Monday, November 20, 2006

The rise of the slime

No not James Carville who tried and didn't succeed in sliming Howard Dean.

I am referencing an article, The Darkening Sea by Elizabeth Kolbert in the 11/20 The New Yorker. It is a report about ocean acidification brought about by the absorption of human created CO2 into the oceans. Scientists have only recently begun to study the effects of carbon dioxide on ocean water and the ecosystems within it. Turns out that the carbon dioxide begins a string of chemical reactions that result in the ocean water becoming more acid which turns out to be a real killer for calcium-producing critters -- those that live in shells or reefs.

The predictions are dire. It just isn't global warming leading to rising waters -- it is also what is happening to the water itself. What seems likely is that the long food chains from planketon on up through the fish, whales and dophins will be severely disrupted.

Says Thomas Lovejoy "It is going to send all kinds of ripples through marine ecosystems, because of the importantce o f calcium carbonate for so many organisms in the oceans, including those at the base of the food chain....It's a systemic will see shifts in favor of invertebrates, or the reign of jellyfish."

Ulf Riebesell, who works at the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences In Kiel had this to say:

"The risk is that at the end we will have the rise of slime."

The Royal Society of London (the Brits are so much more on top of environmental issues than we are) issued a report summed up here:
  • carbon dioxide from the atmosphere dissolves in the ocean, and makes it acid.
  • This is inevitable with high carbon dioxide, no fancy models are involved.
  • The oceans are already 30% more acid that before fossil fuel burning started
  • Acidification will kill corals, and probably make many other species (like squid) extinct
  • The overall effects are unknown - there has been no period like this in the last 2 Million years
And you can check out some ocean charts with predictions for acidification over the next 100 years here.

In The New Yorker article, one scientist (Ken Caldeira) states that there is no point of stabalization in the process of eliminating carbon dioxide emissions. The target has to be zero emissions. "If you're talking about mugging litle 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 percent 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."

Sounds pretty bad and how the heck are we going to stop the human race from firing up the furnace, the auto, the factories producing the latest in fashionable clothing and home furnishings and so on? Ken Caldeira turns out to be some what of an optimist! In this interview he lists some possible alternative energy sources, including harvesting energy from the jet stream (high altitude wind power) as well as putting solar photovoltaics either out in space or on the moon.

But while waiting for science and technology to move forward on those alternative energy sources, the only rational thing to do is to cut down on carbon emissions as much as possible.

So go here and figure out how much carbon YOU are emitting. Then go here to find out how to offset what you emit.

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