-quarters of the way to the two-degree target.’

Scientists at the time of the article believed that we could emit 565 gigatons of CO2 into the atmosphere by 2050 (1 gallon of gasoline equals 20 lbs of CO2). If only that were the case:

‘”There have been efforts to use more renewable energy and improve energy efficiency,” said Corinne Le Quéré, who runs England’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research [see RSS feed on this site]. “But what this shows is that so far the effects have been marginal.” In fact, study after study predicts that carbon emissions will keep growing by roughly three percent a year – and at that rate, we’ll blow through our 565-gigaton allowance in 16 years, around the time today’s preschoolers will be graduating from high school. “The new data provide further evidence that the door to a two-degree trajectory is about to close,” said Fatih Birol, the IEA’s chief economist. In fact, he continued, “When I look at this data, the trend is perfectly in line with a temperature increase of about six degrees.” That’s almost 11 degrees Fahrenheit, which would create a planet straight out of science fiction.

The amount of coal, oil and gas reserves held by the petroleum industry is 2,795 gigatons. While this oil is ‘in the ground’ it’s on the books of the petroleum companies, the countries they operate out of and the shareholders future earnings, loans are made against these reserves and there’s more to be had in tar sands, fracking , in the oceans and the arctic. We are up against a very powerful enemy:

‘But what all these climate numbers make painfully, usefully clear is that the planet does indeed have an enemy – one far more committed to action than governments or individuals. Given this hard math, we need to view the fossil-fuel industry in a new light. It has become a rogue industry, reckless like no other force on Earth. It is Public Enemy Number One to the survival of our planetary civilization. “Lots of companies do rotten things in the course of their business – pay terrible wages, make people work in sweatshops – and we pressure them to change those practices,” says veteran anti-corporate leader Naomi Klein, who is at work on a book about the climate crisis. “But these numbers make clear that with the fossil-fuel industry, wrecking the planet is their business model. It’s what they do.”‘

The situation now two years after this article was written is that we’re experiencing all the symptoms of a dying biosphere. In addition to the extreme weather patterns, we are seeing the oceans dying in front of our very eyes. The change in the climate is so fast, that the animals and plants cannot migrate to habitable areas, and those are elusive. The acidity in the oceans is killing off plankton, which supply 50% of the atmospheric oxygen. Mass dying off of sea life and land life is being witnessed every day in the news. We no longer need to estimate, project, calculate or model what will happen in the future, we can now observe it in real time.

It is for this reason that we believe an intervention is needed to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide and reduce the acidity in the oceans. This is a huge undertaking and other huge undertakings need to happen, such as scaling up alternative forms of energy, land reclamation for agriculture and for restoring the natural environments ability to pull CO2 from the atmosphere and absorb pollutants.

The scale of the work needed to save our civilization and our environment, is beyond the worlds leaders to grasp or comprehend and act on. If they did, much greater actions would be underway already. So, yes, we the people are the caretakers whether we wanted the job or not, we are responsible for the situation we are in. Denial and inaction, debate and studying established facts over and over is a decision we should not be making. We believe that the time for debate is over.

Removing CO2 from the atmosphere is not something that needs to be developed, it already is in operation.