Catastrophic consequences of our refusal to act..
Two years ago, in a first-ever global assessment, scientists calculated that the soils in sea grass meadows — despite being less than 0.2 percent of the world’s oceans — captured at least 10 percent of the ocean’s carbon. Since then the estimate has increased. Fred Short, a University of New Hampshire marine ecologist, puts the latest range between 12 and 20 percent. When combined with marshes and tropical mangroves, sea grasses are part of ecosystems comprising only 2 percent of ocean area — but accounting for a whopping 50 percent of ocean carbon storage.
Those discoveries are quickly elevating the concept of “blue carbon” among scientists and rapidly suggesting that these marine forests are as critical to controlling climate change as the emerald green Amazonian jungles and North American boreal expanses.
Plastics are now one of the most common pollutants of ocean waters. Pushed by winds, tides and currents, particles collect with other debris to form large, swirling, glue-like accumulation zones.These are known to oceanographers as “gyres”, which comprise as much as 40 per cent of the planets ocean surface, said Captain Moore, who founded the Algalita Marine Research Institute in Long Beach, California.In a previous study of southern Californias urban centres, he calculated that they spilled 2.3 billion pieces of plastic – from polystyrene foam to tiny fragments and pellets – into the areas coastal waters in just three days of monitoring.Once in the sea, the plastics biodegrade extremely slowly, breaking into minute pieces in a centuries-long process. They entangle and slowly kill millions of sea creatures, and hundreds of species mistake them for food, ingesting toxicants that cause liver and stomach problems in fish and birds, and often choke them.”We suspect that more animals are killed by vagrant plastic waste than by even climate change – a hypothesis that needs to be seriously tested,” Captain Moore said.
Human-driven climate change poses a great threat, unprecedented in type and scale, to well-being, health and perhaps even to human survival,” write three of the contributors to the IPCC report’s health chapter.
Writing for Australia’s the Conversation, professors Colin Butler and Helen Louise Berry, and Emeritus professor Anthony McMichael say the focus has been largely on “spurious debate about the basic science and on the risks to property, iconic species and ecosystems, jobs, the GDP and the economics of taking action versus taking our chances.”
Missing from the discussion is the threat climate change poses to Earth’s life-support system – from declines in regional food yields, freshwater shortage, damage to settlements from extreme weather events and loss of habitable, especially coastal, land. The list goes on: changes in infectious disease patterns and the mental health consequences of trauma, loss, displacement and resource conflict.
“I write this as an open letter to environmentalists, but to be honest, it isn’t truly an open letter. Many of you (probably most) will continue to call for these unsustainable forms of energy, despite knowing that to do so is to beg murder upon the migratory birds, the (very few remaining) unpolluted streams, rural Chinese farmers, and ultimately upon what remains of the living world. Many of you don’t want a truly sustainable way of life, but to sustain a functionally unsustainable civilization. Many of your salaries and personal identities depend on “clean energy,” and you won’t dare challenge it. And for me, this is incredibly saddening and disheartening, as I know many such people. So this letter is not written to you.”
Here is a wakeup call. One that insists we strip off the blinders and face our own delusions in order to survive.
I had heard some of these statistics, some of these uncomfortable truths, yet allowed myself to cling to the fantasy (is it? really?) of solar cells painted onto rooftops, of wind power made small scale and affordable and powering local homes in local grids .. while worrying underneath about rare minerals (yes, I own a cellphone) and migratory birds and hoping technological advances would quickly resolve these anomalies. The kicker, though, is that the same argument is used by the industrial giants against whom I want to (and often do) rail… the Enridges, the BPs, the Shells, of this world. They, too, rely on technology to ‘solve the problem’ of carbon emissions and climate change and those billions of gallons of spilled and leaked oil contaminating our world. and so for now they continue, comfortable in their conviction that one day, some day, technology will clean it up and resolve it all.
Yes, there’s food for thought here and more research to be done. Here may be a very good starting place. But I warn you, it may make you deeply, even frighteningly, uncomfortable.
s land-based minerals become depleted and prices rise, the search for new sources of supply is turning to the sea floor. This emerging industry, facilitated by advances in technology, poses a major threat to our oceans, which are already suffering from a number of pressures including overfishing, pollution, and the effects of climate change.
The remote deep and open oceans host a major part of the world’s biodiversity, and are vital for our survival on Earth. The deep sea plays an important role in regulating planetary processes, including regulation of temperature and greenhouse gases. It supports ocean life by cycling nutrients and providing habitat for a staggering array of species.
Deep seabed mining could have serious impacts on the ocean environment and the future livelihoods and wellbeing of coastal communities. Only 3% of the oceans are protected and less than 1% of the high seas, making them some of the least protected places on Earth. The emerging threat of seabed mining is an urgent wake-up call.
And Prof Paul Tyler, also a biologist, of the National Oceanography Centre, warned that unique species would be at risk.
“If you wipe out that area by mining, those animals have to do one of two things: they disperse and colonise another hydrothermal vent somewhere or they die.
“And what happens when they die is that the vent will become biologically extinct.”
However, marine chemist Prof Rachel Mills, of the University of Southampton, called for a wider debate about mining generally on the grounds that we all use minerals and that mines on land are far larger than any would be on the seabed.
She has carried out research for Nautilus Minerals, a Canadian firm planning to mine hydrothermal vents off Papua New Guinea.
“Everything we are surrounded by, the way we live, relies on mineral resources and we don’t often ask where they come from,” she said.
“We need to ask whether there is sustainable mining on land and whether there is sustainable mining in the seas.
“I actually think it is the same moral questions we ask whether it’s from the Andes or down in the Bismarck Sea.”
This debate is set to intensify as the reality of the first mining operations comes closer.
David Shukman presents a documentary on deep sea mining on Discovery on the BBC World Service
Canadian mining company Nautilus Minerals Inc. has staked its reputation on bringing off the world’s first deep sea mining (DSM) operation. The Bismarck Sea in Papua New Guinea has been marked out as the testing ground for this unprecedented technology. Many other companies − from Japan, China, Korea, the UK, Canada, USA, Germany and the Russian Federation − are waiting to see if Nautilus can successfully bring metals from sea floor to smelter before taking the plunge themselves. They have already taken out exploration licenses covering over 1.5 million square kilometers of the Pacific sea floor.
This frenzy of DSM exploration is occurring in the absence of regulatory regimes or conservation areas to protect the unique and little known ecosystems of the deep sea and without meaningful consultation with the communities who will be affected by DSM. Furthermore, scientific research into impacts remains extremely limited and provides no assurance that the health of coastal communities and the fisheries on which they depend will be guaranteed.
The average American generates about 100 pounds of plastic waste a year. So did Beth Terry, until she read an article about plastic pollution in the oceans and saw a photograph of a dead albatross chick carcass filled with plastic products. Making the connection that her actions were harming a creature she never knew existed, she resolved to live a plastic free life. From January to November 2010, she generated less than 2 pounds of plastic waste.