Some of the worst damage caused today by human-caused climate change is happening in environments that humans never see. A new report warns that hundreds of marine species could become extinct in the future as rising water temperatures lead to the leaching of oxygen from Earth’s oceans. Readers can be forgiven for being jaded as one scientific report after another sounds the alarm about global warming – but the alarms are real.
The study, published recently in the journal Science, reports that under the current trajectory of increasing human emissions of greenhouse gases, one-third of all marine animals could become extinct within the next 300 years. It may seem so far in the future that it’s irrelevant, but the impact here and now is also clear. Already, temperature changes have caused “disappearance” – the mass movement of species from their previous habitats to colder waters.
Most of the excess heat created by humans is absorbed by the oceans. After remaining stable throughout most of human history, ocean temperatures have warmed nearly 2 degrees Fahrenheit in the relatively brief period since the start of the industrial age. Warmer water does not hold oxygen as well as colder water, creating a direct threat to marine life.
To those who might notice that these kinds of disastrous statements from the scientific community seem to come out with numbing regularity lately: what else should scientists do when they know the data, that they see where they are going, that they have no reason to distort it — and yet the political world, and much of society, still isn’t listening? In truth, these frequent and increasingly urgent warnings are exactly what one would reasonably expect from those who are constantly studying these matters.
And contrary to what some of the disinformation purveyors in industry and beyond would claim, the science has been largely substantiated over the past generation and counting. Experts began to seriously warn of the future disastrous effects of greenhouse gases in the 1980s. Since then, every decade has been warmer than the previous one, the warmest seven years on record since 2015. extreme weather events like droughts and hurricanes have increased dramatically. Sea ice is melting to the point that new Arctic shipping routes are literally changing the face of world trade – good for the shipping industry, bad for polar bears, Arctic marine life and the planet.
The days are long gone when corporate accomplices and conservative ideologues could argue bluntly that man-made climate change is a myth. It’s there, in real time, with undeniable impact. Fundamental changes in society – including moving away from coal and other fossil fuels in favor of renewable sources like wind and solar – should no longer be an ideological or partisan debate. It is no exaggeration to say that it is a question of planetary survival.
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