This post is a reaction paper for one of my classes as a response to the article The Darkening Sea by Elizabeth Kolbert. It is not necessary to read that article to understand this post, though it is a good read.
After reading the article, I think that the Earth’s climate and oceans will be damaged beyond repair. The measures needed to save them require a lot of cooperation, which will be implausible because of the difficulties in convincing people of the importance and reality of the effects. The sheer numbers involved and human nature also prohibit many cooperative solutions.
The scale of the factors involved in ocean acidification are overwhelming. Global climate deals with the entire atmosphere and the oceans, which are massive and practically incomprehensible to the human mind. When we visit the beach we see the ocean go on forever into the horizon, and we tend to think of the atmosphere as unending because it is so large compared to ourselves. When we think about size, we tend to lose track of the reality of the scale when we go over 20-30. If someone were to say, “50 meters”, the length would exist as a numerical value but most of us would have no real concept of the length in our minds. Yet with climate models we’re dealing with millions of years and billions of tons of carbon dioxide. Although the numbers are huge, because we lose conceptual sense of the sheer amount of CO2we end up being more detached and dismissive of the possible effects it has on the environment. The scale also presents a problem on the other end, where the size of the molecules and reactions are too small to notice without scientific equipment.
The other problem is that most of the general population is scientifically illiterate, and treat scientific issues with almost a level of disdain. Oftentimes people don’t understand scientific concepts, and are swayed by preconceptions and/or misinformation in the media. When a scientist presents facts, it sometimes has an opposite effect where the audience is annoyed and reinforces their opinion in the opposite direction. Scientific phrases like pH, acidification, and thermosaline can be intimidating to people who aren’t already interested in the sciences. In my personal experience, people who aren’t interested in the sciences (simply taking science classes doesn’t count because many people only take them as a part of requirements) tend to shy away from any conversation involving sciences (unless it’s related to a test they have) and have a mindset of “leave it to the scientists” or “scientists are ridiculous”.
Another roadblock in decreasing CO2 emissions enough to slow down ocean acidification before it becomes lethal is the economical costs of adopting alternative energy. Coal power plants are by far the cheapest way to generate electricity, and many developing nations that are rushing to catch up to first world nations are using coal to speed up their economy and can’t afford to invest in alternative sources of energy.
Then there’s the issue of politics. Even on a miniscule level, humans disagree a lot. It can take a group of people a long time to decide on a restaurant to eat at. With politics, the leaders have to think about where they’re going to get support, how popular it will make them, and how much will they and/or their country gain by going into agreements. A complaint amongst developing countries is that the west was allowed to grow rapidly using coal, but now that they’re ahead they’re preventing other countries from doing the same thing. The bureaucracy of governments don’t help either, as it slows down any decision that is made.
For these reasons, it is extremely unlikely that humanity will be able to solve global warming and ocean acidification in a timely manner. The general population needs to be educated, but unless they are taught and encouraged to be interested in the sciences since they were young it will likely result in the opposite effect. There should be more focus on research into alternative energy, and finding a way to make it cheap and affordable for developing nations to convert. Some research should also go into geoengineering as a last-ditch attempt to stabilize the climate if we can’t cooperate. Otherwise we should learn to make a variety of dishes from jellyfish, as almost everything else will be gone.