Ocean Burnout – Lilli Feit, Germany

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Processes such as ocean acidification are rapidly transforming healthy reefs into degraded reefs in Puerto Rico and other Caribbean and western tropical Atlantic Ocean regions. Source: Ryan Moyer

“If climate change proceeds, the Gulf Stream will run dry, no warm winds will blow towards Western Europe, and Germany will be as cold as Canada.”

No offence, Canada, but when I first heard this thesis, the sheer urgency of climate change suddenly was clear to me. In a state of shock, I began to picture polar bears exploring our local shopping mall and desperate neighbors trying to light a small fire in a backyard igloo. I concede that this might be an exaggeration, but to be honest it is closer to reality than most people might assume.

Since changes in our environment do not affect our everyday life as obviously as other issues such as the refugee crisis, we have a tendency to overlook climate change and underestimate the consequences that it brings (at least in Europe).

If you were to pause in a forest or in your garden and choose a nice tree to look at for a few hours (or maybe even for days), I am quite sure that you wouldn’t actually see it grow taller. But it is certainly growing all the while. Similarly, climate change is a slow-moving but constant process that can’t be ignored by the media.

On earth, the climate has always been changing; species have become extinct, oceans have become deserts, and so on. Nevertheless, all this has never before been influenced by a living being. Climate change is nothing remarkably new for our planet, however man-made global warming certainly is. If we do not want to be the next species to cease to exist, and if we want to stopping seeing other species vanish before our eyes, we need to become more conscious of our actions.

Everything has a beginning; love stories have a first date, careers begin with the first day of school and likewise, climate change starts with ocean acidification.

“Ocean acidifi…what?”

Global-ocean-alkalinity.jpg

Global Ocean Alkalinity. Red is more alkaline (higher pH). Blue is less alkaline/more acidic (lower pH).(Source: Ifremer/ESA/CNES)

Ocean acidification is quite the wallflower amongst the various predicted consequences of climate change. I doubt that many have heard of it before – it’s often overshadowed by issues of melting glaciers and hungry, quickly growing deserts. Yet, it is high time that this changes! Oceans cover more than 70 percent of our planet’s surface. The earth, oceans, plants and animals are linked to one another in an extraordinarily fragile balance. About two centuries ago, this balance started to lose stability, thanks to the human species. Industrialization took the first step in its master plan of world dominion and we as humans were blinded by it.

This is where it gets tricky. Our oceans function as “carbon sinks”: they absorb huge amounts of carbon dioxide and then turn it into carbonic acid, hydrogen ions and carbonate ions during a very intricate chemical process. For thousands of years this system has worked well, but since the industrial revolution started, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased so greatly that the oceans have become extremely overburdened. As loyal servants of our planet, our oceans now work harder than ever before to absorb more and more carbon dioxide.

However, this leaves traces.

Orange juice, trees and the sea have one thing in common. Just like pretty much everything else on the face of the Earth, they each have a pH-value. The pH scale goes from zero to fourteen and measures the acidity or basicity of an item or liquid. Our oceans have an average pH of 8.1, which is slightly basic. Scientists have found that due to the increased amount of carbon dioxide that the oceans are absorbing and turning into carbonic acid right now, the ocean’s pH is constantly decreasing. Already, it has been reduced by 0.1 since the pre-industrial era. It is estimated that, by 2100, the pH level will have fallen by another 0.5 units.

“0.5 units? That’s only 3.6%, not much of a dramatic change…who cares?”

You should!

Ocean acidification affects the entire supply chain. No, I am not referring to the one at your high school or work place; I mean the supply chain of the sea, from phytoplankton, to seashells, to the little ‘Nemos’ and huge whales. All of them are potential targets of industrialization.

“Well, I see the point, but heavens, it is the ocean; what could I possibly do about it?”

Actually, there are many ways individuals can help. We started this crisis, and as Michael Jackson prognosticated years ago, we have the capacity to “heal the world” and “make it a better place” to live in again.

Certainly we cannot just filter the acid out of the sea nor just add chemicals to return the oceans to their old pH values, but we can help minimize the burdens we put on the oceans by reducing the amount of carbon dioxide we produce.

I am certain that you have heard about the tricks to do so about a hundred times already, but there is a reason for this: It is because they work.

  1. The climate’s greatest enemy is plastic. Most of it is burned after use, which produces an abundance of new carbon dioxide. Otherwise, it will likely end up in the ocean. This is not a good alternative, as plastic can also make its way into the diet of some fish. So please, try to use less plastic, especially concerning the unnecessary items like ten-minute plastic-bags. One great role model and inspiration around that aspect of sparing the climate is Lauren Singer.
  2. I lead a comfortable lifestyle. One may also call it laziness, for let’s face it, how much technology do we really need? Do escalators really improve our lives? Do I really need three lamps turned on in my room? Do I really need to use an electric pepper grinder? Try to reduce your energy consumption or switch to a supplier of renewable energy that does not harm our planet’s well-being.
  3. The train is not uncool! Relinquish your lonely car and meet some new people on the train or bus! I promise you will not regret escaping your little nutshell of a car once in awhile. Plus, it might also be good for your wallet.
  4. Do not trash our planet! I want to keep living in the beautiful world I was born into, not on some stinky, dumping ground. What about you?
  5. Well, since your garbage has to go somewhere, try to recycle and compost. We often forget that we are a part of nature and conserving it means conserving our habitat. Whether it be banana peels, cheddar, or our bodies, all products of nature (more or less) are compostable.
  6. Plant trees! A tree can be a friend for life, a monument that outlasts a lifetime, or a fruit tree that offers you delicious peaches each year. In any case, it will be a good investment of time and energy. Maybe you will plant it at your child’s birth, or on your own next birthday accompanied by your friends.

There are a number of actions we can take to support our environment, and as a consequence, save our valuable oceans. Let us start now, before this stressful period ultimately results in an ocean burnout.

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