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The Perfectly Nasty Ocean Storm

The oceans of the world are currently experiencing a “perfect storm” that is nasty, real nasty with too much warming, too much acidification, too much CO2, too much fishing, too many chemicals, too much Ag runoff, too much radiation (Fukushima), and too little ice (Arctic Ocean) bringing on too much methane (CH4). Whew!

How much can the oceans handle?

The answer to that question may be coming to surface. According to ABC News, May 19, 2014, Mysterious Mass Animal Deaths All Over the World: “Millions of birds, fish, crabs and other small marine life have been turning up dead in massive numbers from the United States, through Europe and down to South America.”

Albeit, headlines about mysterious animal deaths must be tempered by evidence of similar events in the past, as for example, “Wildlife die-offs are an ancient phenomenon. One fossil site in Chile revealed recurring mass marine-mammal deaths, most likely from toxic algae blooms, dating back at least nine million years. Aristotle, in his ‘Historia Animalium,’ in the fourth century B.C., remarked on mass dolphin strandings as simply something that the animals were known to do ‘at times’,” J.B. Mackinnon, On Animal Deaths and Human Anxieties, The New Yorker, April 21, 2015.

That is not to downplay the seriousness of the foreboding signaled by the ABC headline about mass deaths. That needs to be taken seriously and studied. Indubitably, it is extremely important to be absolutely sure of correct analyses, connecting the dots is important. Otherwise, news reports and science are constantly on a wild goose chase, not knowing from where, or where to turn next.

This Time it’s Serious

However, after extensive research, it appears that “this time it’s different.” It is not merely the normal rhythm of nature when mass deaths occur every so often on an irregular basis over the millennia. No, it’s not purely happenstance, what’s happening today seems to have very serious implications, possibly affecting all life on the planet.

The First-Ever Quantitative Analysis of Mass Mortality Events

“Yet, recent research suggests that the perception of wildlife die-offs as more frequent and alarming than ever might have some basis in fact. In January, the first study ever to attempt to track trends in mass-mortality events was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences; the authors found that die-offs appear to be increasing in both number and magnitude, even after attempting to correct statistically for the fact that mass deaths are more likely to be documented today than they were in the past,” Ibid.

“Mass mortality events (MMEs), the rapid, catastrophic die-off of organisms, are an example of a rare event affecting natural populations. Individual reports of MMEs clearly demonstrate their ecological and evolutionary importance, yet our understanding of the general features characterizing such events is limited. Here, we conducted the first, to our knowledge, quantitative analysis of MMEs across the animal kingdom, and as such, we were able to explore novel patterns, trends, and features associated with MMEs. Our analysis uncovered the surprising finding that there have been recent shifts in the magnitudes of MMEs and their associated causes [underlined for emphasis],” Samuel B. Fey, et al, Recent Shifts in the Occurrence, Cause, and Magnitude of Animal Mass Mortality Events, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Vol. 112, No. 4, August 5, 2014.

“Every biologist I spoke with who is researching mass-mortality events, MMEs, said that many wildlife die-offs today really could be signals of serious problems with the ecological fundamentals of the planet,” J.B. Mackinnon, On Animal Deaths and Human Anxieties, The New Yorker, April 21, 2015.

Ecological Fundamentals Turn Sour

“Climate change is the biggest single threat to our Ocean’s health, but it’s not the only one. If the Ocean is to continue functioning at a level capable of sustaining life as we know it, we need to tackle climate change and alleviate the other pressures we exert upon it.” (State of the Ocean.org)

One way to alleviate the pressures is to substitute Eco Economics for today’s worldwide, omnipresent neoliberal (“privatization for profits only”) psycho socio-politico-economic practices, i.e., “Our free market economy is nothing more than a huge auction called ‘Supply and Demand’, which – very efficiently – puts a price on everything. The problem is that it allows us to sell everything – the last drop of oil, the last tree, the last fish, the last of everything. It’s called growth – but it is, obviously, growth into oblivion – the exact opposite of ecoEconomics. It is a fatal flaw of our present economic system. Or, as Greenpeace puts it: “When the last tree is cut, the last river poisoned and the last fish dead, we will discover that we can’t eat money.” (Eco Economics in a Nutshell, ecoeconomics.org)

Eco economics is the antithesis of neoliberalism’s “growth to oblivion” because it sustains rather than destroys nature. That’s not such a bad idea.

