Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Must-read article on ocean impacts by ocean scientists

By John Cook
Skeptical Science

I highly recommend everyone read this great article by coral reef and oceanography experts, John Bruno and Ove Hoegh-Guldberg. The article is In the oceans, the heat is really on, published at newsobserver.com. Here are a few excerpts but don't use them as an excuse not to read the full article. Here's one putting the Gulf oil spill into perspective:

The world is saturated by coverage of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Yet the impacts of this tragedy are localized, short-term and trivial compared to the broader effects of climate change. The oil spill has damaged the lives and businesses of many innocent people. Remarkably, however, every day we are releasing several thousand times as much carbon as the Gulf spill by driving, flying and consuming and by heating and cooling our energy-inefficient houses. Hundreds of years from now, when BP is forgotten and the gulf wetlands have healed, ocean life will still be affected by the fossil fuels we are burning today.

I don't see this as diminishing the devastating impact of the oil spill. It brings home to me the strong visual impact of the oil spill hence the strong public reaction. Climate change is not so easy to process visually, dealing in long-term trends and impacts that stretch on decades and centuries into the future. At the talk on climate change at the University of Qld, Ove explained the problem with climate change was it's like littering and the litter not turning up until a decade later. The irony is the impacts from our CO2 emissions will dwarf the impacts of the oil spill.

One value of the Gulf spill is that it has highlighted how tightly coupled the health of ecosystems and human economic well-being really are. In retrospect, the costs of preventing the spill by installing more reliable safety systems are paltry in comparison to the economic losses in the tourism and fisheries sectors. The same is true for mitigating climate change. Responses that cost less than 1 percent of GDP growth over the next few decades are matched against massive impacts on people and industry, especially in coastal areas of the world.

Here's another example where the oil spill can teach us a thing or two about how a relatively small investment now will stave off great expenses into the future. Anyway, there were a few other highlights I would like to excerpt but just go read the article.

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