The Extinction Event Gains Momentum

Photo by Bryan Alexander | CC BY 2.0

“In the next few decades we’ll be driving species to extinction a thousand times faster than we should be,” Dr. Stuart Pimm, conservation ecologist, Duke University.

“It is quite possible that the baby boomer generation is the most impactful generation that this planet has ever seen,”(Source: Racing Extinction directed by Louie Psihoyos, Discovery Channel, 2015).

The Great Suffocation

Imagine for a moment that phytoplankton, the foundation of the aquatic food web startlingly dies off. All of a sudden gone! Phytoplankton feeds everything from microscopic zooplankton to multi-tonne Blue Whales (the largest animal on Earth). But first and foremost, every 2nd human breath is oxygen produced by phytoplankton. Without phytoplankton, life dies.

According to Dr. Boris Worm, marine research ecologist at Dalhousie University and head of the Worm Lab study of marine biodiversity: The planet has lost 40% of plankton production over the past 50 years, primarily as a consequence of climate change/global warming. “We are changing the geology of the planet. We are changing the ocean chemistry… The anthropocene means that what happens to this planet is now in our hands.” (Boris Worm, et al, Global Phytoplankton Decline Over the Past Century, Nature Vol. 466, Issue 7306, July 29, 2010 and interview in Racing Extinction)

“Falling oxygen levels caused by global warming could be a greater threat to the survival of life on Earth than flooding, according to researchers from the University of Leicester.” The study claims an increase of water temps of six degrees Celsius, which could occur as soon as 2100, could stop oxygen production by phytoplankton. (Source: Global Warming Disaster Could Suffocate Life on Planet Earth, Research Shows, University of Leicester Press Office, Dec. 1, 2015).

Deadly Ocean Acidification

When cars, trucks, planes, and factories emit carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere, it doesn’t all stay there. The ocean absorbs one-third up to one-half. In turn, CO2 reacts with water and forms carbonic acid resulting in a more acidic ocean, prompting the question: What is the problem with acidic ocean water? Answer: Drop seashells in a glass of vinegar. Over time, the shells dissolve.

For a real time example of changing ocean chemistry, professional hatcheries of shellfish in America have already experienced too much ocean acidification. Ocean water intakes for inland shellfish hatcheries killed off shellfish larvae because of excessive acidity.

Taylor Shellfish Farms (100 years of farming the World’s Best Oysters) Bill Dewey claims: “The rate of change that we’re seeing in the ocean and the changes it’s going to create in our food chain, it’s going to be dramatic and it’s going to be in our lifetime. The things that we’re used to eating may not be available any more, and we’ll need to transition to eating jellyfish or something like that.” (Source: Racing Extinction)

Bon appétit, tonight’s menu: Boiled Jellyfish.

“No one knows exactly how marine life around the world will fare as the seas continue to sour, but fear is spreading. ‘People who are aware are panicked,’ said Dewey, who recently traveled to New York to speak at the United Nation’s first Ocean Conference. ‘The level of awareness is increasing rapidly and the story is getting out there.” (Source: Lisa Stiffler, Investigate West, Climate Change Turns Puget Sound Acidic and Region’s Signature Oysters Struggle to Survive, July 10, 2017).

It is very discomforting (and then some) to read Dewey’s prophetic words: “People who are aware are panicked.”

Skyrocketing CO2

“The rate of carbon dioxide growth over the last decade is 100 to 200 times faster than what the Earth experienced during the transition from the last Ice Age,” Peter Tans, atmospheric scientist at ESRL, said in a press release. “This is a real shock to the atmosphere.” (Source: Brian Kahn, Carbon Dioxide Is Rising at Record Rates, Climate Central, March 2017).

According to Dr. Jen Veron, former chief scientist, Australian Institute of Marine Science: “There’s been five mass extinctions… there’s been one common factor in all, a massive increase in carbon dioxide, and we’ve never had a carbon dioxide spike like we’re having now” (Source: Racing Extinction)

Unfortunately, growth of CO2 in the atmosphere is accelerating, not decelerating or holding steady, even though CO2 from fossil fuels has barely grown over the past three years. Ouch! In 2016 CO2 grew by more than 3.00 ppm, a new record and considerably higher than the rate in 2015. This is deeply troubling. The reasons are multi-fold but significantly, it is believed the oceans have turned from carbon sinks to new sources of CO2 emission. “Oceans appear to have turned from sinks into sources of CO2, releasing CO2 into the atmosphere.” (Source: Accelerating Growth in CO2 Levels in the Atmosphere, Arctic News, Feb. 25, 2017).

It is mind boggling how much science-based evidence exists about the destructiveness of human-generated carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The world community knows this. Otherwise, why did 195 countries adopt the Paris Agreement in 2015?

Interestingly, Trump’s exit strengthens the Paris Agreement. Several governing details have not yet finalized. Negotiators will be working between now and 2020, committing those details to paper. If the U.S. had stayed in the agreement, Rex Tillerson’s State Department would have veto power in the talks, likely weaken the agreement even more than it already stands.

Still, with/without Trump, too little too late remains the major question mark overhanging the Paris Agreement, and furthermore, it’s not properly structured to stop the extinction event.

Postscript: “One saw a bird dying, shot by a man. It was flying with rhythmic beat and beautifully, with such freedom and lack of fear. And the gun shattered it; it fell to the earth and all the life had gone out of it. A dog fetched it, and the man collected other dead birds. He was chattering with his friend and seemed so utterly indifferent. All that he was concerned with was bringing down so many birds, and it was over as far as he was concerned. They are killing all over the world… Man is the only animal that is to be dreaded.” Jiddu Krishnamurti, Indian Philosopher

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

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