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Killing the Ocean

CLIMATE POLITICS-The oceans are “crying for mercy,” a fact that is starkly revealed in a telling 900-page draft of a forthcoming UN report due for release September 25.

The draft report, obtained by Agence France-Presse (AFP), assesses the status of the oceans and cyrosphere. It’s a landmark UN report, and it’s not a pretty picture. 

In the final analysis, the report discusses behavior that amounts to self-destruction, a reality largely ignored by most of the leading countries throughout the world. It’s all about greenhouse gassing as a result of human interference in the climate system--evidence that humans are heat machines. 

The opening statement in AFP’s news release states: “The same oceans that nourished human evolution are poised to unleash misery on a global scale unless the carbon pollution destabilizing Earth’s marine environment is brought to heel.” (Source: “Oceans Turning from Friend to Foe, Warns Landmark UN Climate Report,” Agence France Presse, August 29, 2019.) 

This Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change “Special Report” states “destructive changes are already set in motion,” referencing loss of fish stocks, a 100-fold increase in super-storm damage, and hundreds of millions of people displaced by rising sea levels. A 100-fold increase of super-storms plus hundreds of millions of displaced people should draw immediate political action, such as a WWII-like Marshall Plan to fight anthropogenic climate change. But will it happen?  

In addition, powerful evidence of the human link to radical biological shifts in the world’s oceans is poignantly described in Dahr Jamail’s brilliant book: The End of Ice (The New Press, 2019). 

Dahr describes a personal visit with Bruce Wright, senior scientist with the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association and former section chief for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for eleven years, to wit: 

By 1975, the water in the Gulf of Alaska had already warmed up 2C. At the time, the entire biological system shifted, causing the Alaska Fish and Game Department to “shut down the fisheries to protect what was left. . .  The dramatic shift across the biological system in the Gulf of Alaska in the 1970s was the first evidence of profound change that Wright witnessed, and he attributed it directly to the waters being warmed by climate disruption.” (Jamail, pg. 60.) 

Thereafter, Dahr fast-forwards to 2016 with shocking descriptions of the ravages of human-generated climate change (Jamail, pgs. 60-64), as follows:

“‘This last summer, the gulf warmed up 15°C warmer than normal in some areas,’ Wright told me, ‘Yes, you heard me right, 15°C. And it is now, overall, 5°C above normal in both the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea, and has been all winter long.’” 

“My head swam [Jamail]. The biological shift that caused the fisheries to close in the 1970s came from a 2°C change in water temperature. . . ‘Imagine what is going on out in the Gulf of Alaska right now,’ he said, giving several examples, including die-offs among fin whales.” 

“We [Jamail and Wright] spoke about the declining numbers of halibut . . . The massive die-off of murres across the entirety of Alaska [that] had been dominating the local news. . . witnessing the largest murre die-off in the state’s recorded history. . . starvation. . . striking numbers, by tens of thousands. . . the result of water temperatures so high that we not only had extensive paralytic shellfish poisoning, we had a huge bloom of Alexandrium . . sand lances had become toxic from feeding on marine PSP toxin. . . These toxins moved up the food chain. Nearly every animal, from salmon to whales to cod to diving birds, like puffins, auks, cormorants, and terns eat the sand lances or the larvae. . . Sea otters, stellar sea lions, and northern fur seals have all seen shocking population declines across western Alaska. . . All of our oceans are being affected by these toxic, harmful algal blooms now.” 

“Later that summer, National Geographic reported how toxic algal blooms (as a result of warming oceans) were spreading across the planet, poisoning both people and marine life.” 

“Wright was certain the driving factor was climate disruption, which was warming the North Pacific and Bering Sea and leading to a dramatic increase in PSP. Anyone foolish enough to come to the Aleutians and eat forage fish is playing Russian roulette with their life, he said. Alaska Division of Public Health states clearly that ‘some of these toxins are 1,000 times more potent than cyanide, and toxin levels contained in a single shellfish can be fatal to humans.’” 

Meanwhile, “Earth’s oceans continue to absorb over 90 percent of the excess heat trapped by greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.” 

It’s that source of ocean heat that’s primarily extinguishing marine life. As such, civilization in toto is subjecting itself to suicidal behavior by failing to listen to scientists and failing to enact emergency measures to convert fossil fuels into renewables. It’s a deadly situation, but still not resonating nearly enough to save the oceans. 

Additionally, according to the aforementioned AFP report, without cuts in human-caused emissions, at a minimum, 30% of the Northern Hemisphere’s permafrost will melt this century, which would release billions upon billions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere, which is already filled to the brim with greenhouse gases, thereby accelerating global warming. 

All in all, the overall tragedy of the ocean crisis prompts obvious questions: What does it take for world political leadership (especially in America, purportedly, the leader of the free world) to push the big red emergency buttons? Should political leaders be transported to see first-hand the sea animal deaths? Should world leaders be “challenged” to eat Alaskan forage fish? 

Seabirds are literally falling out of the sky along the West Pacific Coast (“For Five Years Running Now, Mass Seabird Mortality Events Continue in Alaska Waters Which Continue to be Warmer Than Normal,” Alaska Nature & Science, August 2019). Sea lion carcasses line beaches from Vancouver Island to Southern California (“Surge in Sick, Hungry Sea Lions Off California’s Coast Puzzles Marine Biologists,” The Sacramento Bee, July 4, 2019.) Whale deaths are disturbingly too frequent (“Feds Declare Emergency as Grey Whale Deaths Reach Highest Level in Nearly 20 Years,” Phys.org, June 4, 2019.) The largest toxic algal bloom ever recorded shut down California’s crab industry for months. Alaska is experiencing spikes in deaths of sea otters (“Officials Investigate Otter Deaths in Southwestern Alaska,” KTOO, Public Media, March 2018), as well as the abrupt deaths of several whale species. 

Mass sea animal deaths, year after year, are not normal. 

The world community must hold its political leaders accountable for this abject failure to react. If it were otherwise, meaning, if they listened to science and acted accordingly, then emergency governmental acts would be underway all across the globe. . .but they’re not. 

After all, it’s truly a life and death matter that is hidden from public view since global warming hits hardest where the fewest people live but where the world’s most elementary and primary food chain is rapidly coming apart at the seams. 

Imagine toxins 1,000 times more toxic than cyanide spreading throughout the world’s oceans. Actually, imagination is not even necessary because it’s already started in Alaska. For Pete’s sake, first-hand evidence is readily available by simply talking to “locals,” which is what Dahr Jamail did prior to writing his book. 

At some near point in the future, it is highly probable that environmental degradation will “force the hand” of the public into open rebellion. Throughout history, this has happened “out of the blue.” Ka-boom! 

Postscript: The Trump administration is changing how the federal government “implements key laws” under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA). Henceforth, governmental agencies will be able to (1) “ignore” climate change implications of their actions as well as (2) “avoid” public disclosure of their scheming. This is an extremely radical departure from the original “legal intent” of the NEPA.

 

(Robert Hunziker lives in Los Angeles and is a CityWatch contributor. He can be reached at rlhunziker@gmail.com.) Photo credit: Tiago Fioreze – CC BY-SA 3.0

Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.