The release of ancient carbons into our atmosphere is causing a “planetary destabilization” according to Alanna Mitchell, Canadian author of Sea Sick. Her Halifax presentation on April 3 2012 entitled ‘Carbon and the Oceans: When Oil and Water Mix.’was the second of three in a Canadian Centre for Ethics in Public Affairs (CCEPA) public lecture series focusing on ‘The Elements: Ethical Uses of Our Resources.” Mitchell’s lecture, at the Scotiabank Theatre Auditorium at Saint Mary’s University investigated the changing life support systems in our oceans in three ways: acidification, warming, and dead zones. Mitchell maintains, “all three damage the ocean’s complex ecosystem and may, lead to the earth’s next mass extinction,”
An audience of close to 100, which included a third of the viewers watching on-line, was concerned to hear about the impact burning fossils fuels has had on the oceans. The overload of carbon in the water has caused acidity levels to rise by 30%, raising sea temperatures and depleting oxygen levels from the ocean, creating dead zones where no life can be sustained. Each of these concerns has had devastating results on the sustainability of coral reefs, the ability of calcium carbonate shells to form, the viability of waters, and the breeding and migratory patterns of ocean creatures.
A stark example of the effects of these changes is evident in the waters off Plymouth, England. In 1998 the Plymouth Aquarium established a tank of fish species from the Mediterranean waters, but today in 2012 that tank is no longer labeled Mediterranean because those same fish species were now breeding and living in Plymouth Sound. This change in migratory and breeding practices of these fish occurred due to warming ocean temperatures and the formation of dead zones in the Mediterranean Sea.
When pressed to examine these concerns through an ethical lens, Mitchell offered the belief that ethics is, “a system of principals of right conduct.” To Mitchell, the practice of burning fossil fuels and the resulting effects on the ocean is unethical. She further maintained that this practice is a failure of our own culture and one that has further effects on vulnerable populations living off and in the oceans.
Mitchell concluded by sharing her conviction that amidst a culture of ‘climate fatigue,’ we must hope for change and that “transformation is only possible if we believe it to be ” This engaging presentation left audience members, thankful for her insights and wisdom, with many questions to ponder and concerns to consider.
The next event in this series is scheduled for May 16th when Andrew Nikiforuk, author of Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent takes on: ‘The Master Resource: Oil and the New Servitude.”
CBERN Outreach Assistant