Guest Columnist

Acidified oceans are a deepening threat

An ocean wave in Goseong, South Korea. Picture taken February 6, 2018. (Jorge  Silva/Reuters)
An ocean wave in Goseong, South Korea. Picture taken February 6, 2018. (Jorge Silva/Reuters)

Almost daily we see news reports about the effects of human-caused climate change: unprecedented and increasingly intense fires, drought and floods, coastal areas being eroded by rising sea levels, and billion-dollar losses scientists directly associate with rising global temperatures and climate change.

But there is another effect of climate change that we rarely read about, one that could disrupt the lives of Iowans as much as all of these other effects combined.

Sometimes called global warming’s evil twin, “ocean acidification” threatens to dramatically reduce food supplies for 3 billion people who depend on seafood as their primary source of sustenance.

It’s pretty simple to explain. Scientists tell us that as much as 50 percent of all the carbon dioxide we generate is absorbed by our oceans.

In water, CO2 forms an acid called carbonic acid, which makes it more difficult for the tiny creatures at the bottom of the ocean’s food chain to form their skeletons and shells.

And as this fundamental food source becomes increasingly endangered, so does all aquatic life, including the seafood upon which billions depend.

But why should Iowans care about declining seafood supplies, since Midwesterners typically rely on beef and pork, not fish, as their primary sources of protein?

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First, there is simply the moral imperative. All scriptures agree that we should care for the less fortunate. From this perspective, their problems are our problems, and, taking steps to protect their food supply from ocean acidification — by rapidly transitioning to clean renewable energy sources — is our sacred duty.

But even if we set aside this moral imperative, there is a compelling reason for us to do everything we can to address ocean acidification quickly.

The U.S. Department of Defense says that such immense food scarcity would create hundreds of millions of refugees and represent a monumental threat to U.S. and world security.

So if ever-intensifying storms, floods, droughts, fires, crop failures and their associated trillion-dollar losses are not enough to convince us to quickly replace fossil fuels with non-carbon based alternatives — such as wind and solar that also generate thousands of good-paying jobs — perhaps adding the dangers of ocean acidification will finally get us to act.

Fortunately, most experts agree that there is still time to avoid the worst impacts of climate change and ocean acidification, if we act quickly.

As our grandparents taught us, nipping problems in the bud is a lot easier — and cheaper — than trying to solve them once they’re full blown and out of control. It seems like we ought to take their advice.

• Jonas Magram is with Climate Action Southeast Iowa.

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