Tomorrow’s will be the 40th Earth Day; the world’s largest (secular) event, more than a billion people are expected to get involved in a variety of activities this year.
A good one takes place on Sunday: a rally at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. to demand that Congress pass strong legislation in favour of clean, renewable energy. It will include a host of notable speakers, like-minded celebrities and live music, with free buses running from many cities, should you wish to attend.
You can sign the Declaration of Energy Independence from the comfort of your home – here, right now, please – and ask your senators to choose clean energy legislation over the existing flawed policy that continues to damage the natural resources upon which so much depends and, to further offend, handsomely rewards those most guilty of causing untold environmental damage.
Easier still, and for everybody, click to donate. Every day, if you can.
Yes, I’d like to focus on our planet’s glorious seas on this latest occasion of social conscience-racking, if I may.
To coincide with Earth Day, for one thing, there is a new Disney film (that’s Disneynature, there are no dancing monkeys or teapots) to be released called Oceans, narrated by Pierce Brosnan and with some breath-taking footage. For each ticket sold during its debut week, Disney will make a donation to protected marine areas in the Bahamas.
Now, I know what some of you are thinking: it’s yet another token event pencilled onto the world’s calendar to make everyone feel guilty and hopeless. But can you not make a pledge today to do something as simple as buying a petroleum-free, recycled (and recyclable) aluminium or stainless steel bottle that can be safely refilled time and time again, and ditch those awful plastic bottles that have been found lodged in beached whales’ blowholes (with other plastic evils clogging their intestines, mistaken for food)? Did you know, for example, that it takes nearly two gallons of water to make the plastic for just one single-use bottle that is then filled with over-priced, often tap water… which most likely, if not causing panicked suffocation to one of our planet’s most amazing creatures, gets buried in a hole in India as a result of what you thought was recycling but, as this video shows, is usually far less encouraging ‘downcycling’?
The five oceans cover about 70 per cent of the globe, provide more than half the oxygen we breathe in and absorb a quarter of the carbon we spew out. A 2008 report estimated that around 100 million people are dependent on coral reefs for their livelihood. Coral reefs generate some $30 billion per year for the world economy, largely through tourism and fishing industries.
Yet 20 per cent of the world’s coral reefs have disappeared. Many are dying.
Since 1990, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef – the largest living structure on Earth – has slowed in growth to its lowest rate in 400 years at least. This is a result of warming waters and ocean acidification caused by the absorption of carbon dioxide.
The world’s oceans naturally store carbon, absorbing approximately 118 billion metric tons from the atmosphere between 1800 and 1994, according to a ten-year survey. Were it not for this absorption, the CO2 level in the atmosphere today would be about 55 parts per million greater than currently observed.
About half the CO2 generated by human activity and produced over the last two centuries can be found in the upper ten per cent of the ocean. It is estimated that, over time, 90 per cent will end up there. And at a great cost.
Due to increasing carbon emissions, atmospheric concentrations of CO2 are rising, altering the ocean’s chemistry significantly. It has been surmised that, by 2050, ocean acidity may well have increased to 150 per cent, an increase that would be 100 times faster than any change in acidity undergone over the past 20 million years. Changes in acidity levels have triggered mass extinction events before. During the worst on record (the Permian-Triassic extinction, some 250 million years ago), approximately 95 per cent of marine life became extinct.
Acidification specifically threatens marine life with calcium carbonate shells, such as crabs and clams. A lower pH makes it more difficult for these creatures to produce shells and skeletons of sufficient strength, likely leading to their shells dissolving, followed by widespread decline and inevitable extinction. Should carbon dioxide levels continue to rise at their current rate, scientists predict that global ocean levels could drop from pH 8.1 to 7.7 by 2100, and the amount of calcium in shells could be reduced by as much as 45 per cent by the end of the century.
90 per cent of large fish have vanished since 1950, and all species of sea turtle are listed as either endangered or critically endangered, because of overfishing and pollution. We extract 100 million tonnes of food from the oceans each year. But do you know, or care, whether or not your seafood of choice is sustainable?
We’ve talked of Meat-Free Mondays (meat production being responsible for 18 per cent of global emissions, says the UN). Will you go Vegan for Earth Day?
Disgracefully, there’s six times as much plastic than there is plankton to be found in the Central Pacific, not to mention a largely non-biodegradable ‘continent’ of discarded waste said to be at least as large as the state of Texas – in the North Pacific. Greenpeace say that about 20 per cent of it came from ships and platforms, the rest from land. UNEP figures reveal that there are over 46,000 pieces of plastic floating on every square mile of ocean today. Some eight million items of marine litter have been estimated to enter the sea every day.
Please read that again: Eight million new items of marine litter. Every single day.
As well as acidification, rising sea temperatures can also trigger ‘bleaching’ events, where coral expels the algae that provided its nourishment living in its tissues. Prolonged bleaching can cause irreversible damage. Since 1979, there have been at least seven serious bleaching events. Some researchers believe that the Great Barrier Reef could lose 95 per cent of its living coral by 2050 should ocean temperatures increase by the 1.5 degrees Celsius projected by climate scientists.
The convenience of that plastic bottle doesn’t seem so precious now, does it?
Your recommended plastic alternatives today, please; plus simple ways in which we can all help the marine life that inhabits those vast oceans which captivate and stimulate in equal measure. Some ideas from the Huffington Post to start with, and, once you’re done, you may be inspired by one of my favourite blogs, Fake Plastic Fish; it’s the reason why it seems to have taken all day to write this post (not including the hour spent doubting the suitability of my aluminium bottle, which I now know should probably be stainless steel, although I am assured is BPA-free).
Really, every day should be Earth Day; we’ve only got the one.
And doesn’t trying to reduce one’s impact on it make some of us quite neurotic?