Scott Morrison and the Ocean as an Acid Bath

As far as the current Australian government is concerned, it was just a harmless little paid stunt. Last week, Former Minister of Refugee Torture and MP for Cook Scott Morrison whipped out the chunk of coal on the floor of Parliament, screaming ‘Don’t be afraid, don’t be scared’. He went on to claim his constituents had dug up the rock (coal mines are largely automated nowadays) while the sun–bleached goblin–faced Barnaby Joyce howled in hysterics. It was a display not of a government but members of a cargo cult, made all the more sickening by how such total blind enthusiasm had been bought by lobbyists. Oh, and the fact that coal is the main way Australia is pushing forwards and accelerating the global catastrophe known as climate change which will lead to potentially hundreds of millions of deaths through famine and flooding.

This which we are living through right now is the first disaster season with basically a slurpie for an ice cap, and boy is Australia feeling it. Immediately after the fun ‘fellating coal in the House of Reps’ gag, half the east coast burst into flames largely due to conditions caused by climate change. Hundreds have had to flee their homes, livestock and native wildlife have dropped dead due to freak heat exhaustion, and the only people in Australia able to stop it are either too dense to see it happening or getting paid to let it go on unchecked. It’s a terrifying state of affairs to be in when facing an existential crisis of which there is no historical parallel. So perhaps we all need to be reminded of what went down the last time this happened. Because while historically we have never faced this threat, prehistory is a different story.

It was a world ruled by mosquitoes bigger than your fist, and dragonflies the size of fern leaves. Dinosaurs were still yet to exist, with the most advanced reptilian life being chunkier, dumpier versions of the komodo dragon. Pangaea was the sole land mass, and polar ice caps had long melted away at the start of this era. But although the life and land and sea–level was completely different in this world 252 million years ago, it was still our Earth. And it did what our Earth loves to do from time to time: it blew up. The active supervolcano underneath Siberia erupted, throwing the continent into the atmosphere and replacing the crust with searing lava. The heat radiating from this eruption ignited coal veins stretching across the northern hemisphere. For the next 10,000 years, as the magma burped upwards and coal was incinerated, massive amounts of CO2 were pumped into the atmosphere. This CO2 would end the era, making way for the Earth that the dinosaurs ruled over.

But it wouldn’t be through climate change.

CO2 emissions also lead to a much less publicised catastrophe known as ocean acidification. Excess carbon in the atmosphere reacts with the ocean and gradually drags its pH value lower, making it more acidic. This change looks small on paper, with the most intense change ever seen being 0.7pH lower than standard, but it has an enormous effect on the natural world. The change in acidity decimates plankton and phytoplankton, destroying the food source for thousands of ocean creatures. It also prevents coral reefs from calcifying, instead eating them alive until the ocean floor is bare. Everything that took shelter in those reefs, now left out in the ocean, are then picked off by predators, that is if they themselves haven’t already been dissolved. This leads to even more disruption of the food chain until there is no food chain. The ocean becomes entirely bare of life. This is just what happened 252 million years ago, when the Permian era came to a close.

The previous mention of a reduction of ocean pH by 0.7 was the end result of the eruption at what is now known as the Siberian Traps. It’s a difficult stat to put into the context of physical effects on the Earth, so here are some other stats to help paint a clearer picture. 96% of all living things in the ocean went extinct directly due to the acidification, as did 70% of all land lifeforms. It remains the only mass extinction to affect insects, creatures which have carried on unfazed even after being bludgeoned by a 10km wide rock falling from the sky. 90% of all plant life was wiped out. Over the 60,000 years of acidic change, life was so obliterated that it would take 30 million years just for nature to work up to creating complex lifeforms again. This event was so lethal that scientists have taken to referring to it by the shorthand ‘The Great Dying’. And it all stemmed from CO2 emissions.

