Ocean Acidification and a Call to Action From Patricia Turner

As a retired research scientist from the University of California and Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Patricia Turner dedicates most of her time to presenting research on the widespread effects of global warming to schools and the local community. Passionate about ending the ocean acidification crisis, Turner started a nonprofit organization chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby, with branches in Colorado Springs and Woodland Park, Colo., that run on the power of more than 70,000 volunteers.

Following the model other countries have set forth that rests on the implementation of a tax on carbon, volunteers in the organization are pushing for legislation to create carbon fees to force the producers of fossil fuels to decrease production of carbon. Turner came to campus on Monday to speak about and offer possible solutions for the grim truth of ocean acidification. Ocean acidification is on the rise due to increased levels of carbon dioxide and temperatures in the atmosphere.

Before sharing a National Geographic video, Turner began with a captivating message: oceans are responsible for 90 percent of climate change, and  40  percent of people in the world live on coastlines, meaning that ocean acidification and increased uptake of carbon dioxide in the ocean are placing the environment in grave danger. While atmospheric warming has been under the spotlight for years, it is really the quality of oceans that has the most detrimental effect on climate change, and it is here that we can see profoundly negative effects on coral reefs and marine biodiversity.

After technological difficulties and a fire drill, students settled down to watch a poignant episode on ocean acidification from the series “Years of Living Dangerously” by National Geographic. Examining examples in Australia, Hawaii, the Caribbean, and the Philippines, the video highlighted the severe effects of global warming on oceans and coral reefs, and the resulting negative impacts on marine biodiversity and coastal communities. In the southern regions of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, increasing temperatures and an accumulation of carbon dioxide have affected 93 percent of the reef, while the third mass bleaching event caused severe damage to reefs in Hawaii between August and November of 2015. In the Caribbean, 80 percent of the coral has disappeared since the 1970s, with 40 to 50 percent lost in the last 15 years. Experts predict that in 35 years, coral reefs will cease to exist.

It’s not just marine creatures at risk from ocean acidification; people will suffer, too. In the coral triangle in the Philippines, 384 million people depend on seafood for their livelihoods and their diet, and the fish industry makes up 80 percent of the Philippine economy. However, fishermen predict that there won’t be food for 60 to 70 percent of people living in the Philippines in the very near future.

Even if bleaching in Australia and the Philippines seems remote, it isn’t. Ocean acidification, global warming, and reef death is happening right here in the U.S.; the economy in San Francisco faces devastation, and ocean acidification on the coast of Florida is happening 50 to 60 years earlier than planned. We have made small efforts to combat this; 4 percent of the ocean is now protected, and former president Barack Obama passed legislation protecting a chunk of the Pacific that is bigger than all national parks combined. However, marine-protected areas cannot affect climate change alone.

This is where Turner comes in to offer a path used successfully by many other countries, one that may just be the best answer to saving reefs and ocean life. Turner proposed that a meager $15 per ton charge on carbon be imposed for the first year of the plan, and that $10 more be charged per year until fossil fuel producers decrease their production of carbon. While many people are concerned that a fee on carbon will hinder economic growth, Turner argued that the fee will benefit families. Rather than supporting the fossil fuel industry in which fossil fuel producers are subsidized $2.5 billion, the fee that she proposes gives families around $50 per month. This approach has been wildly successful in at least 20 other countries where a tax on carbon cut carbon production by as much as 60 percent. In these countries, there was also gross domestic product growth.

While it may seem that we can have no impact on the dismal path we are on to the destruction of the planet, Turner was emphatic that there is hope, and that there are things that we can still do, including practicing frugality and being informed. For students who want to get more involved, Turner suggested starting another CCL on campus. There is a great need for young people to get involved by respectfully entering spaces to advocate for a fee on carbon, because governors listen to younger voices. Here at CC, we have committed to trying to become carbon neutral by 2020. But is it really enough to commit to carbon neutrality solely on campus? Turner offered a way to make a greater impact—endorsing the CCL through Colorado College so that the CCLs in Woodland Park and Colorado Springs have more sway in Congress and when speaking to governors.

This is not just about people “way off” in the Philippines that may someday be affected by ocean acidification, or some remote coral reefs that will die, or a little marine biodiversity that will suffer. We are all being, or all will be, affected by the changes in the oceans if we don’t change the current trajectory. Turner makes a plea to students that they pressure governors to put a price on carbon so that generators of carbon and burners of fossil fuels do something about it. In the end, if every person on earth depends on the ocean for life itself, is it really such a hard decision to make protecting the Earth one of our biggest priorities?

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