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We must completely reconsider how we think, learn and act.
The context of a warmer ocean, both surface and deep bottom waters is essential to knowing that this thermal transfer has caused a melting of polar ice and an expansion of the oceans accelerating a foot rise in sea level in the last 100 years. While we cannot scientifically know to what extent atmosphere and ocean warming is reaching a level of no return by inducing irreversible changes in plant and animal ecology sufficient facts are known well enough to know that this is the greatest amount of carbon dioxide in the air in 400,000 years.
To predict outcomes would confront us with a paradox. Consider that biological reactions are less predictive to the extent that chemical reactions are certain to occur when conditions are at known temperatures, density or pressures and acidity and alkalinity or pH. Acid water inhibits the development of fish eggs or insect larvae, and sulfur produced by burning coal and oil adds to the amount of sulfuric acid in the water. Just how sulfur when added to sediments increases the capacity of bacteria to convert mercury into a soluble form ingested by fish and birds and accumulated in the food chain is an unknown metabolic question.
Five factors are simultaneously compounding the characteristics of this emerging problem of thermal pollution of the air and the seas. And there is a lesson for us in this conundrum of response to global pollution:
Consequently scientific uncertainty is woven deeply into the core of ecological problems associated with thermal pollution and comparatively simple physical uncertainty becomes even less certain when using models to assess desired out comes that involve physical oceanography, the density of salt as contrasted with fresh water. But scientists assert that salt water density drives ocean currents from within and beneath the deep. Thus when dilution of salt water occurs with the melting of the Greenland ice caps some researchers fear the weakening of the Gulf Stream that warms the northwestern coasts of Europe. This problem of the conveyor belt reveals the extent of air pollution's impacts on long established geophysical patterns to which life has adjusted.
A traditional linear, cause and effect educational perspective,fails to capture the above problem's complexity in that several time dependent changes occur together in some broadly defined but hard to predict specifically ways. From a discipline based perspective deep ocean and coastal fisheries involve many related disciplines such as physical, chemical, biogeological and population studies. When information derived from separate disciplines accumulates there is also a growing need to bridge the uncertainty with a a common, far more integrated view:
Deep ocean water is warmer now and has caused thermal expansion of the ocean leading to additional sea level increase.
In the quest for reliable order, meaning and predictability in reality, science reveals further uncertainties about what we are doing because of the way we live our lives today. Using fossil fuels to travel, generate electricity, and make products has led to a thirty percent increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide since 1957. The rate of increase is faster than the capacity of the oceans and living systems to absorb and thus regulate or moderate the rise as it affects plants and animals.
There is enough evidence from social psychology to reveal that when confronted with huge uncertainties related to known ecological or health problems, human subjects initially deny that a problem exists. Realization of the veracity of the problem leads to separation and assertions that the problem is due to someone else's fault. Once someone recognizes their own complicity in the problem there is a tendency to assert that economically rational behavior will trap the perpetrator in socially destructive actions until talented thinkers, using new technology, will create a means to solve the problem. Denial of global warming fits the patterns seen in every ecological impact debate from pesticide contamination destroying bird's egg shells, to acid rain, lead in gasoline, in that this and similar scenarios take years if not decades for the social learning curve to generate shifts in awareness strong enough to alter behavior and reduce acid rain, remove DDT from insecticides, or remove lead additives from automotive fuel.
As the pace of damaging changes quickens and the behavior we are exhibiting produces very persistent long-lived pollutants, we are faced with a compounding problem which requires action sooner, than later. The time we have to promote awareness into behavioral change is less than the average time for such transformations in thinking to occur. That is because the residence time for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is from one to three centuries and the amount in the air has not had this level of carbon dioxide in 100 to 400 thousand years.
Solving climate change is made ever more difficult by the fact that the diffuse harm is incurred by populations very far removed from the perpetrator of the harm --or the users of fossil fuels. No one experiences the full brunt of the problem to a degree that traditional cause and effect models can convince people that changes are necessary. People change when they perceive their behavior as self-threatening and believe that worthwhile, economically valued, or even healthy benefits come to them by changing their activities.
The problem we are seeing with respect to the way multiple impacts are driving time dependent reactions is that we need to act now because we have a window of opportunity. The longer we wait the farther into long-term cycles we are pushed. Then it will take ever longer to correct for and emerge from the induced period of change. The magnitude and the timing which we will be unable to foster effective responses. The clearest example of this is the persistence of carbon in the air and the rapid building up of carbon dioxide in the oceans and the air. But climate or warming, by whatever name is also occurring simultaneously with human population growth, a loss of places adequate for species and people to live, losses in wildlife and fisheries, rises in frequency rates for human neurological disorders, and the disruptive yet interdependent impacts of energy consumption on nutrient cycles. The codependent character of sulfur dioxide and mercury pollution, not to mention carbon dioxide waste from the burning of coal, oil, or garbage is but one small example of the combined impacts being greater than the sum of the interacting parts.
Biologically speaking, sulfur metabolizing bacteria, convert mercury deposited from fossil fuel combustion into organically soluble mercury. This soluble form accumulates in the tissues of fish and fish that eat fish, such that 70 species of fish in the oceans, more than 10 states and Florida have mercury warnings on the consumption of fish caught in interstate or state waters. But the positive news, like the response to the ozone loss in the poles, is that actions when taken to remove mercury from garbage incineration plants leads within five years to measurable declines in mercury levels in surrounding waters and in the denizens of these places. Thus human action makes a considerable difference on the health risks associated with persistent thermal and toxic chemicals in the environment.
Ecological science is more than a mere method for understanding, describing and verifying knowledge of the natural world. It is a mesh of strands from disparate disciplines woven together to reveal the importance of places, forces and knowable outcomes, even where human behavior, the greatest unknown is a significant factor.
We are the biotic and cultural heirs of an unfathomable ancient legacy of dreams, mistakes and hunches gone wrong, modern science's value lies in the fact that it provides a method of detecting errors in what we discover to be an integrated, if not a sublime meaning to our conscious existence.
Whether we consciously become aware of the earth's living seas, its diverse bird, fish and animal life, or worship different culture's many prevalent idols, we are all the the earth's children. That is because we are the daily product of bacteria and plants, just as we are the historical descendants of the biological ancestors who built this world and that record is seen in even our genes. Before we can think, we are the recipients of the biological wealth of the planet because we breathe the air produced by bacteria and plants. Before we become aware, we consume the food and fuel of animals and plants both existing and geologically transformed fossils,to live. Before we question the meaning of our existence, we are enabled to be what we are because of the geology and biological geography of the planet.
Characteristics of uncertainty links:
Zeitgeist - the spirit of the times - "an unscientific age of science" Richard Feynman once suggested the phrase to describe our historical era. In addition to not accepting Darwin's theory of evolution far too many Americans exhibit a deep and abiding technological idolatry as an intense expression of their faith in progress. This means they have faith that tools can solve any problem we encounter, even when evidence of "technical fixes" fail to solve environmental problems, as is the case with tall smokestacks to disperse fossil fuel pollution from sulfur or nitrogen oxides that form acid deposition forming to acid rain.
Worldview - weltanschauung - the erroneous impressions we have of the world --such as belief that the ocean's are inexhaustible-- as opposed the underlying verity which is manifest as the reality of existence, that ocean fisheries are collapsing around the world.
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