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Ocean Life Nearing Extinction by 2048

Since much of the media attention surrounding climate change focuses on the effects in our atmosphere or in Arctic environments, we don’t typically think of climate change as being a problem for our oceans.  However, scientists have been warning us for years that climate change, combined with unsustainable fishing practices and ocean dumping, is likely to completely decimate ocean life in the next 20 years.  In last century, 90% of fish and other ocean life has died.  Scientists predict that by 2048, the majority of fish and other ocean species will be extinct and the oceans will be rife with dead zones –areas that are de-oxygenized and can not support any life whatsoever.


Hearing devastating news like this, two questions become critical –why is this happening, and what can we do to stop it?  There are several reasons why the oceans are dying –unsustainable fishing for mass consumption in the industrial food system is one, ocean dumping is another– but the main reason is the increasing and unabated release of CO2 and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.  Burning fossil fuels releases these gases into the air, and there are only two main carbon banks in this world that sequester carbon, removing it from the atmosphere and bringing it back into natural systems.  One major carbon bank are our trees and forests, which turn CO2, water and sunlight into edible energy through photosynthesis.  The other major carbon bank is our oceans, which absorb CO2 and other toxins and filter them through ocean life.

20090127_deadfishThe problem is that we are burning far too many fossil fuels for our carbon banks to handle, which is leaving exaggerated levels of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere and is warming our planet with devastating effects (desertification, rising sea levels, flooding, more extreme weather events, melting the polar ice caps, drought, forest fires, etc.).  The added levels of CO2 being absorbed by the oceans is also having devastating effects on undersea environments.  Ocean acidification occurs when CO2 levels increase in the oceans as carbonic acid is formed when the oceans absorb this gas.  In the last two centuries, the oceans have dropped 0.1 pH units, which represents a 25% increase in ocean acidity.  Increased acidity eventually kills off coral reefs that support other sea life, and leads to the creation of dead zones.  Warmer temperatures in the waters also lead to coral bleaching, where corals expel their algae and turn white under stress, which typically leads to death.

cuttlefishWhy is it important that undersea life is going extinct?  Because if we allow these environments and organisms to die, and if we allow large areas of the ocean to become dead zones, the oceans will lose their effectiveness as carbon banks and we will have less and less chance of successfully mitigating climate change.  Without natural carbon banks, we will reach a tipping point with climate change where we can no longer slow the increase in global temperatures, leading to mass extinction in all terrestrial environments.  There were 5 mass extinctions in human history, all directly linked to the declining health of the oceans, and studies predict that killing the oceans through acidification and other unsustainable fishing and polluting practices has the potential to trigger the 6th mass global extinction.

What can we do?  Stop burning fossil fuels.  How do we do that?  We need to collectively stand up and take back democratic control of our governments from the corporations and the elite classes of people who support the exploitation of our natural resources for profit.  The tar sands in Canada are currently one of the greatest threats to a sustainable, fossil free future.  Developing the tar sands requires 12 barrels of water to process one barrel of sand, strips the land of the Boreal forest (that is needed as a carbon bank) and leaves toxic wells of water behind, and releases 3 times as much CO2 than regular crude while requiring an intensive investment of energy to extract.  The process is leaving humungous swaths of land uninhabitable, is giving local indigenous communities cancers and polluting their land and water, and is accelerating climate change on an international scale.  The only reason that development like this and fracking in the United States continue to move forward is because lobbyists and economists are more concerned with the profitability of such endeavors than with the survival of our planet and the wellbeing of the next generation.

ecosocialist-banner1We do not have time to waste allowing few to get rich while the majority of the world suffers.  Entire states like Tuvalu are being challenged by climate change to the point that they may not exist in the next decade.  Youth and climate activists worldwide are pleading with Western governments to take action and stop allowing corporations to decide the fate of the planet through a “market knows best” approach to social and environmental issues.  Clearly, free market idealism is completely contradictory to social equality or environmental integrity.  As ecosocialists have been preaching for years — we need system change, not just to try and address climate change.



