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.
The 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.
Why 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.
We 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.