We cannot solve climate change by carbon mitigation alone.

Edward Taaffe
5 min readJul 3, 2022

We cannot solve climate change by carbon mitigation alone and if this is our only focus, then humanity is finished.

We think of climate change being about carbon dioxide and the burning of fossil fuels, and that if we achieve net zero for carbon then all our problems are solved, this is not true.

A substantial part of the problem and hence any solution is pollution, primarily in the oceans. The Oceans are in fact the main driver of the climate, more that 90% of our oxygen comes from the oceans and more than 90% of our carbon dioxide ends up in the oceans. Much of the pollution ending up in the Ocean is however beginning its lifecycle on land and travelling in many different ways to end-up in the Ocean.

Man-made pollution.

We do need to continue to focus on carbon mitigation, but our best hope at reducing carbon dioxide concentrations is to regenerate and bring back plants and animals on land and especially in our oceans.

The oceans are not dying because of climate change, they are dying because of man-made pollution, and it will be the loss of nature that will cause catastrophic climate change. Marine life is vital to the process of controlling carbons. Loss of Marine life is caused by overfishing and even destructive fishing, but primarily through pollution. 80% of the world has no municipal or industrial wastewater treatment.

Even in high income countries, when you consider sludge and storm water, the reality is less than 50% of our waste is treated.

Some waste, even quite nasty chemicals can be dealt with via dilution because of the size of the oceans,. However, the most toxic of chemicals do not dissolve, they float on the surface as a thin film, or form an emulsion as a result of wave action much like making mayonnaise from oil in the blender and most of it ends up absorbed by microplastics.

Planktonic plants and animals now absorb or eat the toxic microplastic particles, and then they die. This Plankton is the most important element of saving our oceans and our climate, but pollution is destroying it.

Using PH values to measure our progress.

During the 1940’s our oceans pH was pH8.2,

Today it is approximately pH8.03, but assuming we carry on as we currently do:

By 2045 our PH will be closer to pH7.95.

Most carbonate based marine life including coral reefs, start to dissolve at pH 8.04, (Just about now or the next few months) and by the time it drops to pH7.95, the ocean’s carbonate-based marine life will have dissolved, or will be seriously compromised and very difficult or even impossible to recover.

Look at it a simpler way.

Over the last 70 years, we have wiped out more than 50% of all planktonic plants and animals, and as the plants disappear, the ability of marine life to remove carbon dioxide from the water declines. The state of the water is now so bad that Most carbonate based marine life including coral reefs are starting to dissolve and as PH drops rapidly to the projected ph1.95, all marine life will be starting to dissolve but it will almost certainly be far too late by then.

A closer look at how it happens.

There should be no plastic in the oceans as you might guess, but we tend to find up to 100 particles per litre of water within 100 km of land and 1 per litre of seawater everywhere on average. There are 20 million tonnes of microplastics in the Atlantic Ocean alone.

The shipping industry burns 300 million tonnes a year of dirty bunker fuel oil, more than 6% of which ends up as PCC (partially combusted carbon) that contains black carbon. The flues on ships are scrubbed with seawater, and all that carbon ends up in the oceans also. This carbon also contains toxic chemicals and heavy metals. Combined with atmospheric fall out, a total of 20 million tonnes of these particles end-up in the oceans every year. The carbon then behaves like microplastic adsorbing more toxic chemicals from the water as it floats near the surface layers.
These toxic chemicals, microplastics and PCC are killing the plankton, they are killing the life support systems for the planet, and destroying coral reefs, and mangroves, and these outcomes in turn cause the Ocean pH to drop

Typical sources of Ocean pollution.

Land runoff is prime source of pollution in the ocean. This occurs when water infiltrates the soil to its maximum extent, and the excess water from rain, flooding or melting flows over the land and into the ocean. Often, this water picks up man-made, harmful contaminants that pollute the ocean, including fertilizers, petroleum, pesticides and other forms of soil contaminants. Almost everything that is dumped on earth is likely to eventually follow this path.

Oil shipping pollution is a huge source of ocean pollution, the most devastating effect of which is oil spills. Crude oil lasts for years in the sea and is extremely toxic to marine life, often suffocating marine animals to death once it entraps them. Crude oil is also extremely difficult to clean up, unfortunately, meaning that when it is split, it is usually there to stay.

Ocean mining in the deep sea is yet another source of ocean pollution. Ocean mining sites drilling for silver, gold, copper, cobalt, and zinc create sulphide deposits up to three and a half thousand meters down into the ocean.

Pollution from the atmosphere is, believe it or not, a huge source of ocean pollution. This occurs when far inland objects are blown by the wind over long distances and end up in the ocean. These objects can be anything from natural things like dust and sand to man-made objects such as debris and trash. Most debris, especially plastic debris, cannot decompose and remains suspended in the ocean’s current for years.
Dumping of toxic material in the oceans.

Conclusion.

Global warming is a terminal problem, not just a nice thing to be seen supporting. While carbon emissions is an important part of the issue, its not the root of the problem and achieving carbon zero, even if we could achieve it in the next decade, won’t fix the problem, it will require much more and more important interventions.

The thing that’s causing the biggest problem is significant changes to the PH levels of the Ocean water which itself is caused by destruction of marine life resulting from pollution of the oceans.

Global Warming ß Ocean PH levels ß destruction of Marine life ßPollution of Oceans ß (pollution of land, agricultural chemicals, fertilizers, mining, oil drilling, shipping)

If we don’t make major changes and achieve significant changes by 2030 it will be all too late.
If we have not achieved very significant changes by 2045, it will be all over for us.

To get into the story in more depth read:

Dryden, Howard and Duncan, Diane, Climate change…have we got it all wrong? an observational report by a Marine Biologist (May 2, 2022). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4099018 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4099018

To catch up with the UN programme: https://wedocs.unep.org/xmlui/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/34463/JSUNEPPF.pdf?sequence=13

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Edward Taaffe

Ed is a technical consultant and writer in the areas of Digital and Products. He writes here on random subjects that catch the eye.