Photo: Declining phytoplankton another sign of climate catastrophe

Marine phytoplankton populations are declining at an alarming rate (Credit: U.S. Department of Energy Genomic Science program).

By David Suzuki with Faisal Moola

As we wrote recently, nothing would please us more than if climate change deniers were right. It isn't fun to delve daily into the ever-mounting evidence of the catastrophic consequences of climate change. And life would be easier if we didn't have to spend it trying to get stubborn governments to do something about the problem, and trying to get the public to care without driving them to depression.

Facing daily attacks from people who deny reality isn't much fun either.

But evidence that the world is warming, mainly because of our fossil fuel addiction, and that this is having increasingly disastrous effects on our health and on the health of the planet's ecosystems, keeps growing.

Meanwhile, arguments from deniers keep getting knocked down, to the point where one must conclude that there really are only two types of denier: those who are paid by industry to spread misinformation in attempts to confuse the public, which is criminal, and those who are unable to see the evidence staring them in the face and who still cling to arguments that one minute with Google would dispel, which is pathetic and stupid.

The latest blow to the deniers came when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency examined in detail 10 petitions challenging its 2009 finding that climate change is endangering the planet, that it is largely caused by burning fossil fuels, and that it threatens human health and the environment.

In every case, the EPA found that the petitions misinterpreted data, contained outright false claims, and included exaggerated charges.

"The endangerment finding is based on years of science from the U.S. and around the world," said EPA administrator Lisa P. Jackson. "These petitions — based as they are on selectively edited, out-of-context data and a manufactured controversy — provide no evidence to undermine our determination. Excess greenhouse gases are a threat to our health and welfare."

Another recent report, published by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, looked at data from 10 climate indicators measured by 300 scientists from 160 research groups in 48 countries. It concluded that human-caused climate change is undeniable and is increasing.

And so ice in the Arctic and in glaciers continues to melt, ocean temperatures and sea levels continue to rise, ecosystems and wildlife habitats continue to shift or degrade, and extreme weather events continue to become more frequent.

On top of that, a recent study by Dalhousie University oceanographer Boris Worm and his team found that phytoplankton populations in the ocean are declining at an alarming rate because of human activity and climate change. Why should we care? Well, these microscopic plants are the base of the food chain and account for half the production of organic matter on Earth. They also remove carbon dioxide from the air and produce more than half the oxygen we breathe.

According to report co-author Marlon Lewis, "Climate-driven phytoplankton declines are another important dimension of global change in the oceans, which are already stressed by the effects of fishing and pollution." The report, published in the July 29 edition of Nature, states that phytoplankton have declined by about 40 per cent since 1950.

We can't live without them.

While governments stall and deniers spread confusion, it gets more and more difficult to achieve the kind of emissions reductions that scientists say are necessary to prevent the Earth from reaching a cataclysmic rise in global average temperatures. It was once possible, and may still be, but we are reaching a point where it will become impossible.

We all have a responsibility to do everything we can to reduce our own emissions, to vote for governments that make climate change a priority, and to make sure those governments focus on real solutions. We know that conserving energy and shifting to cleaner energy will not just help solve the climate crisis but will also resolve many pollution-related health issues and may even give economies a boost.

The fossil fuel industry, which continues to reap multi-billion dollar profits, has spent millions to support a handful of deniers, right-wing think tanks, and websites that call climate change "junk science" and deny human activity is influencing global warming.

It's time we all started ignoring the insane blathering of the deniers. We've already wasted too much time on them — and we don't have time to waste.

August 5, 2010
http://www.davidsuzuki.org/blogs/science-matters/2010/08/declining-phytoplankton-another-sign-of-climate-catastrophe/

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