To many who have paid attention to the developing climate change crisis, the news that a mass extinction could occur in the world’s oceans shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. Climate change isn’t just about higher surface temperatures and slightly different precipitation patterns. No, a set of issues are currently unfolding. That set is getting more complex and more pertinent to our daily lives. A preliminary report, issued by the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO), begins to detail just how dangerous our actions are to the oceans. Among other things, the report’s findings are of critical importance because the panel found that ocean degeneration is already occurring at a much faster rate than has been previously projected.
“The findings are shocking,” Dr. Alex Rogers, IPSO’s scientific director, said in a statement released by the group. “This is a very serious situation demanding unequivocal action at every level. We are looking at consequences for humankind that will impact in our lifetime, and worse, our children’s and generations beyond that.”
Indeed, recent research shows that the ocean’s temperature won’t recover to pre-Industrial Age levels for thousands of years. The same thing goes for acidification and sea level rise. If a mass extinction occurs, sea life won’t recover for hundreds of thousands to millions of years. Since a majority of the world’s population is dependent on sea life for their daily sustenance, a mass extinction would have enormous ramifications for our species for longer than we’ve been a species.
So, what’s the problem? Or better yet, what are the problems? An increase of both hypoxia (low oxygen) and anoxia (lack of oxygen that creates “dead zones”) in the oceans, warming, and acidification are the causal factors of previous mass extinctions. Guess what’s going on today? Record-sized dead zones are occurring across the planet; the oceans have warmed and will continue to do so for at least hundreds of years; and the oceans are acidifying. Both the warming and acidification are likely occurring at rates that are multiple times faster than what occurred naturally in the geologic past.
What needs to be done?
The IPSO report calls for such changes, recommending actions in key areas: immediate reduction of CO2 emissions, coordinated efforts to restore marine ecosystems, and universal implementation of the precautionary principle so “activities proceed only if they are shown not to harm the ocean singly or in combination with other activities.” The panel also calls for the UN to swiftly introduce an “effective governance of the High Seas.”
We hold the fate of global ecosystems in our hands. It is solely up to the decisions of our species whether mass extinctions occur and the planet becomes uninhabitable by modern societies. Will this report join the growing body that have been largely ignored in the past? This report has received more attention in the corporate media than most reports of similar importance. That’s a good thing. But it means little if policy makers continue to drag their feet while enjoying their access to power. That such a frivolous thing could spell the end of today’s ecosystems…