Saturday, January 17, 2015

2014 Hottest Year On Record - Oceans Threatened With Extinction: Do We Care?

One of the most disturbing pieces of news I read today, but tucked away on page 18A of The Denver Post, was entitled: 'Earth Could Become Unsafe for Humanity in Coming Decades'.  My first reaction was along the lines of 'Ho-hum, so what's new? This is just more what we already know on global warming.'  But in fact it was more, much more.

The article actually concerned the findings reported in a paper published in the journal Science by 18 researchers attempting to gauge the "breaking points" created by humans via their impacts on the natural world. These "breaking points" represent serious breaches with our environment and hence potential failures for human adaptation - which likely mean human extinction. 

The authors focused on nine planetary boundaries first identified in a 2009 paper. These boundaries set theoretical limits on the degree of changes we can impart to the environment without incurring great costs. They include: ozone depletion, freshwater use, ocean acidification, atmospheric aerosol pollution and the introduction of exotic chemicals and modified organisms.

The current paper contends we have already crossed four planetary boundaries, including the extinction rate of animals, plants, deforestation, the level of CO2 in the atmosphere and the flow of nitrogen and phosphorus (used on land as fertilizer) into the ocean.

Coincident with this report, two other pieces of environmental news today took center stage: the disclosure that 2014 was the hottest year on record - since records have been kept, with the Earth warming by 1.24F-  and the news that the oceans are exhibiting signs of extinction.

Let's take the last first. We are now closer than ever before  to completely destroying the oceans, according to warning sounded in a major new study published Thursday in the journal Science. From whales to anchovies, writes the team of scientists, who analyzed data from hundreds of sources, humans have “profoundly decreased” the abundance of marine life; as lead author Douglas J. McCauley, an ecologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, put it to the New York Times, “we may be sitting on a precipice of a major extinction event.”

The study combines everything from fossil records to current fish counts to arrive at an encyclopedia, of sorts, of the all the great and terrible ways human activity impacts the underwater world: the destruction of coral reefs by ocean acidification, of fragile ecosystems by fish farms, and of seabeds by mining operations number among the major changes they count. And continuing acidification — a consequence of our pouring carbon dioxide into the atmosphere — along with warming waters, they warn, threaten to accelerate the loss.

The authors compare what’s coming to what happened on land during the 1800s, when our consumption of resources led to the accelerated extinction of land-based animals. There are many parallels to be drawn: the effect of shrimp farms on mangroves are similar to how farming took over forests; seafloor mining is like an underwater gold rush.  ”All signs indicate that we may be initiating a marine industrial revolution,” McCauley told Discovery News. “We are setting ourselves up in the oceans to replay the process of wildlife Armageddon that we engineered on land.”

Of course, if the phytoplankton of the oceans are rendered extinct we will be in a truly parlous predicament given how they form the baseline of the ocean food pyramid. Hence, once they go all ocean life is likely to follow except perhaps jellyfish. Can humans subsist on diets of fried jellyfish instead of tuna or dolphins (fish not mammals)? Somehow I doubt it.

So consider that one planetary boundary well crossed including well into the "uncertainty zone" referenced in the current Science paper which denotes "a zone where we might take action before it's too late".

 Then there is the other report on 2014 being the hottest year ever which clearly denotes the CO2 boundary being crossed.  The effects are already here, as shown last night on a CBS News segment showing ocean water flooding streets on Miami Beach. The city has had to install massive flood pumps at a cost of nearly $300 million to try to keep the water out. As the city director said: "We're concerned and we need to do something about it now, we can't wait."

This, due to rising sea levels now - so imagine what the situation will be in ten years. (In the 1960s, no one ever saw or heard of such a thing)  In addition, the report notes that every ocean is warmer than ever before, producing melting glaciers as well as extreme weather - stronger typhoons in Asia and record drought in the U.S. West-southwest.   All this is due to the human consumption of fossil fuels, and led to 2014 being 1.24F above the 20th century average for temperatures.  (NOAA also said that last month was the hottest December on record and six months in 2014 set records for heat.)

In addition, 14 out of the 15 warmest years on record have happened since 1997. So much for the myth that warming "halted" since 1998! Only imbeciles like Jim Inhofe now buy into that bollocks, or should.

What is the cause of the boundary crossings and threats to human existence? According to the lead  author of the current Science paper, Will Steffen, of the Australian National University:
"What the science has shown is that human activities: economic growth, consumption, technology, are destabilizing the global environment".

He added that these are "urgent matters" - not to be taken lightly - and that the economic boom since 1950 and the globalized economy have accelerated transgression of the boundaries.
DO we care? Is this stuff, this news,  really getting through to us? If so, it means we need to act in concert with the information and cut down on those factors in our daily lives which exacerbate the boundary crossing trends. That includes decreasing our use of fossil fuels (incredibly,  with the price of gas falling,  many Americans are stupidly buying gas guzzlers and SUVs) and refusing to reduce consumption - including dependence on technology (Ipads, smart phones, cell phones).  All of which increase the probability of obsolescence and having to buy ever newer versions - increasing the mass of electronic waste and toxins in the environment  not to mention CO2 from production processes.

We may barely have a few years left for impactful action, which can at least stabilize the oncoming threats. But if we sit on our asses and do nothing our children and grandchildren will curse us in perpetuity - because a hellhole world is the one THEY will have to deal with. We who caused it will have long since shuffled our mortal coils.

See also:

No comments: