Oceans are the Victims of Climate Change, Not the Cause
Energy Secretary Rick Perry denies climate science, impact of carbon pollution on marine life
Blaming the oceans for climate change, as Energy Secretary Rick Perry did last week, is blaming the victim. Oceans are being blamed for systemic societal problems — much like immigrants blamed for crime or poor job opportunities, or sick people indebted by rising healthcare costs — that many conservative political leaders choose to ignore.
Oceans are being assaulted by our thirst for fossil fuels, yet they have shielded us from the consequences. Oceans absorb carbon pollution, but they’re becoming dangerously acidic in the process. They’ve also soaked up 90 percent of the heat generated by human-driven global warming , which causes oceans to warm, contributing to sea level rise and coral bleaching.
While Perry’s proud ignorance of climate science might not be news, he made national headlines last week when he told CNBC that human-generated greenhouse gas pollution wasn’t driving climate change and “most likely the primary control knob is the ocean waters and this environment that we live in.”
As my colleague, Center for Biological Diversity scientist Shaye Wolf, responded in a Washington Post article, “Perry has the science exactly backward. Far from being climate change’s key cause, the world’s oceans are actually another victim of greenhouse pollution.”
Global warming would be worse and atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations far higher if not for the work that our oceans are doing for us, but they’re paying a terrible price. As a result of soaking up our carbon pollution, the surface ocean has become 30 percent more acidic. Ocean acidification has already killed billions of oyster larvae and sent the shellfish industry reeling; and we’re just beginning to grasp its potentially disastrous long-term impacts to the ocean food web.
During the past three years, ocean warming spurred the longest, most widespread coral bleaching event in history, decimating coral reefs around the world. Draining reefs of color and life, bleaching jeopardizes the rich diversity of marine life that live on reefs and the half billion people that depend on reefs for their livelihoods.
Oceans don’t control our climate, as Perry suggested, and they may not continue covering up human hubris. There are already signs that oceans are absorbing heat and carbon at slower rates as they reach saturation points, which could accelerate atmospheric global warming in coming years. As ice sheets and glaciers melt at an increasingly rapid pace, the oceans are rising faster and sea level rise could top 8 feet by the end of the century, according to government scientists.
Once the oceans begin to consume New York City, Miami, New Orleans and other great coastal cities around the world, then humans will become the real victims of their own stubborn refusal to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. Unless we soundly reject the ignorant victim-blaming of Perry and his ilk today.