No poetry in ocean acidification

Ocean acidification is the silent scream of environmental protest. We know about it and are horrified, but have no channel for expression.

A late arrival on the menu of humanity’s best endeavours to wreck the planet, acidification has been unable to establish itself in the top division of activist response.

Although our sense of existential despair is heightened, environmental campaigns tend, perversely, to be weakened by multiple agendas. Coral reefs, biodiversity and dolphins are popular causes but, bundled together in an “oceans” campaign, they lose their cutting edge.

By contrast, scientists seem to relish multi-variable scenarios. They engage with the language of “non-linear relationships”, “feedback loops” and “tipping points”, nasty sounding phrases which convey the desired sense of unease.

One of the most interesting scientific reports on environmental limits, Planetary Boundaries, published last year by the Stockholm Resilience Centre, recommended safe thresholds for no fewer than seven potentially catastrophic indicators, observing that:

Planetary boundaries are interdependent, because transgressing one may both shift the position of or result in transgressing, other boundaries

Sadly, three of the suggested boundaries have already been transgressed, including that for climate change. The boundary for ocean acidification is very close at hand.

The lack of focus on ocean acidification amongst campaign groups is reflected in its negligible presence in international environmental policy. Absent entirely from the Copenhagen Accord, ocean acidification has been elevated to a “cross-cutting” issue in the 5th Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) promised for 2014.

“Cross-cutting” is professional UN jargon to describe issues which need to be taken into account, often for no other reason than fear of protest at leaving them out. It’s unclear whether this status will be sufficient to force through the formal review of the science of ocean acidification so urgently needed.


this article was first published by OneWorld UK