As lawmakers in Washington continue to ignore the most pressing issue facing our planet today – climate change – we are about to pass a very disturbing environmental milestone.
The CO2 levels at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii will reach 400 ppm any day now, which could spell further disaster for our planet.
Since measurements started at Mauna Loa in 1958, there has been a steady increase in CO2 concentration, known as the “Keeling Curve.”
Named after Charles Keeling, who started measuring CO2 air concentrations in 1858, the Keeling Curve measures the concentration of CO2 in the air in parts per million.
Since 1960, the CO2 concentration at Mauna Loa has increased by almost 28%.
Thanks to our society’s toxic addiction to fossil fuels, unprecedented levels of CO2 are being pumped into our environment each and every day.
But why have CO2 concentrations increased so much over the past few decades?
Part of it has to do with increased industrialization and reliance on dirty fossil fuels, but part of it also has to do with the world’s oceans.
According to Richard Bellerby, Research Scientist at the Norwegian Institute for Water Research, the oceans have “been performing a huge climate service over the last 200 years.”
That’s because oceans have the ability to absorb CO2, which prevents it from escaping into the atmosphere. By holding the CO2 in the oceans, they’ve been slowing, or at least postponing, the speed of global climate change.
In fact, the world’s oceans, especially the coldest waters, have absorbed about 50 percent of the CO2 that we’ve emitted, and continue to take up about a quarter of the CO2 that we produce every day now.
But the oceans and the ecosystems within them are now paying a steep price for taking in all that CO2.
As the world’s oceans absorb more and more CO2, they become more and more acidic, and, according to a new study released yesterday by the Norwegian Institute for Water Research at the International Conference on Arctic Ocean Acidification, the rapid acidification of the Arctic Ocean has pushed us beyond “critical thresholds.”
It’s likely, they say, that widespread impacts will be felt across the world’s oceans for “tens of thousands of years” – even if we stopped all carbon emissions today.
Dubbed “climate change’s evil twin,” acidification of ocean surface waters has increased by around 30 percent over the last 200 years, with the highest levels of acidification occurring in the Arctic and the rest of the world’s coldest waters.
Richard Bellerby, the chief scientist on the report, said that, “Arctic ocean acidification is happening at a faster rate than found in other global regions. This is because climate change such as warming and freshening of the oceans is acting in tandem with the enormous oceanic uptake of C02.”
And Bellerby told BBC News that “continued rapid change is a certainty.”
Another researcher on the study, Sam Dupont of the University of Gothenburg, told the conference that, “something really unique is happening. This is the first time that we as humans are changing the whole planet; we are actually acidifying the whole ocean today.”
Dupont also said that, “Within a few decades, by the end of this century, the ocean will be two times more acidic. And we also know that it might be even faster in the Arctic.”
As the oceans become more acidic, they’re less able to absorb CO2, which means more of what we’re blowing out our tailpipes and smokestacks will stay in our atmosphere and speed up global warming and climate change.
But more importantly, ocean acidification leads to mass ocean species extinction.
One example of a possible species extinction that the scientists at the conference gave was of the brittle star.
When exposed to the ocean acidification conditions that can be expected in the decades to come, the eggs of the brittle star die within days.
If the brittle star dies off, than the species that feed on it could die off as well and there would be a massive chain reaction of oceanic species extinctions.
And if the oceans die, we die.
It’s that simple.
The bottom-line here is that our addiction to fossil fuels, throwing into the atmosphere carbon that’s been stored deep in the earth for millions of years, is not only polluting our skies and wreaking havoc on our climate, it’s also destroying our oceans and the species in them.
It’s time to ditch fossil fuels, make the switch to cleaner and greener forms of energy, and save the world’s oceans, before they die and we go with them.