One of the side effects of decades of denial and misinformation surrounding climate science has been that in any given conversation on the subject, nobody’s really sure what the other parties believe. Spend enough time interacting with people on this, and you’ll find people who think that we’re about to go into an ice age, that the climate isn’t changing at all, that the severe changes are still a century or more away, all the way to believing that humanity will be extinct within a decade and there’s nothing we can do about it. I always get a little dark amusement from people trying to “convince” me that the situation is dire and that we’re running out of time, because that’s been a central theme of my writing for a decade now, which is certainly less time than many have been working on the issue, but the changes in public opinion that I’ve seen in that time have been significant.
I was in one such conversation in the wee hours of this morning, and it seemed like I might need to provide some bonafides that I take the issue seriously, so I went to look up the very first blog post I ever published on Oceanoxia. It’s been long enough that I couldn’t remember exactly when that was – if it was some time in 2010 or 2011. Imagine my surprise when I realized that it wasn’t just 2010, but it was the 6th of October, 2010!
Happy birthday to me!
So in honor of this auspicious day, that I hadn’t realized was coming, I’m clattering out this short retrospective.
I started this blog in a fit of pessimistic irritation at the “worst-case scenarios” being discussed at the time, and the overly optimistic views of most people I knew who were engaged in some form of climate activism. I couldn’t cite an exact source, but I remember hearing someone on the news saying that two feet of sea level rise by 2100 was an alarmist prediction, and that it would never get that bad. People I talked to who were on board with the need for change seemed to largely think that we were close to the point where if we just emitted less, we’d never see dangerous warming, and I even had some people tell me that I was being too alarmist by suggesting people start getting in the habit of storing food for emergencies.
And so Oceanoxia came into being, born of frustration, and the fear that I would live to see the beginning of the end for my species.
One of the likely effects of a warming planet is the eventual shutdown of the “ocean conveyor” currents that help oxygen and nutrients cycle between the surface and the deep ocean. If the poles warm enough to keep the water on the surface from sinking, the bottom of the ocean will eventually lose all of its dissolved oxygen as it is breathed in and not replaced by the photosynthetic organisms on the surface (which are also declining). This means that the only organisms capable of surviving down there will be ones that don’t breathe oxygen – anaerobic bacteria. On the surface, this isn’t a problem, but as things get warmer, and those bacteria multiply, the seas will fill with toxic chemicals created through anaerobic respiration.
The best example of this is Green Lake in Fayetteville, NY – a lake with an anoxic bottom layer that has become filled with hydrogen sulfide. This has happened in the oceans in the past, and may have been a significant factor in massive extinctions. One hypothesis as to the cause of the Permian-Triassic Extinction Event, when something like 95% of all life on the planet died, is that this deadly gas buildup leaked out of the ocean, and covered much of the Earth’s land masses in poisonous gas.
I am writing this blog for several reasons. One is to provide a place for me to think aloud about what is going on in the world; another is for me to, ideally, provide a view on science and climate change that others might not have encountered before (as well as links to others who may write about particular topics better than I). The last reason is that I think there is a fundamental problem with the way climate change has been framed, both by scientists and by the general populace.
When scientists first voiced their recommendations about global warming, their warnings were based on what they thought the most likely outcomes were. They went middle of the road, they went for predictions that had the highest accuracy, and for that they were labeled alarmists and their careful, conservative predictions were called extreme, and so no real action was taken.
It’s well past time to re-adjust the frame of this “debate” – to outline where the extremes REALLY are. It’s fine to act on advice of the likely outcomes, but for those who do not make science a priority, who do not have the time or inclination to dig for details, we need to have the REAL worst-case scenarios out there for comparison.
It may shock you to hear this, dear reader, but trying to focus on worst-case scenarios can get a bit depressing over time. I eventually shifted toward a more… constructive approach. The sub-header of my old blog still has the following quote:
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” – Antoine de Saint Exupéry
It became clear to me that future dangers are not enough, by themselves, to motivate people to make changes on the scale we need. We also need a vision of a better future. Running blindly into the darkness may be easy to do when there’s a predator immediately behind us, but if we’re trying to get to a situation where we no longer need to worry about predators, we need to be able to see where we’re going. Ideally, we will also look forward to getting there. I think it’s a hard sell to tell people that we need to make changes so we can just barely survive on a sweltering hell-world.
At this point I think the future will be a sweltering hell-world, probably within my lifetime. There is, and will be, cause for much grief surrounding this fact. At the same time, I do not think that our future is inevitably one of bare survival and suffering. I believe that with existing technology, and a shift away from the insanity of capitalism, we can create a new version of human society that can not only survive, but thrive. I believe that the path to survival is one that requires us to end needless poverty and suffering. The current system, based on the greed of a tiny ruling class and the absurd fiction of infinite growth, will lead us to extinction, and it is my greatest ambition to die of old age, and to look forward from my death bed, and see humanity continuing on into the future, long past my ability to predict.
This blog, and its associated podcast, are brought to you by my wonderful patrons, each of whom gives to me according to their ability, that my household might eat according to our needs. If you would like to stand in solidarity with these people, and help support the work I’m doing, you can head over to Patreon.com/oceanoxia to join the Oceanoxia Collective. You have nothing to lose but your chains, and as little as $1.00USD/month!
Congratulations – and I love that Antoine de Saint Exupéry quote. 🙂
That sounds a bit like the ideas expressed in Bill McKibben’s book Eaarth* : Making a life on a tough new planet’ to me. Have you read that? ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eaarth )
* For once, NOT a typo!
Iris Vander Pluym says
Congratulations Abe! I am both honored and humbled to be your colleague at FtB. Here’s to many, many more! 👍🏼😃💛
Abe Drayton says
@StevoR – Thanks! I have not read it, no. I find it difficult to make myself read climate-themed books, because they usually end up making me furious at the world for one reason or another. I ought to work on that, I guess. I also have to say every time I see the title of that book, it makes me think of the way the aliens in Lilo and Stitch pronounce “Earth” – “Ee-arth”
@Iris – Thank you, and your sentiments are very kind. I’m very happy to be part of this network – it’s been very good to have y’all as a sort of community.
Brony, Social Justice Cenobite says