Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel stated, “Rising temperatures, changing precipitation, climbing sea levels, more extreme weather events will intensify the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict will likely lead to food and water shortages, pandemic disease, disputes over refugees and resources, and destruction by natural disasters in regions across the globe.” Check.
I was a denier back then. Climate change, the catchall phrase for planetary ills blamed on the consumer engine driven by coal, oil and gas.
Products like plastic, a derivative of the oil industry, were cheap and ubiquitous. I rationalized - Evian straight from the fridge in plastic bottles tasted delicious and so what if plastic never biodegraded and most of it ended up in the ocean? We were only adding 9 or 10 million tons of plastic waste to the ocean every year.
Dead zones were proliferating – areas where no fish could live. By 2015 there were about 450 around the world, the largest found at the mouth of the Mississippi River in the Gulf of Mexico was the size of Connecticut.
The ocean’s apex predators – sharks, tunas, cod – were depleted by more than 90%. And seafood fraud was endemic. Nationwide studies in 2011 concluded that 33% of seafood was mislabeled and every snapper sampled and sushi venue tested in the nation’s capital sold mislabeled fish. In New York, they even discovered tilefish posing as halibut and red snapper—a fish on the FDA’s do not eat list due to its high mercury content.
Ocean levels were rising. Fifteen of the world’s twenty megacities were old port towns with sixty percent of the entire world’s population living in a coastal zone. I still ignored the warning signs.
Climate deniers also helped soothe my conscience.
Senator Inhofe, 2015 chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, claimed in 2003 that global warming might help humanity: “No one has seriously demonstrated any scientific proof that increased global temperatures would lead to the catastrophes predicted by alarmists.”
Secretary Kerry, however, saw the ocean as the biggest threat to National Security. It’s easy now to see why.
The ocean is the largest feature on earth. It created more than 50% of the oxygen we breathe, a billion people relied on it for food every day, it governed our weather, created most of our rain, employed 200 million fishermen and churned out $2.5 trillion a year in economic activity making it the 7th largest economy in the world.
Burning fossil fuels created excess carbon and the ocean absorbed the excess. Greater acidity reduced the availability of calcium carbonate, a building block for coral skeletons and shells for shellfish and many other marine organisms. In 2012, shellfish hatcheries in the Pacific Northwest were sounding the alarm as some saw production decrease more than 40%, but now they’ve moved on to Hawaii and are already looking for their next home.
Signs of trouble in the ocean kept growing. In 2015, there was a staggering number of baby sea lion strandings in California, which experts attributed to changes in food availability for those creatures who called the ocean home. Migrating sea birds were dying because there was no food for them to eat during their long journeys, with as high as a 70% drop in population levelssince the 1950’s.
Oceans were warming. Fish species migrated to cooler waters and threatening local economies in the process. Black sea bass, once most abundant off the coast of North Carolina, are now being caught as far north as the Gulf of Maine. Changes were happening so fast.
Mainstream weather agencies all agreed: 2014 was the hottest year on record. NOAA assessed the 2014 annually-averaged temperature at 58.24 degrees Fahrenheit, 1.24 degrees above the 20th century average. A heating world was melting ice caps and glaciers. Arctic ice thickness decreased 40% since the 1960’s.
One of the first cases of mass displacement triggered by a changing climate and rising seas happened occurred in the first decade of this century when villagers on Tegua, a small community in the Vanuatu island chain, were relocated to higher ground by a United Nations Environmental Program project. And low-lying Kiribati purchased land in Fiji at that time, which Kiribati’s President classified as an investment in the event the entire nation needed to move.
Climates patterns shifted; where rainfall was reliable it was less so. Swaths of Americans began suffering from drought, along with other parts of the world. Remember California’s historic drought introduced water rationing whilst Texas and Oklahoma set rainfall records.
How can you plant crops if you don’t have reliable rain? How can cities sustain with out water. Beijing’s tap water was being brought in from 850 miles away.
Lack of snow cover was leading to fierce wildfires and choking smoke throughout the Arctic from Alaska to Siberia.
Power vacuums were created under this shifting climate pressure, with a restless, thirsty, hungry, poor population, wrought by a failing ocean. Collapsing states led to ideal conditions for terrorist groups to take root and yield larger numbers of marginalized and disenfranchised people from which to recruit. It’s scary across the world today.
I didn’t think things could get worse. But a heating ocean led to vast escaping plumes of methane previously stable on the ocean floor – the ocean became a climate change accelerator.Reported as a problem back in 2014, the results are being seen today. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, around 20 times more effective per molecule than carbon dioxide. Changes in global ocean temperatures caused the hydrates to destabilize.
Everything was changing about how we lived, but now I was becoming worried about how I would die. In 2015, scientistsestimated more than 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 virus particles existed in all the world’s seas. They outnumber all cellular life forms by roughly a factor of 10. Everyone used to look to China or India, the most grossly overpopulated areas of the world, for the next deadly virus. No one thought it would come from the heating ocean, and now millions have paid the price.
I should have supported sustainable fishing when I knew fish helped keep the balance in the ocean. I should have supported alternative energy sources. I should have applied for my ocean passport when I could have and added my voice for protecting the ocean. Tomorrow is 1st January 2032, time for New Years resolutions on climate change.
“For most of history, man has had to fight nature to survive; in this century he is beginning to realize that, in order to survive, he must protect it.” ― Jacques-Yves Cousteau