Currently, the fumes of fuel and fire has led to a situation where the ocean has begun re–acidifying. From the period of 1757–1996, when most of the societies on Earth began the industrialisation of labour through coal and oil, the ocean saw a lowering of its pH by 0.11. This rate of change has only grown higher in recent years. If we assume our current emissions output remains completely unchanged, where the Adani mine doesn’t happen, where the Paris deals are the lowest any country tries pushing restrictions, where Trump’s gutting of the EPA and deregulation the oil industry never goes through, where there is absolutely no volcanic activity or freak wildfires, MIT expects us to hit this peak value in acidity in 168 years. The UN has placed this point at just slightly after 83 years. Seeing as 0.7pH was the peak value during the most profound death Earth has ever witnessed, even if the furthest of these numbers are correct, there’s still a good chance that you reading this will be alive to see the triggering value achieved and the beginning of the Great Redeath.

When people talk about climate change, it’s difficult for some to picture how it will affect us, or wonder if it’s just nature going through the motions. It’s easy to write off because it’s too complicated, or it’s happened before and things have turned out pretty fine. That can’t be said of turning the ocean into Jeffrey Dahmer’s favourite body removal tool. Acidification is increasing at a faster rate that during the height of the Great Dying. We’re already in the first stage of death, with the Great Barrier Reef becoming bleached and eaten in large part due to ocean acidification. Plankton and phytoplankton are beginning to disappear. But remember, the fault for this catastrophe doesn’t fall on you. Rather, it lies in the hand of Scott Morrison and his coal–stained cronnies, those who sold out the world for their own benefit, thinking they would die before it affected them. This is where the one benefit of ocean acidification being the global catastrophe we are facing comes in.

If you put forwards that actually the problem is ocean acidification, truly devoted climate skeptics aren’t just going to accept it. After all, they have faced perhaps the most thoroughly researched and reported on phenomenon of the last 30 years and still kept their eyes and ears shut. But it will shake down the opportunists, the self–obsessed who only err on the side of skepticism because it offers a profit or a chance for more power. Because to those people, when push comes to shove, they could find a way to weasel out of the devastation brought by climate change. The truly devastating effects are expected long after they die and their children die, and if anything does happen now, the funds they’ve acquired through destroying the world mean that they are one of the few members of society who can just pack up and move to an unaffected region.

But you can’t weasel your way out of the Great Dying. There’s no bunker you can build to keep the Earth’s water basic, no further inland you can move to with more oxygen when the plankton go, no mountain you can hide on and no piece of ocean isolated and untouched. Those with money will be as fucked as the rest of us serfs, neutralising any and all advantages it could potentially bring. When they ignore treating ocean acidification, they’re not just dealing with the hypothetical lives of those hundreds of years later, in a land far different from their own. They’re ignoring a gun shoved into the roof of their mouth. Playing skeptic remains a game of Russian roulette, but now they are forced to take the bullet, rather than someone 400 years from now. Sure, you will have the truly cracked eggs who are still skeptical, but for those opportunists only in it for the money and influence it brings, it will become much harder pressed to put everyone’s lives on the line for the most depraved and violent of deaths knowing that that includes their own.

Ocean acidification can be stopped. Unlike climate change, which has progressed to a point that it is slowly feeding into itself, ocean acidification is only caused by carbon emissions. Carbon is the only organic element capable of performing such a reaction, and it takes a lot of it. Last time it took two continents blazing for millennia to reach where we are today. Even just switching to renewable energy would be a massive hit that could stop the end of all things in its tracks nearly completely, and for Australia it’s not only an achievable option, but a cheaper option. The decision, however, lies entirely with the folks who preside over us, who spent last week giggling at a fucking rock because apparently seven figures annually is too small a pay check to live on. It’ll take something that they truly care about to take action and stop this catastrophe before it happens. Let’s hope their lives fullfil this requirement.

In laughing and posing with this chunk of coal, Scott Morrison, Barnaby Joyce, and the rest of the LNP aren’t just scoffing at the next generation that will have to flee their homes in coastal cities. They aren’t just scoffing at those who will watch their livelihood in agriculture die as the temperature pushes higher and higher through climate change. They’re looking dead into the eyes of a barren planet, a world they have thrown into the barrels of Dahmer’s apartment. Every minute they find it more and more hilarious that they will have forced catastrophe on the people they serve for their own material benefit. Let’s see if they find it so funny when they realise the violent end of the world means a violent end for them too.

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