We’re bleaching ourselves as dead and white as the coral reefs


It’s not hard to write about the effects of climate change. So much has been written about it over the last decade. Al Gore now has a sequel to his famous slide show, An Inconvenient Truth. If you’ve seen it, you’ve heard the basics. Things are bad and getting worse.

Nearly a decade ago when I worked in the marine science industry, one of the things I learned was the effects of CO2 on the oceans. In case you didn’t know, the oceans absorb a lot of the carbon we produce. About 26 percent as a matter of fact (though some sources report more than 30 percent). Plants take up another 28 percent and the rest—46 percent—we pump into the atmosphere. So the oceans absorb 2.5 billion tonnes of the 9.3 billion tonnes of carbon humans emit. That is simply an astonishing amount of fossil fuel waste. Every year.

A couple of other interesting things are happening. First, the more carbon we load into our oceans, the less the oceans can absorb. Meaning more carbon remains in the atmosphere, speeding global warming. And that warming also heats the oceans. Which brings us to point two. Warmer water absorbs less carbon. Ocean warming also results in slower ocean currents, which means CO2 can’t be disbursed as easily into deeper water. It’s all a vicious cycle.

There are profound consequences to this. More CO2 means less oxygen in the water, which is another way of saying ‘inoxia’, a condition that starves oxygen from ocean organisms. Which then affects the food cycle. Which inevitably affects us.

Dead and bleached coral

There’s another queer side effect of pumping CO2 into the oceans. Seawater chemically reacts to the CO2 forming carbonic acid. The extra carbonic acid molecules react with water molecules to increase ocean acidity, which is now happening at a faster rate than it did the last time this happened—56 million years ago. This affects marine organisms, depressing metabolic rates and immune responses in some, and causing coral bleaching—which is why the Great Barrier Reef off the eastern shore of Australia is dying.

As if all that isn’t enough, fossil fuel consumption is still growing at between 2 and 4 percent a year, further adding to the CO2 loading of the oceans.

So, even if you’re a fan of the aquaculture industry here in Charlotte County, all that environmental change can’t be healthy—even for caged fish. Local lobsters and shellfish may soon be showing the effects, though the turbulent tides will likely offset that for a while, at least.

All of this, as bad as it is, is a preamble to what I wanted to write about. Which is the bleaching of all life. Or rather, more like bleeding white or blanching. Like the acidification of the oceans, earth is experiencing a mass extinction that has not been equalled in 56 million years. Insects are dying off, along with bees, birds, mammals, fish, plants and even parasites. But that’s not the point.

There’s a line in the movie, There Will Be Blood, where the lead character says, “Now, my straw reaches acroooooooss the room and starts to drink your milkshake. I... drink... your... milkshake!” And that is exactly the economic system we’ve evolved for ourselves, a system where greed is good, and winning and competition are the highest attributes. It’s called capitalism, and it’s aim is to put a needle into each of our arms—and minds—and suck us nearly dry. Day after day. The needle is easy credit. The extraction tube is interest and debt. The cost of such a system is incalculable. The entire system is designed to keep humans producing and consuming until the milkshakes—earth’s resources—are entirely gone. With the remainder literally ending up in the toilet and the trash heaps and plastic trapped in ocean gyres and CO2 loaded into our skies and oceans. And the ultimate insanity? It’s all for money. Which is a complete fiction. It has, literally, no worth in and of itself. None. Nothing. We are consuming ourselves and the planet for…nothing.

If this doesn’t make you sad, and sad for our children and our children’s children, and the children of everything that lives on this moldy green and blue rock in space, there’s something profoundly wrong with you.

I don’t need to tell you the answer. You know it already. We need to terminate our economic system before it terminates us. But just try explaining that to your local MP or MLA.


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