Meanwhile, the state of the ocean is best described: “If you cranked up the aquarium heater and dumped some acid in the water, your fish would not be very happy… In effect, that’s what we’re doing to the oceans,” Carl Zimmer, Ocean Life Faces Mass Extinction, Broad Study Says, The New York Times, Jan. 15, 2015.

Alas, the problem goes much deeper than ever thought possible: “Deep-water marine fish living on the continental slopes at depths from 2,000 feet to one mile have liver pathologies, tumors and other health problems that may be linked to human-caused pollution, one of the first studies of its type has found. Fish have been found with a blend of male and female sex organs. The findings appear to reflect general ocean conditions,” A Mile Deep, Ocean Fish Facing Health Impacts From Human Pollution, Oregon State University, March 25, 2015.

Because the university study “reflects general ocean conditions,” the outlook going forward does not look too good. It looks downright lousy.

And going back deeper into time, there is scientific evidence of a 300-million-year change in ocean fundamentals, which is cause for alarm, consternation, and hand wringing, maybe even sleeplessness because, once conditions over 300 million years change, there’s likely no going back until bad noxious things happen, to wit: “No past event perfectly parallels future projections in terms of disrupting the balance of ocean carbonate chemistry— a consequence of the unprecedented rapidity of CO2 release currently taking place,” Bärbel Hönisch, et al, The Geological Record of Ocean Acidification,” Science Magazine, Vol. 335, No. 6072, March 2, 2012.

“With all the CO2 we are releasing today, the chemistry of the oceans is now changing faster than at any time in the last 300 million years,” Today’s Academic Minute Interview of Dr. Bärbel Hönisch of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, WAMC, Northeast Public Radio, 90.3 FM.

Not only that, “When comparing past and present, we have to look for massive, rapid CO2 releases, because only these compare to what is happening today. The geologic event that best fits this pattern happened about 56 million years ago, when a massive natural release of fossil carbon caused a global temperature increase of 9 to 16 degrees Fahrenheit; massive dissolution of carbonate shells at the seafloor; and extinction among organisms on the seafloor and near the sea surface. This happened despite the fact that the CO2 release and resulting ocean acidification back then was at least 10 times slower than what is happening today,” Ibid.

Singularly, after 300 million years, CO2 release and ocean acidification have set all-time speed records.

So, recapping Hönisch’s conclusion, after studying 300 million years of the geological record, she cannot predict a future outcome for today’s scenario because “of the unprecedented rapidity of CO2 release currently taking place.”

Plus, it was only 56 million years ago when really awful things happened “despite the fact that the CO2 release and resulting ocean acidification back then was at least 10 times slower than what is happening today.”

Maybe somebody should be ringing the ole clarion bell on the public square, one helluva storm is brewing offshore, and it could get ugly. The biggest clarion bell should be rung, the real big one, not the smaller one, and keep on ringing because the message needs to go far and wide all the way to Paris for COP21, the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris, Nov. 30th – Dec. 11th.

The Conference of the Parties (“COP”) has become a multi-decade soap opera with little to show except for heavy expense accounts, which tabs are picked up by taxpayers. Here’s the problem: “Countries play the Passenger Theory. Each country has an interest to allow others to cut their emissions of greenhouse gases rather than do it themselves,” The COP21 in Paris: Will it be a Success or a Failure? One Europe, Feb. 14, 2015.

Climate activists state the obvious: “What we saw in Lima COP20 [Dec 2014 Westin Hotel and Convention Center] is another in a long series of failures, failing people, failing the planet.” As it happens, 11,000 delegates from over 190 countries assembled for two solid weeks in Lima (that’s a lot of Beluga caviar and Domaine Armand Rousseau). Their goal was to remove obstacles in anticipation of COP21 in Paris. Results fell short.

Dateline: Nov. 30th COP21 Paris: Do you believe in miracles?

More articles by:

Robert Hunziker lives in Los Angeles and can be reached at rlhunziker@gmail.com.

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