the darkening sea

by John Hocevar

December 4, 2006

Hello, Ocean Defenders!

There is an outstanding piece called the Darkening Sea in the New Yorker on what ocean acidification – caused by the absorption of CO2 by seawater – is projected to do to marine life.  It has only been three years since the term was introduced, and our understanding of acidification will do to marine life is still largely theoretical. Essentially, the problem is that as the ocean absorbs CO2, it becomes more acidic, making it more and more difficult (and eventually, impossible) for organisms to form shells.  This effects everything from coral reefs and clams to many of the species of plankton that form the base of the food chain.

What is at stake is shocking: millions of species are at risk, and entire
ecosystems may disappear.  Food webs would be dramatically altered, favoring
jellyfish and soft bodied organisms over anything producing a shell or
skeleton at any phase of its life cycle.  We may be looking at the greatest
planetary extinction on record (within what is ALREADY known as the "sixth
extinction," a reference to the fact that the industrial period is
responsible for a level of extinction only seen five times in the history of
the earth).  A scientist at U. of California feels it may be analogous to the KT
extinction 65 million years ago, when the earth was hit by an asteroid six
miles across.  Along with the dinosaurs, half of all coral species
disappeared, and over a third of marine genera went extinct.

Check out this quote from the article, from Ken Caldeira at Stanford

"[Members of Congress] asked, ‘what’s the appropriate emissions target?’ And
I said, ‘Zero.’ "If you’re talking about mugging little old ladies, you don’t
say, ‘What’s our target for the rate of mugging little old ladies?’ You say,
‘Mugging little old ladies is bad, and we’re going to try to eliminate it.’
You recognize you might not be a hundred per cent successful, but your goal
is to eliminate the mugging of little old ladies. And I think we need to
eventually come around to looking at carbon-dioxide emissions the same way."

Clearly, it’s going to take a real sea change in U.S. energy policy to prevent a disaster.  Where are the congressional champions who will rise to this challenge?  For info on what you can do, visit 

John H

John Hocevar

By John Hocevar

An accomplished campaigner, explorer, and marine biologist, John has helped win several major victories for marine conservation since becoming the director of Greenpeace's oceans campaign in 2004.

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