Monday, December 28, 2015

Hey climate change deniers, what about the oceans?

From time to time, I come across people who still want to debate climate change. I see that they are almost entirely focused on the temperature, average temperature and precipitation. There are still people who don't believe that humans are responsible for the change in climate we've been witnessing over the last 30 years. There are still some who don't even believe that the climate is changing. This despite a consensus among scientists that humans are causing it.

The people who say that we should just go on burning oil, gas and coal have much to gain from the use of carbon as an energy source. They've been spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) about any attempt to legislate away the use of carbon fuels for decades.

But one issue they refuse to discuss is the environmental impact of carbon fuels, from extraction to the end product, CO2. On this blog, I've talked about the deathprint of various energy sources. I've also discussed some of the incredibly toxic accidents that occur on weekly basis with the transport and storage of carbon fuels and waste products. I've also talked about the desolate, unlivable land left behind by mining and the drilling. In California, there is a massive natural gas leak ongoing right now and it will be months before the leak is capped. Our use of carbon fuels has been a monumental ecological disaster, worldwide.

While the climate change debate around carbon fuels is an important consideration, there is something else much more important to bring up: the ocean. The ocean covers almost 80% of the earth and is the source of the vast majority of life on the planet. It is not just a driver of climate on the planet. It is a driver of almost all life here. Kill the ocean and much of the life on the planet goes with it.

The plants that produce most of our oxygen are known as phytoplankton. They're tiny plants that float in the ocean, collect sunlight and use that energy to metabolize CO2 into O2, the gas we need to breathe. 50-85% of the all of the oxygen produced on the planet comes from the phytoplankton in the ocean.

Phytoplankton, like us, require certain conditions to live. One of them is a proper pH level in the water. The pH level of water is a measure of the acidity in water. In humans, the blood must remain at a constant level of pH. Move it one number either way and we die. The same is true for phytoplankton. If the ocean becomes more acidic, they start to die off in large numbers.

Some scientists are raising alarms that the oceans are becoming too acidic as CO2 levels rise and unless we make a change now, and very quickly, we could lose a major source of oxygen, the phytoplankton. But it doesn't stop there. Phytoplankton are at the bottom of the food chain. If the phytoplankton die off, that will send ripples up the food chain and eventually, it will reach us. Can you imagine a world without fish? Sharks? Dolphins? Whales? That's where we're headed at our current rate of carbon use. We could see the rise of the slime in our lifetime.

If the phytoplankton go, we go. Or, at the very least, life is going to become very difficult to sustain for 7 billion people. So while we've been talking about the temperature, we've been misdirected away from a much, much bigger problem.

There is hope yet that humanity will get a clue stick without dying from it. We can decarbonize our economy. Yes, we can use wind, solar and geothermal energies. There is an abundance of clean energy around us. But we need to act quickly and consistently.

Most of the clean energy available to us is not that consistent compared to say, nuclear energy. France is one example of a country where nuclear energy accounts for 80% of their requirements. They recycle the vast majority of their fuels in pressurized light water reactors with uranium, leaving very little waste to deal with.

An even better hope for the future is thorium molten salt reactors. It is not a question of if these reactors work. It's a question of when we can make them commercially viable as a going concern. It is probable that we will have a commercially viable reactor within 5 years with the Thorcon modular reactor.

There is also the question of political will. The carbon fuel industry has gone to enormous lengths to foment FUD on nuclear power. That industry is willing to say or do anything to keep the gravy train rolling, even if that means destroying the ecosystem we live in.

In a nutshell, we've been sold a bad bill of goods by the carbon industry, wreaking destruction upon our air, water and land, and waging wars to do it. Now, the carbon fuel industry would like to walk away quietly before they are held to account for all of the damage they've done.

So even if the climate changes deniers are right in their beliefs about the state of the climate, they still have a lot of explaining to do about the state of the environment. If we are witness to a mass extinction in the oceans, life is going to get really tough for all the remaining animals, including us.

We need to expand the scope of the debate around carbon beyond climate change. We need to talk about the $5 trillion in subsidies received by the carbon fuels industry every year. We need to talk about the environmental damage caused by carbon fuels. We need to talk about our oceans, the source of all life on the planet after the sun, and save it for our children and their children.

By expanding the scope of the debate, we can then have an honest discussion about whether or not we should continue to use carbon based fuels to power humanity.

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