Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair
Picture us in our separate towers, or bubbles, or bunkers, facing off against those with different views. The longer we stay in our tower, the more isolated we become and the less we are able to communicate with people outside our tower.
Unfortunately, we're not likely to get broad support for the rapid decarbonisation of the economy if we stay in our towers throwing missiles at those with other views.
When climate scientists come out of their towers and communicate widely, or invite contrarians into their domain, Leo Hickman calls them Rapunzel scientists. He notes that Professor Richard Betts, a climate scientist who is head of the climate impacts research team at the Met Office Hadley Centre, has reached out to communicate with contrarians.
The climate debate has been so acrimonious at times that I'm sure Richard Betts feels like Kofi Annan in a meeting with Syria's Assad. Kofi Annan knows that if diplomacy is to be effective, Rapunzel has to reach out to the witch and be nice to her.
Of course, something is required from the witch as well. If she waltzes in and trashes the place, it's not very constructive. The trouble is – being unconstructive is an effective strategy for some vested interests.
Industries with big investments in fossil fuels don't want economies to decarbonise. They prefer that society is divided into separate camps that are busy arguing, persuading, negotiating.
In the same way, it seems to suit Assad to host yet another visit from Kofi Annan, to prolong negotiations, agree to a cease fire, and then to carry on killing his citizens. Why does Kofi Annan keep doing it? Because until someone intervenes with firepower, diplomacy is the only game in town.
With climate change, the different towers will continue to play out their game until the evidence before our eyes causes contrarian towers to crumble. A good section of the Heartland Institute tower crumbled away this month. No Rapunzels were involved, just a stealth attack and a Unabomber own goal.
One of the most compelling pieces of evidence of damage caused by CO2 emissions is the acidification of the ocean.
A recent report from EPOCA (European Project on Ocean Acidification) observes that ocean acidification is as high as it has been in 800,000 years. This is because the oceans have absorbed 30% of the CO2 humans have pumped into the atmosphere over the past 150 years.
In absorbing those emissions, the oceans have buffered humanity from the worst effects of a warming planet. This protection has come at a price as oceans become increasingly hostile for many of the little creatures at the bottom of the marine food web. In more acidic oceans critters relying on calcium carbonate for a home – from corals to mollusks to the sea snail – have a harder time manufacturing their shells.
If snails, corals and mollusks collapse, entire ecosystems threaten to literally crumble away. Coral reefs support about 25% of all marine life, while sea snails account for more than 45% of the diet of fish like pink salmon.
Here's a 6-minute video that shows how all marine life depends on the pH value of oceans. Who'd have thought that oysters are not just for eating?