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Sustainability – the joke is on us

I usually don’t remember jokes; but I do remember a skit I heard half a century ago.  An unflappable BBC radio announcer reads the news: “Whitehall announced today that the World will end at 12 midnight tonight Greenwich mean time. In other news, in cricket, Britain defeated India with a score of…”

A report by The International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) was issued last month and warned the Ocean was on the brink of catastrophe. Canada`s media briefly noted it and then went on to more important items.

Every breath you take, every drop of water you drink can be traced back to the Ocean. The Ocean produces over half the oxygen in our atmosphere. It contains more life forms than the total of all the plants and animals found on land.

The IPSO press release stated: “Unless action is taken now, the consequences of our activities are at a high risk of causing, through the combined effects of climate change, over-exploitation, pollution and habitat loss, the next globally significant extinction event in the ocean. It is notable that the occurrence of multiple high intensity stressors has been a prerequisite for all five global extinction events of the past 600 million years.”

The lead author of the report, Dr Alex Rogers, put it more succinctly, “If the Ocean goes down, it’s game over.”

You can download the full report or a brief summary of it at the IPSO website:

The report’s conclusions are blunt: ‘We have a narrow range of opportunity in which to prevent the decline and collapse of the Earth’s Ocean system.

Issues are acting synergistically and much quicker than anticipated to increase the threat to marine life. Phytoplankton, the food base for all marine life is threatened by Ocean acidification. Because of acidification, shellfish are challenged growing their protective shells. Because of acid levels, one third of coral reefs are now dead; an additional one third, threatened. Well-documented threats include over-fishing, climate change, pollution and hypoxia—the lack of oxygen in the Ocean. Hypoxia, in turn, results in an alarming increase in huge dead zones.

There is an urgent need to reduce CO2 emissions in line with the most drastic cuts proposed by the 4th Report of the IPCC. There is a need to develop carbon sinks without delay. But these measures, by themselves, will not be sufficient to guarantee the viability of some marine ecosystems.

The current international target of 2 degree Celsius temperature increase and/or emissions at 450 ppm is too high. This is precisely what one of the world`s leading climate scientist James Hansen has been saying for years. In the past, Hansen advocated a target of no more than 350 ppm of CO2; now he says 300 ppm is more appropriate. Currently we are at 393 ppm.

The IPSO report also recommends a series of actions on many fronts to improve the management of fisheries including reducing the capacity of global fishing fleets and eliminating harmful fishing subsidies. It says establishing global marine reserves as pockets of resilience are ‘our single best hope of averting disaster at an Earth System level.’

Most of these issues involve political action at the national or international level. But there is much you can do to help locally.

Learn about the issue:

Demand action to protect the Ocean by writing a single page hand-written letter each to Stephen Harper and our MP, Daryl Kramp.

Make sure you purchase only sustainable seafood.

Learn about local water quality issues by going to The Bay of Quinte Remedial Action Plan site:

Don’t contribute to dangerous algae blooms in our water—use non-phosphate fertilizer on your lawn.

Dispose of pharmaceuticals and chemicals responsibly. Consider carefully what you drain from your sink or flush down your toilet. It doesn’t go ‘away’. There is no away.

Ron Hart

Filed Under: Letters and Opinion

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