Ocean apocalypse: Data-based trends suggest looming disaster

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President, Illinois Renewable Energy Association

Jeremy Jackson, respected ocean researcher, gave a presentation to the Naval War College called “Ocean Apocalypse” that makes the case that the ocean is changing and we have caused it. It can be seen as a 1-1/2 hour video on YouTube.

Dr. Jackson, a senior scientist emeritus at the Smithsonian Institution and professor of oceanography emeritus at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, foresees disaster, based on current environmental trends.

The video is a grim reminder of the extent of damage coming from our way of life, including, but beyond that, of climate change.

Jackson sees our environmental problems as social, economic and political, with all of us contributing to them as we enjoy our existing lifestyle.

The major adverse impacts on the ocean are from overfishing, pollution and climate change.

Fish biomass has been systematically reduced over the last 100 years. Global fishing removes the protein source from a billion poor people. The most dramatic collapse is that of the once-abundant cod fishery along the Atlantic coast.

Trawling for shrimp scrapes the ocean bottom, reducing productivity. Ocean pollution from garbage, sewage and toxins adds to the problem. Birds such as albatrosses have been found dead along shorelines, their stomachs filled with cans and plastic.

The dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico is similar in size to Lake Erie and primarily results from fertilizer runoff from Midwest cornfields. In 2001, there were 150 dead zones in the oceans; by 2013, they increased to 400 with no signs of decreasing.

The arctic ice caps are expected to be gone within 10 to 30 years. With the melting of sea ice, some polar bears are staying on land feeding at garbage dumps.

The pH of the oceans has fallen, slowing calcium fixation in coral, clams and oysters, threatening their existence.

The average temperature of the sea has increased. As the water warms, it slows the descent of lighter surface water to the depth characteristic of ocean turnover, limiting the upwelling of nutrients essential for fish food.

One sign of hope is that Hurricane Sandy has crystalized a determination in New York and New Jersey to tackle the challenge of climate change.

Within the lifetime of a child born today, rising sea levels are expected to permanently cover south Florida. An oil executive informed Jackson that they are already hiring a Dutch engineer to study the possibility of the Louisiana shoreline moving inland to Baton Rouge, La. The extent of the damage would be exceedingly costly and beyond the ability of insurance firms to cover it.

Jackson sees climate change as the greatest security threat facing the U.S. and the globe, and organized his presentation to alert the public to the need to change our economy. Continuous economic growth is not sustainable.

While energy conservation, efficiency and renewable energy are partial solutions, we need a means to either liquefy or solidify the excessive levels of climate-changing gases that have accumulated in the atmosphere.

Assuming the data-based trends continue, Jackson wonders what Earth will be like by 2100 — and who and what will be alive.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. E-mail sonia@essex1.com.

From the March 19-25, 2014, issue

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