Stephen Eades – Gathering Together at the brink of a catastrophe – Nov 17

The truth about Planet Earth and its Ocean is that the impact of our species is out of control. World human population now shows signs of growing exponentially — the greater the size becomes the faster it grows.

This modern phenomenon, the relentless growth in human population, creates huge pressure on the planet’s resources and natural systems. To avoid starvation more land has to be converted from a natural state of forest or open grassland to cultivation, and an agricultural system which commonly uses intensive and damagingly exploitative techniques — artificial fertilizers and chemical pesticides which lead to soil degradation. The natural world is consequently diminishing and, in many places, is being forced to the margins.

In the oceans, human population pressure has led to continual over-fishing throughout the 20th century and this continues into the 21st. Over half of the world’s wild fish stocks are fully exploited and one quarter over-exploited (UN FAO data). The margin of fish food security — the ability to go on feeding ourselves safely year after year — is continually shrinking. As a result fish farming is becoming prevalent. However like terrestrial agriculture, its methods are intensive, chemically dependent, and ultimately unsustainable.

The degradation of soils and over-exploitation of fisheries are the cause of immense damage to the planet’s natural ecological systems. It means that we are on course for resource meltdown, famine, and populations devastated by plagues. This is inevitable if we continue as we are going.

The scale of our adverse impact is all too often understated and at times never reported. Consider these two examples.

One: the reality is that 93% of the heat produced by human activity from the burning of fossil fuels has been absorbed by the ocean, meaning the ocean acts as a sink. If the heat had remained in the atmosphere, rather than being absorbed by the ocean, the atmosphere would not have warmed by just 1°C (1.8°F) but by 36°C (64.8°F). (Data: IUCN 2016). In other words the debate over climate change would already be over. We would all be dead.

So when we tell ourselves that tropical coral reefs are being bleached and dying due to excessive ocean temperatures, are we also being wholly honest about the true role of human activity in this event?

Two: an additional reality surrounding the burning of fossil fuels is not just that the heat is absorbed by the ocean, but that some of the CO2 is absorbed too. Around one quarter of all the CO2 released annually is absorbed by the ocean — 22 million tons per day (Source: Wikipedia). The absorbed CO2 forms a weak acid, carbonic acid (H2CO3). This slowly, but relentlessly, reduces the natural alkalinity of the ocean — a process known as acidification. Importantly, life in the ocean only exists in the form we know it because of the ocean’s present level of alkalinity.

There is a natural, very small-scale geographical variability on the ocean’s alkalinity level, but taken overall this alkalinity has fallen by 30% over the past 200 years (Source: Smithsonian Institute). The ocean’s natural alkalinity is essential to life. Its what enables calcium carbonate (CaCO3) to be available for use by marine creatures in the construction of their shells and body structure — whether they be coral and fish, or shellfish and microscopic phytoplanktonphytoplankton Microscopic marine plants, usually algae. These microscopic plants are at the base of the food chain, and are the food of zooplankton (microscopic marine animals). Note: phytoplankton are microscopic plants, and zooplankton are microscopic animals.. Declining levels of calcium carbonate available in the ocean caused by reduced alkalinity therefore means that the very structure of marine life is undermined. Even more importantly, we are the authors of this.

So, when we watch films like Blue Planet II and the sheer wonder of what is being revealed there, ought we not to be asking ourselves whether we are genuinely telling ourselves the whole story?

A similar mismatch between reality and the version we see occurs when looking at global governance of the ocean. There have been several attempts at making global laws, notably the UN Law of the Sea, but they always fall short by failing to address the issue of enforcement.

Nothing will change, nor will anything ever be genuinely protected, unless the fishing fleets of the world abide by the Treaties which create marine reserves, fallow areas for stocks to survive, and global laws. Enforcement requires a presence at sea which the fleets respect and which has the power to confiscate ships and their catch.

This is a dream, and like a dream is far from reality.

What is needed now is for a nucleus of influential people to gather together and thrash out this key issue of governance — and to travel the world signing countries up to what is needed, not just what is desirable. Putting together this global task force needs to be done by people of integrity and with a political oversight. We hope this global task force would follow the Bilderberg Group format (despite its alleged shortcomings) which included President Bush and Margaret Thatcher. Some names are suggested below:

If each country can put two people in the field who can represent their nation’s thinking, without resorting to sectional interest, a task force could be assembled with a remit to formulate global solutions within a time frame of say 18 months.

Then this task force would be charged with reporting back to their sponsoring countries to brief governance on what has been agreed.

The sectional interests of the global fishing fleets and other commercial parties would have to be excluded if progress is to be made.

Central to this operation is the need to concentrate on fish food security, and to plan to conserve resources and rebuild stocks so the oceans have a chance of feeding the world fairly. Fish stocks need to be restored to genuine levels of abundance, as much for ecological as economic reasons, so that they are brought from economic extinction — as in the case of cod and tuna — to levels that are more than what is required to once more be commercially harvestable. Ecological principles, as well as economic, need to apply in the management of our activities in the ocean.

To date, promises have been made to deliver on this remit — yet each nation has equally been involved in undermining the structure of the agreement and breaching its enforcement at every opportunity.

Only when the world functions in a way that both recognises and reconciles itself with the planetary needs of all, will marine law stand a chance.

Unless marine law does begin to deliver and genuinely addresses the demands of the natural world upon which we depend then, despite the cleverness of our technology, all will be lost.

It is for this reason that we are critical of those who continually make mention of the abundance of the ocean, and yet do not assert the mess the world is in through corporate and individual greed.

Stephen Eades


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