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Ocean acidification: geoengineering & the thicker shell experiment

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Published on Dec 16, 2009

Q&A following screening of A SEA CHANGE at Good Planet Film Festival. Brad Warren of Sustainable Fisheries Partnership moderates. Panelists: Vicki Fabry, Andrew Dixon, Tony Haymet, Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, all experts on ocean acidification. Variously from Scripps Institute, Stanford University Center for Ocean Solutions/University of Queensland.

Brad Warren: You'll hear people at COP-15 looking for the kind of hope that says "we can relax." You'll see something published in the paper to the effect that it's not as bad as all that. What you won't see is detailed critiques which scientists write for each other. . . . Two kinds of hope being peddled at COP-15, both of which deserve to be thrown out of the window of a tall building. Geoengineering in the form of ocean fertilization. And the fact that adult lobsters grow thicker shells in a more acidic sea sometimes.

Oven Hoegh-Guldberg: What that lobster paper didn't mention is that the majority of creatures showed huge effects, thinning of shells, from ocean acidification. For example oysters, mussels. Those are really destabilizing effects, just one or two species. It can tip the whole thing into imbalance. "This is one of the most dishonest parts of these kinds of arguments, that they cherry-pick out examples." These "denialists" cloud the issues with their cherry-picking.

Tony Haymet speaks to geoengineering question: ocean acidification won't be solved by any attempt which only focuses on thermal issues. And if we don't address ocean acidification we're looking at a silicon-based ecosystem in the sea, such as we had millions of years ago. There are schemes to address the CO2 in the ocean, but he would "call those false hopes." The only way to address the threat of ocean acidification is to "stop putting CO2 in the atomosphere. And that means we have to make electricity without making CO2, or we're very clever and we make the CO2 and we find a way to bury it forever."

Vicki Fabry: Yes, certain creatures grow bigger shells in high-CO2 sea water. But that comes at a cost. They have to use energy they would use in other ways, like reproducing, to grow their shells--they have to work harder at that. "Different species will react differently. Some will be more sensitive than others. " And over generations, differences grow. "We're talking about the wholesale reorganization of the food web in the oceans."

Andrew Dixon: Geoengineering doesn't make sense because of the scale at which it would be required. This year alone we're putting 40 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. A process which could remove that amount--wishful thinking.

Question from Jack Hiddary, Huffington Post: "Where has the fisheries industry been? There's people with billions of dollars of vested interest. . . . Where is the industry?"

Brad Warren: You will see action. There's a Bering Sea crabber who came from Seattle to work on this issue with me. "We have 10 or 12 of them in DC this week talking with senators, saying, if you like your fish, change our carbon policy. . . . It's going to take longer than I wish but that's how it is with everyone. . . . When you watch the UN process, it's painfully slow but it does advance. And I think the same can be said of the [seafood] industry. As we go along . . . . I think even the most reticent will become vocal."

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