  1. Interesting article.

    As a Canadian, I am embarrassed by the Alberta tar sands, and the actions/inactions the Harper Government has taken towards the issue. No environmental plan in Canada? How is that even possible? How are so many Canadians so ignorant towards the situation? We have a total population smaller than California alone, how hard could it be to educate our citizens?

    Even if some of the points here are sensationalized, I think it will serve to get people talking about the issues. Science, unfortunately, is not “sexy”, and I think that’s precisely the reason people don’t care about it.

    • Thank you for your comment. Yes, as a fellow Canadian, the tar sands are abysmal and there is no excuse to keep developing them.

      Further to your point, our obsession with “science” and expert intervention is also problematic. Science (along with capitalism and patriarchy) have long been tools of oppression and exclusion, requiring faith in ‘experts’ to do all possible pertinent research. However, there are many questions unanswerable by science alone –science can only answer questions that it has the tools to ask– and common sense needs to factor into peoples’ motivations for action as well. Denying serious concerns like these because there is currently not enough decisive evidence is what allows climate deniers to keep us firmly in the unsustainable and unjust status quo. The way science is co-opted to support the maintenance of current political economic power relations is often staggering. Clearly, ocean acidification, overfishing and global warming are not going to have positive effects on either the underwater or abovewater ecosystems, and we can’t afford to wait to see for sure that these extinctions will happen. By then, it will be too late.

  2. oh yeah, for a Canadian the tar sands and the Harper government are embarrassments! and I agree.. we may not be able to predict this kind of mass extinction for SURE, but the THREAT of these things happening or getting worse should be enough to get us moving. Canada most of all needs to get moving.

    • Thank you for your comment. You’re right, there is really no way to predict outright extinction, but we can surmise based on current overfishing and ocean acidification trajectories that we can certainly not keep going ‘business-as-usual’. If we’ve lost 90% in the last century, we aren’t far off!

    • Exactly. I’m less concerned about pinpointing exactly when things are going to be totally destroyed, and more concerned about when we’re actually going to take action.

  3. In all fairness, the oceans themselves will probably survive mass extinction as they’ve always done… *we* won’t. Or we’ll produce a world we probably won’t want to live in. Also dealing with fossil fuel emissions won’t stop the overfishing which is what has really decimated marine life if I’m reading the top chart right?

    • Yes, thank you for this comment. The headline might better read ‘HUMANS nearing extinction’ if we continue unapologetically down this path. And again, it’s impossible to know when that might occur, but it is important not to ignore the negative effects that particular actions are causing. And yes, overfishing is primarily what has been blamed for decimating the worlds’ fisheries, but other human-related processes (climate change) are exasperating the issue.

  4. The immediate, effective, and affordable solution is a partnership with Mother Nature to replenish and restore her ocean plankton pastures. Only plankton photosynthesis competes with the acid forming default reaction H2O+CO2=H2CO3 (carbonic acid)m ocean death. Add photosynthesis into that equation and you get H2O+CO2+plankton= Ocean Life.

    We have developed and demonstrated the power of ocean plankton pasture restoration and IT JUST WORKS!

    The cost of managing billions of tonnes of deadly CO2 by turning it into ocean life is mere millions not hundreds of billions… Wonder why this demonstrated proof has earning the ire of many sides, the greens, the academics, the industrialists, and governments… Follow the money! here’s a link for more

  5. Hello! I don’t know if it’s entirely possible to provide this right away, but I love this article. I even wound up doing a presentation to my english class about this subject. My teacher told me that I require at least 3 sources for our final term paper (which is on the same subject). I’m wondering if it’s possible if you could provide me with sources of where you got this information due to the fact that I’m not allowed to submit blogs for my research. If that’s possible, give me a reply. Thanks !

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