Most scientists whose heads aren't firmly wedged inside the Koch brothers' rear ends have ascertained that human-sourced carbon emissions are contributing to a dangerous warming of our planet, one that pretty much spells out the end of Earth as we know it unless world leaders do something about it soon (and they probably won't). But a new study reminds us there's even more fun, apocalyptic stuff for us to worry about: the ocean's acidity level has risen 26 percent over the past 200 years thanks to CO2 emissions, and scientists anticipate this will soon have a devastating effect on our marine ecosystems.
The UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) released this horrifying report [pdf] yesterday at a conference in Pyeongchang, South Korea. 30 scientists submitted research supporting the startling jump in ocean acidity, noting that the unprecedented spike coincides with the rise of industrial emissions. And though it could take "many thousands of years to return to original levels," according to the report, it'll take much less time for us to irreparably damage ocean ecosystems if we continue emitting carbon the way were are now. From the report:
It is now nearly inevitable that within 50 to 100 years, continued anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions will further increase ocean acidity to levels that will have widespread impacts, mostly deleterious, on marine organisms and ecosystems, and the goods and services they provide. Marine calcifying organisms seem particularly at risk, since additional energy will be required to form shells and skeletons, and in many ocean areas, unprotected shells and skeletons will dissolve.
Rising acidity levels—which occur when the ocean absorbs carbon dioxide—are a massive problem. When the ocean's pH levels decrease thanks to increased acidity, it throws off the underwater food chain, starving off coral, shellfish and plankton, which in turn hurt other marine life like salmon and lobster that feed on smaller seafood.
When we spoke with author and New Yorker staff writer Elizabeth Kolbert in April, she warned us that increased ocean acidity is one of climate change's biggest threats, and likely contributed to the end of the Paleozoic Era:
The best explanation for the worst mass extinction of all time was a very, very severe episode of global warming, ocean acidification, and ocean anoxia, too, which is where the oceans have no oxygen in various layers. They become very stratified, and a lot of the oceans would just be what we call "Dead Zones." That's a very sobering parallel. Anyone who doesn't find that sobering really ought to think again, because that is what we're doing. We're putting a lot of CO2 up there, and it seems pretty clear that event was at least associated with CO2.
Last month, world leaders met at the United Nations for a summit on climate change. They will reconvene in Peru in December, and then again in Paris next year, in hopes of coming to an agreement regarding slashing carbon emissions. But unless their very positions in power are threatened by some collective uprising of citizens around the world, they probably won't.