Who needs the oceans?

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Often, opponents of environmental laws and regulations claim that environmentalists care about more about beauty and cute creatures than people.

A new report on the world's oceans offers us new proof that this is a false choice. The first ever report from the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO), a gathering of many of the world's top ocean scientists, warns of mass extinction of marine life as one of the results of accumulating problems in the oceans of the world.

The oceans are beautiful, awe-inspiring, and magnificent. They are also engines of economic activity, and the source of much essential human sustenance. As we harm the oceans, we harm ourselves, in potentially disastrous ways.

If we seriously damage the oceans, as humanity is on track to do, we will damage ourselves more in the process. Protecting the oceans is not just about how beautiful coral looks or about how polluted the oceans are, it is also, concurrently, about protecting the fish we eat, the air we breathe, the amount of overheating we suffer from. It is not just about pristine shorelines, it is about whether or not we will have enough food to feed our growing population, or even feed our existing population.

The threat to the world's oceans comes from a combination of factors: increasing zones of low oxygen, increasing "dead zones" of virtually no oxygen, chemical pollution from agricultural run-off, the massive accumulation of plastics particularly in the Pacific Ocean, increased acidification due to the excess carbon dioxide the ocean is absorbing due to global warming, the heating up of the oceans, habitat destruction, and serious overfishing of many forms of marine life.

The report notes that the state of the oceans are closely tracking the worst-case scenarios from the last Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, and that many of the problems are caused directly by human activity, and that the various problems are interacting to cumulatively create even worst effects.

The main harm to the oceans comes not from the actions of individuals acting rashly, but from major industries - the industries that overfish, that dump pollution, that profit from over-fertilization of agricultural lands, and that dump oil as BP did last year . While we as individuals can take action to help, the main solutions have to do with changing the practices of major corporations in shipping, fishing, the burning of fossil fuels for agriculture, transportation, and manufacturing. We need fundamental and worldwide solutions.

Photo: View of the Pacific Ocean in Lima, Peru. Martin Mejia/AP

 

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