The burning of billions of tons of fossil fuels is altering our planet — not only by making our atmosphere trap more heat, but also by changing the chemistry of the ocean. Most of the carbon dioxide pollution put into the air is absorbed by the world’s oceans. Dissolved as carbonic acid, the pollution increases the acidity of the oceans, which is disrupting the marine food chain, especially by making it more difficult for plankton, corals, mollusks, and crustaceans to form their calciferous shells. In 2009, the Interacademy Science Panel, a network of 70 national science academies, warned that fossil fuel pollution must be rapidly reduced to “avoid substantial damage to ocean ecosystems”:
Ocean acidification is a direct consequence of increasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations. To avoid substantial damage to ocean ecosystems, deep and rapid reductions of global CO2 emissions by at least 50% by 2050, and much more thereafter are needed.
Thus, carbon dioxide poses a double threat to our oceans, by increasing both their temperature and their acidity. The global population of phytoplankton appears to have dropped by 40 percent. About a quarter of the world’s reefs have already died, including 80 percent in the Caribbean.
Of course, in the mirror-image world of fossil-fueled climate denial organized by Christopher Monckton’s Science and Public Policy Institute (SPPI), ocean acidification is just another mainstream scientific conspiracy:
In 2009, Australian geologist and mining executive Ian Plimer argued in his book “Heaven and Earth” that ocean acidification wasn’t happening, and even if it were, it would be beneficial for ocean life.
Citing Idso, SPPI’s Dennis Ambler claimed in February there is “no evidence of any effects of lowered pH” and that even if pH has declined, “the ocean remains alkaline,” and it “is dishonest to present to a lay audience that any perceived reduction in alkalinity means the oceans are turning to acid.”
“Ocean Acidification is a Misnomer,” wrote Lawrence Livermore National Labs materials engineer Jack Dini last Friday on a conservative Hawaiian blog, citing Plimer and Ambler. Dini claims that a scientific paper by Elisabetta Erba “contradicts the assumption that ocean acidification leads to species die-offs,” even though her paper found it took 160,000 years for plankton to recover from an acidification event 120 million years ago.
It’s notable that ocean acidification denial is coming out of Australia and Hawaii — island states with coral reefs and ocean ecosystems of incalculable ecological, economic, societal, and cultural value now being destroyed by fossil fuel pollution. The bleatings of these fringe deniers have not yet been promoted by the “mainstream” right, but considering how well entrenched denial of climate science has become among conservatives, ocean acidification denial may just become the next great right-wing fad.