Possible Extinction of Most Ocean Life in a Generation or Two

So, I was perusing the Google news headlines page the other day as is my habit. There was the usual mix of world, national, sports and entertainment news which in the opinion of someone at Google is likely to be of interest to Canadian internet surfers.

It will come as no surprise to my faithful readers that headlines about the RCMP considering a formal investigation about the Harper government’s alleged misappropriation of $50 million for beautification projects in federal Treasury Board President Tony Clement’s Parry Sound-Muskoka riding in advance of last summer’s G-8 conference tweaked my interest. So I clicked on that particular Macleans.ca page for that story which may take years to unfold, maybe in time for the next federal election.

But another Maclean’s item on the page caught my eye: the possible mass extinction of much or most of life in the oceans within a generation or two, possibly as soon as the year 2050.


Whoa! Surely that’s big news, even if it wasn’t on the Google headline website.

A large group of scientists, experts in various aspects of the health and well-being of those huge bodies of water covering most of the plant, met in April at Oxford University in England to share their knowledge and get an overall sense of how well they’re doing, or not. The conclusions reached by the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) scientists from around the world were shocking:

Fish, whales and other ocean species are in “imminent danger” of an “unprecedented” and catastrophic extinction event. And it’s happening far faster than experts previously predicted, said the IPSO report, released early this week. It’s scheduled to be presented to the United Nations in a few days. The scientists are calling on national governments and the United Nations to take urgent action to bring the causes under control. They include overfishing, acidification of the oceans caused by high levels of carbon emissions into the atmosphere, and the vast quantities of agricultural fertilizers being used to grow crops to feed the world’s growing human population. But it may already be too late to turn things around because these problems have such “momentum.”

Credible news media sources around the world were quick to pick up on the report, and its main conclusion that there is a “high risk of entering a phase of extinction of marine species unprecedented in human history,” the prestigious Guardian newspaper in the U.K said in a typical report.

The scientists said the human-made environmental challenges facing the oceans have created “the conditions associated with every previous major extinction of species in Earth’s history.”

“The findings are shocking,” said Alex Rogers, IPSO’s scientific director. “As we considered the cumulative effect of what humankind does to the ocean, the implications became far worse than we had individually realised. This is a very serious situation demanding unequivocal action at every level. We are looking at consequences for humankind that will impact in our lifetime, and worse, our children’s and generations beyond that.”

The consequences would be far worse than having to get used to not having fish from the oceans to eat. “The stark suggestion made by the (IPSO) panel is that the potential extinction of species, from large fish at one end of the scale to tiny corals at the other, is directly comparable to the five great mass extinctions in the geological record, during each of which much of the world’s life died out,” reported the Times of India.

The panel of 27 scientists . . . concluded a “combination of stressors is creating conditions associated with every previous major extinction of species in the Earth’s history.

“They concluded that the speed and rate of degeneration of the oceans is far faster than anyone has previously predicted. The report also said the first steps to globally significant extinctions may have already begun.”

So why in some quarters is that not considered big news, compared to, say, Britney Spears maybe getting involved in a brawl, or the ongoing saga over the Canadian senate’s refusal to go quietly into long-awaited, and well-deserved extinction?

There are all sorts of reasons why the popular mind does not either believe or care about these scientific alarm bells being sounded on a now-regular basis about the Earth heading towards an environmental doomsday within the not-too-distant future. It’s the old Chicken Little, “the sky is falling” syndrome, for one of course. At first it’s taken seriously, and maybe for a few times after that. But you wake up every morning, and life on Earth – the good, the bad, and the ugly – just seems to go on like before, especially in our neighborhood, so why get excited?

And who are they anyway, these “scientists,” these so-called “experts” sitting in academic, ivory towers somewhere, getting paid big bucks to do research and then justify their well-financed existence by coming up with these sensational reports from time to time?

And wasn’t there a bunch of them a while back – also based in England – who played fast and loose with the truth about global warming by cooking the research numbers?

So, it’s “much ado about nothing” after all.

Apparently, that’s what Stephen Harper tends to think (Yes, I had to get him into this somewhere), which is why Canada is now a pariah on the world environmental stage.

Follow his lead if you want. Take the easy, populist way to avoid thinking. But fail to take such “expert” reports seriously at your peril, and especially at the peril of your children and your grandchildren. There is no longer any time to waste in denial.

Originally published in The Sun Times in 2011.

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