Although Mark Green, Ph.D. has authored nearly two dozen peer-reviewed scientific journal articles, we might refer to him as a sci-fi horror author of something called “Death by Dissolution.” Except, sadly, it’s not sci-fi and the National Science Foundation-funded research and oyster farming experience of this Peaks Island resident and St. Joseph’s College professor have shown that what he writes is the awful truth. The ocean – here in Casco Bay, Maine and everywhere else – is becoming acidic at an unprecedented rate, unprecedented in the last 20 million years, or so.
Last night, the Peaks Environmental Action Team (PEAT) sponsored Dr. Mark Green’s presentation of “The Health of Casco Bay.” Green explained, “What I want to talk about is a global issue, something new on the radar screen of science – ocean acidification – also known as ‘climate change’s evil twin’ or ‘the other CO2 problem.’ This is a global phenomenon that will impact Maine as much as it will everywhere else.”
You’re probably already familiar with the effects of combustion of fossil fuels and the destruction of rainforest that, collectively, result in loading the atmosphere with billions of tons of carbon every year. Can we deny that this is driving global climate change? Green says no, that “by every conceivable measure, we are changing the climate. The CO2 is now higher than at any time in the last 20 million years and increasing at a rate greater than 100X anything that occurred during that period of time.”
St. Joseph’s College magazine described Green as “the first scientist to prove tiny juvenile clams were dying primarily because their shells were dissolving in less alkaline conditions.” The National Science Foundation has encouraged his pioneering science by awarding him with multiple grants to continue his research related to the effects of ocean acidification on sea life.
So, as a society, do we care about this acidification? Green compared news coverage of the Kardashians and of ocean acidification from 2011 to 2012 – the result? A 46:1 ratio of what received coverage in the media. That estimate is no doubt wildly conservative, given that it doesn’t count social media. So even if most of us aren’t paying attention, why should we care? If I understood Green correctly, a quarter of the carbon dioxide load that we are “dumping” into the atmosphere is “absorbed” by the ocean. As the CO2 in the atmosphere increases, so, too, does the amount absorbed by the ocean. In turn, as the carbon load of the ocean increases, the pH of seawater must go down, thus becoming more acidic.
Green projects that, if we proceed with “business as usual” energy usage and lifeways, by the year 2100 the ocean will reach a pH of 7.8 and “everything in the ocean that we know right now would not exist, with the exception of some jellyfish. No corals, shells, or phytoplankton (the base of the food chain). What we have already done is irreversible, at least, not reversible in less than tens of thousands of years. One publication predicts that coral will be unable to grow anywhere even by 2050.”
Green’s message is confident and straightforward, “There is no mitigation, no bioengineering to fix this. This is a global issue and there’s nothing we can do except turn off the CO2 pump, stop putting so much CO2 into the atmosphere. You cannot refuse this science. To refute this science would be, literally, like arguing there is no gravity.”
Sooo, if you’re feeling a “fatalistic stupor” or suffering from “environmental fatalism,” then check out this article in a sustainability newsletter or this one in The Atlantic . Then when you’re bolstered, you can read more about the impacts of shellfish harvesting in the Maine economy in the Bangor Daily News and about Maine’s commission that has formed to study this problem in the Press Herald. For pictures of Mark Green oyster farming, see Basket Island Oyster Co.’s facebook page. If you missed his talk, you can watch a video on St. Joseph’s College YouTube channel below.
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