Friday, August 27, 2010

Saving the World's Oceans Requires a Sustainable Solution

This letter was submitted to the Editor of the Sudbury Star for publication, in response to an earlier letter published by the Star, “Build Oil Refineries to Save Oceans” (published Thursday, August 26, 2010). UPDATE: this letter was published in the Tuesday, August 31st edition of the Sudbury Star, under the headline "More refineries not the solution".


I agree with the concerns raised by the letter's author that we, as a society, must do a better job of protecting our oceans. The recent BP Oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is just the latest in a series of economic and environmental disasters which have befallen our oceans in our quest for resource exploitation. In the past, over-fishing has collapsed fishstocks, and notably for Canadians, led to the closure of the Atlantic cod fishery. Increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which cause global warming, are also leading to the acidification of our oceans. As a result, coral reefs throughout the world, which support myriad fish and plant species, are being destroyed.

The author of the letter, however, proposes a very unconventional method for “saving” our oceans: by building more oil refineries in Canada. The author appears to have missed the boat when it comes to acknowledging that we live in a closed biosphere, where pollution in our air leads to considerable impacts elsewhere: in our soils, in our lakes and rivers, and in our oceanic waters. The economic cost of dealing with pollution are staggering; witness the ever-growing price-tag affixed to the BP clean-up. To better the health of our oceans, comprehensive solutions which consider all impacts, environmental and economic, are the only ones which have a realistic chance for success.

Links between global warming and the health of our oceans, including the abundance of marine life on which global fisheries are reliant, are well established. Along with raising the pH level of ocean waters through the absorption of carbon (acidification), our oceans are under threat due to increased melting of land-based ice in Greenland and Antarctica, which threatens to lower temperatures and alter ocean currents. In all cases, the health of marine life, as well as our own health, will be irrevocably altered.

To continue to mine our soils and ocean floors for fossil fuels to power our economy, and build expensive infrastructure for a rapidly depleting and harmful energy source does not make sense, either from an environmental or economic standpoint. A much better solution for the health of our planet and our economy would be to invest our scarce resources into building a society which is sustainable in the long term. Such a society would utilize renewable resources to power its economy, and encourage people to lead healthier lifestyles.

We've witnessed the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico unfold throughout this past summer. It's impacts will continue to be felt for decades to come. If we are truly concerned about the health of our oceans, it's time for us to clean up our economy. Only comprehensive solutions which consider all impacts should warrant public and private sector investment. Building more oil refineries to save our marine environment isn't anywhere near being a good solution.

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