Saturday, July 31, 2010

Phyto Who? Say what?

I happened across a brief article the other day, on I believe it was The Daily Beast.  It wasn't even a feature piece, just an 'also ran', a kind of "...oh, by the way" article.  It said that scientists have now proven to their own satisfaction that there is a major die-off of phytoplankton occurring in the world's oceans.  With over 250,000 data points, stretching back over at least five decades, they believe that this began in the 1950s, but that it is accelerating in the present.  They also believe--based on the data--that global warming is the primary cause for this.

They have noted periods of such die-offs in the past and have associated them with changes in ocean currents by La Nina, and the warming this brings to a belt of water near the equator in the Pacific Ocean.  These pull-backs have also resulted in the starvation of species ranging up the food-chain, including the marine mammals and other pinnacle species at the top.  Almost in passing, the article mentioned that phytoplankton  are responsible for about 40% of the oxygen that plants put into our atmosphere, and, to that end, they are one of the primary sources of photosynthesis.

If this piece had appeared in the N.Y. Times, it might have been buried somewhere back in the sections, and on page 9 of that section.  There was no attendant alarm, no sense of urgency even. It was just a tid-bit of news offered in the probable hope that readers might feel it interesting.

Hmmmmmmmm.......    My reaction, on the other hand, was a little more like, "Holy CRAP!!!!  It sounds like they're saying that one of the pillars that sustains a viable atmosphere on our planet is waning..... and (by extension) we're all going to DIE," which, of course, is true....I just wasn't planning that we'd slowly suffocate en masse.

But, hold on there, cowboy, maybe that is just a little too 'Chicken Little'.  Maybe we'll get by just fine on less oxygen.  Maybe some geniuses at MIT or Cal Tech have already worked out how we can survive the accelerating degradation of the atmosphere...and they figure it's all so routine that it isn't even newsworthy. 

On the other hand, maybe this news is just so HUGE in its implications that nobody, as in not a soul, can really get their head around it and make the extrapolation of impending doom. Maybe it is just too far-reaching and too radical, and that makes it simply 'unreal'.  But, if we were to really accept it and act accordingly, the changes in how we are conducting our lives would have to be so sweeping and dramatic that we cannot even imagine what life would be like.

I imagine that it is kind of like laying on the beach in Banda Aceh sunning yourself.  Suddenly your companion says, "What the f**k is that?!" and you follow their pointing finger out to the horizon....and you see something.  It's different, and it is real and it's big....very big.  And, you just cannot comprehend that a wall of water 30 feet high is coming straight at you sit and you stare.  And, when it finally sinks in what is really happening........

It's simply too late.

Is that what we're doing here in the early years of the 21st century?  By now, every intelligent adult--which, by definition means those who are not sticking their heads in the sand--knows that we have already visited, and continue to inflict, some terrible things on this planet, things that are beginning to have effects that we can now measure, but which will culminate in ways we can only hypothesize in the present....but are looking rather 'dark', to put it mildly.  It is becoming increasingly clear that we are damaging our host planet to the point of eventual non-viability for life as we know it.  And, the more we learn, it becomes apparent that my use of the word, 'eventual' may be rather optimistic.

The scientific community has been playing Chicken Little for so long now, that many of them have simply given up hope that anybody will listen, or believe that we really are in the early stages of the Sixth Great Extinction.

I watched a video of Farley Mowat--one of Canada's great gifts to the world, via his books--speaking with Paul Watson, the founder of the Sea Shepherd Society, while sitting in chairs on Farley's front lawn, overlooking the ocean.  In mild tones, devoid of anger or alarm, they simply agreed with each other that we are watching the final acts of a species that is going to be the first ever to be responsible for its own extinction.

But, for reasons I seem unable to comprehend, I find that some part of me just refuses to let go, like a drowning sailor who lets his grasp on the life-raft loosen and peacefully drifts down into the depths.  My grip on HOPE simply will not release.  Maybe it is the last thing I have that keeps me wanting to be here each day, trying to be a Human Being, and to somehow, in some infinitesimally small make a difference.

 These images are: macro-photography of diatoms, a very common form of phytoplankton, and a 'bloom' of trillions of such organisms seen from space. 



Teresa Evangeline said...

Science fiction is rife with stories of Mother Nature responding to, if not fighting back at, those who would inflict great damage on her. What if this living breathing organism called Earth and her inhabitants, the animals in particular, knew on some deep level, call it consciousness even, that it had become necessary to respond, to protect herself, themselves, from the predator, witting and unwitting, called Man? Are we there? Perhaps we are. I have to say, I'm rooting for Mother Nature. So, hang onto that Hope. She's bigger than us, perhaps even smarter than us. She being both Mother Nature and Hope.

Sam said...

"Martha Stewart's polishing the brass on the titanic. It's all going down man." - Tyler Durden