The ocean is the heart of our planet. Like your heart pumping blood to every part of your body, the ocean pumps life to our planet and to every person on it. To mark World Ocean Day on 8th June Michael Connolly of Transition Monaghan presents his perspective on the links between human activity, climate and our oceans and the future implications for everyone – including us in County Monaghan.
The oceans are a very large part of the biosphere and the impact of the changes we are observing on Monaghan as with all parts of the planet will be long term and profound. Many studies going back decades show that the impact of human activities and side effects, i.e. acidification, fishing, stratification and plastics pollution are leading to the death of the oceans. Evidence suggests that all this combined this will mean a mass extinction event followed by one on land also, which will almost certainly include us the human species. So put bluntly in order that we bring about a worst case scenario we need do nothing at all – merely continue business as usual.
By way of explanation the climate shows signs of having reached the point of self-reinforcing. Evidence shows that more than half the Co2 entering the atmosphere is coming from natural sources in a positive feedback process unaccounted for in any Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment. The obvious implication is that climate change is likely to continue to accelerate regardless of what we do with fossil fuels – but the more fossil we burn the more extreme it will be. Given also that we will likely see a blue water event (ice free Arctic) in the next couple of years, abrupt climate change is here and will overwhelm our human systems. We are badly behind the curve both in our understanding of the state of the climate system and what we need to do about it. I realise that this will seem a very bleak view but it is important to realise that it is based on sound research by many hundreds of scientists and evidence from the paleontological record. This outcome is not inevitable and there are mitigations and adaptations that could if enacted hold the possibility of preventing this most profound of global tragedies.
The first mitigation is that we must designate most of the world’s coastal waters as marine reserves and declare them off limits to all forms of industrial activity including fishing. Secondly we need to declare a climate emergency and instigate a crash programme to cease fossil fuel burning in an effort slow the rate at which Co2 is building in the atmosphere and oceans.
Thirdly we need to divert most economic activity that is not related to primary food production systems to broad scale adoption programmes to mitigate the effects of abrupt climate change which data from the environment strongly suggest is here.
I’m aware of the vanishingly small chance that the world will adopt this strategy, trapped as we are in our delusions of omnipotence. Having said all this there exists another possibility whose odds of occurrence are impossible to calculate. This is the possibility of abrupt climate change collapsing the global food production systems which could in turn collapse industrial civilization and possibly save the oceans in the nick of time but at the cost of billions of lives as the earth’s human carrying capacity contracts and the reduction of remnants of humanity to a pre-industrial level of subsistence.
World Oceans Day on Wednesday, 8 June is a global day of ocean celebration and awareness raising of the importance of our oceans. This year’s theme is ‘Healthy Oceans, Healthy Planet’ and it focuses on the prevention of plastic ocean pollution. See http://www.worldoceanday.org for details. In Ireland the only organised event to mark World Ocean Day is a family event on Sunday, 12 June which takes place in Galway Atlantaquaria in Salthill, Galway. It’s the world premiere of the animated film ‘Special Octonauts and Pelicans’. See http://www.nationalaquarium.ie/world-ocean-day.
Events in June can be found here