Stephen Harper and the Death of the Oceans

Posted on October 25, 2008

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This is one of a series of essays about Stephen Harper and his dangerous indifference to global climate change.  He (along with, unfortunately, a large number of Canadians) dismisses the scientific evidence of climate change as being less important than, for instance, the economy.  In fact, you cannot regard these two areas as separate from each other.  Without a healthy environment, no economy on the planet will flourish.  None.  Nada.  There will be no escaping the devastating long-term effects of climate change if we do nothing now.

For instance, the ocean.  Even if you think that the only people who have to worry about the affects of climate change on the ocean are those living in low-lying areas such as the Maldives and Bangladesh, you are wrong.  What is happening to the ocean is much more complex than that, and, honestly, we are a long way from knowing the whole story yet.

As an example, there is the fact that with progressively warming waters, the oceans are losing their ability to dissolve carbon dioxide.  Why does this matter?  Because the oceanic systems have been protecting the planet from excessive carbon for a long time.  They are a carbon sink, a place which takes up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and slows down the greenhouse effect.  But with warming, the ability of the oceans to dissolve carbon has lessened, meaning that more carbon dioxide is staying in the atmosphere and accelerating the process of global warming.  Which, of course, warms the oceans still more.  And so on.

But it goes further than that, because warming oceans are losing their ability to take up other gases as well, in particular, oxygen.  You probably remember from elementary school the function of gills on fish.  Fish have gills in order to take up oxygen from the water, because, like us, fish need oxygen to live.  Gills permit fish to breathe under water by taking up the oxygen dissolved in the water.  But without oxygen in the water, without available oxygen, just like us, fish die.

What this means in the short term is that the ocean is losing its ability to support fish. There will be fewer and fewer fish as time goes by, and fewer of those species which depend on fish such as dolphins, whales, seals, otters, seabirds, and so on.  I suspect this also means that much of the carbon to be found in the present biomass in the world’s oceans will be freed, and that some of it will find its way into the atmosphere to accelerate even more the warming process.  At the same time, those economies which depend on ocean resources to survive will become less and less viable, and some will collapse.  Japan, for instance, will certainly suffer.

In the long term, well, the oceans will become stinking hostile lakes, as dead as Great Salt Lake.  But humanity will be scrambling so hard to survive by that time that we probably won’t have time to notice.

Thank you, Stephen Harper, for protecting my paycheque.

Damn you, Stephen Harper, for helping to destroy our civilization, and for impoverishing my grandchildren.

We have to act, and act now to protect our world.  We cannot allow Stephen Harper and his oil company buddies to stand in our way.  We cannot let the promise of a few fat paycheques prevent us from seeing the long-term consequences of continuing our way of life without alteration.

If the world continues as it does now, in Canada and elsewhere, the oceans will die.  And so will we.

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Want to read about the effect of climate change on the oxygen levels in the oceans?  See

http://environment.newscientist.com/channel/earth/dn13818-growing-ocean-dead-zones-leave-fish-gasping.html