Boiling the Ocean?

As you may be aware, a draft of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s 2013 Summary for Policymakers report was leaked to the press last week. The findings were far from comforting.

As someone who grew up in the Sputnik Era, a time when science and technology became a central focus of national policy, I remain baffled by how such a large segment of the U.S. population could be so firmly committed to climate denialism, ignoring the overwhelming consensus of scientists that global warming is accelerating.

NYC Under Water

But, of course, logic and reason have very little to do with the refusal of many Americans to acknowledge the threat that runaway climate change poses to the health and security of people around the world.

For those who still think science is a valid way of thinking and knowing, there were some real OMG moments contained in the leaked IPCC draft, which of course is still subject to revision. Mother Jones shared what it called “five ‘holy crap’ statements”:

  • We’re headed toward transforming the planet in a way “unprecedented in hundreds to thousands of years.”
  • Ocean acidification is “virtually certain” to increase.
  • Long-term, sea level rise could be 5 to 10 meters (16 to 32 feet).
  • During the last interglacial period, the melting of Greenland alone “very likely” accounted for between 1.4 and 4.3 meters of global sea level rise.
  • Even if we were to immediately halt all greenhouse gas emissions warming would continue for “many centuries.”

Particularly alarming is the finding about ocean acidification. We may not be able to boil the ocean but we sure are changing it. The ocean absorbs over a quarter of the carbon dioxide released each year, much of it the result of human agricultural and industrial activity; after decades of rising carbon dioxide levels, the chemistry of the ocean is clearly beginning to shift.

As Mother Jones observes, ocean acidification “threatens the survival of entire ecosystems from phytoplankton to coral reefs, and from Antarctic systems reliant on sea urchins to many human food webs dependent on everything from oysters to salmon.” In other words, virtually the entire marine food chain is at risk. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist or even a post-Sputnik student to realize this could be big trouble.