Scared of climate change? Let’s be scared into action

Several commentators in the media lately have been saying ‘let’s make this year 2020 the year when we really get serious about climate change’. The year when we take hard and fast actions to make a real difference to our otherwise carbonised future.

There is every reason to think we can. 14 year old Cruz Erdmann in our last issue of Dive Pacific noted things are looking up. He pointed out that only a couple or three years ago the voice of climate change action was muted. Then, hand wringing minorities were often dismissed as greenies, and the thousands of scientists trying to urge urgency were, it seemed, unheard. No one much appeared to be heeding their increasingly frequent warnings.

Mercifully this has changed. Climate change is now centre stage, recognised it would seem by a majority at last as the biggest issue of our times, notwithstanding trade wars, impeachments, or whether the royals can survive without plundering the public purse. Even veganism is trending. Whoever thought that possible?

Getting serious about climate change will actually require us doing things that make a difference. A real difference. More than making commitments to change, we will have to change and, according to those most informed, change fast.

Just to rev up the case from one of the well informed folk, I was unfortunately given (for Christmas) a book called The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells. He’s deputy editor of the New Yorker Magazine, so fairly reliable you might think.

I said ‘unfortunately’ because the book is as scary as hell. A quote to set the scene: “Many perceive global warming as a sort of moral and economic debt, accumulated since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and now come due after several centuries. In fact, more than half the carbon exhaled into the atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels has been emitted in just the past three decades. Which means we have done as much damage to the fate of the planet and its ability to sustain human life and civilisation since Al Gore published his first book on climate than in all the centuries – all the millennia – that came before.”

That’s within our own lifetimes for most of us, or even within half our own life times. Yes, the rate of carbon emissions has been rising exponentially. What did we think was going to happen to the planet’s climate as a result of all that?

Just to think about the oceans for a moment. Drawing on what Wallace- Wells reports, over a quarter of the carbon emitted by humans is sucked up by the oceans , which also in the past 50 years have absorbed 90% of global warming’s excess heat. Half of that has been absorbed since 1997.. today’s seas carry at least 15% more heat energy than they did 20 years ago… the result is ocean acidification which in turn results in coral bleaching, which is coral dying.

“According to the World Resources Institute, by 2030 ocean warming and acidification will threaten 90% of all reefs.” Reefs support as much as a quarter of all marine life and directly supply food and income for half a billion people as well as protecting against flooding from storm surges. Since 2016 as much as half of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has been stripped by mass bleaching – and then there’s the Australian bush fires. Not so lucky.

Dramatic declines in ocean oxygen have played a role in many of the planet’s worst mass extinctions – where dead zones grow choking off marine life, wiping out fisheries. These places are evident in the Gulf of Mexico and off Namibia’s Skeleton Coast.

The thing is that we simply don’t know what changes are well afoot already, for example to the ‘ocean conveyor belts’; what a possible slow down may mean to the Gulf Stream, or the Humboldt current. We don’t really know what the tipping point for these are, where change becomes unstoppable, irreversible.

In this issue of Dive Pacific we report on the Te Wairua O Te Moananui initiative – a determined effort to take more and better responsibility for our coasts and seas. Another report updates us on Wellington’s enviable Taputeranga Marine Reserve. We often laud the Wakatobi resort story – an admirable example of what has been done both to employ former fisher people while preserving and protecting their marine environment. These are among our commitments so far, along with that to Legasea. Tell us what yours are and we’ll do our best to help promote it.

Gilbert Peterson
Managing Editor

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