[Coral-List] warming, acidification, reefs and CO2

Michael Risk riskmj at mcmaster.ca
Wed May 15 09:30:39 EDT 2013

Hello Peter, colleagues…

I second my colleague's perspicacity and courage, and point out that, in his message, is one of the keys as to why we are losing this battle.

Peter correctly refers to the Alberta deposits as "Tar Sands." Tar sands, not oil sands.

These deposits are, to those on this list, Devonian reefal oil which migrated up-dip, got trapped and oxidized in estuarine sands. They were known since forever to the natives, then written up and described by a pantheon of the heroic early explorers of Canada's west: Alexander MacKenzie, David Thompson, John Franklin.

There is not a drop of oil in them-but there is a lot of tar, or bitumen. In exploitable zones, the grade runs maybe 10%.

In short, they were, properly, Tar Sands for 200 years. Then a few years ago, some PR flack for the oil companies decided "tar" sounded dirty, and decided they would be henceforth referred to as "oil sands." This had the enthusiastic support of our federal government. (I used to poke fun at the American government-now I hang my head in shame at ours.)

If you get on the various sanitized sites, you will hear justification of "oil sands" because "tar is a man-made substance." (I couldn't make this stuff up. I mean, have they not heard of the La Brea 10W-30 Pits?) This mind-management has now become so prevalent that one almost never hears of these deposits properly referred to-it's all oil sands. Bad science driving out good.

Now, cast our minds back a decade or so, to when Big Oil hired a whole swack of PR flacks from the tobacco companies, and told them to go forth and sow doubt-just as they had done for the evils of smoking. These guys did a wonderful job, found some "scientists" who could be bought, or rented. Threw up confusion where none should have existed, and led a large part of the North American populace around by the nose. One of these just posted to this list, called GW the new snakeoil.

The fundamental problem is, we know (most of us) deep down that what we are doing is not sustainable. We are human, and easily led, so that when someone comes along, some genuine snakeoil salesman selling fake goods, we leap to believe them.


On 2013-05-14, at 2:55 PM, Peter Sale wrote:

> Hi all,
> If any of you have yet to see Reef Reminiscences, download a copy and 
> think about what we are losing: 
> http://www.inweh.unu.edu/Coastal/Publications/ReefReminiscencesBooklet_WEB..pdf
> The current discussions re acidification got to me.
> Last week, CO2 concentration above Mauna Loa reached 400 ppm for the first 
> time since continuous records commenced in 1958.  The long-term trend 
> since 1958 is becoming steeper (the rate of increase is growing). 
> Atmospheric CO2 was last at this level over 3 million years ago, well 
> before Homo sapiens evolved.
> Growing atmospheric concentrations of CO2 lead to warming, and to ocean 
> acidification.  Ocean surface  temperatures have warmed measurably since 
> the start of industrialization, and pH of surface waters is declining at a 
> rate which appears to be more rapid than at any time in the last 450 
> million years.  pH was virtually unchanged throughout the last 10,000 
> years, but has fallen 0.1 pH unit since start of industrialization, and is 
> expected to fall as much as 0.7 pH units over the next couple of centuries 
> if we do not wean our economies off fossil fuels (Zeebe 2012).
> There are already studies showing effects of reduced pH on growth of some 
> corals, as well as studies showing deleterious effects on a range of other 
> marine species.  Bleaching due to warming has had significant impacts on 
> coral cover on reefs worldwide, although mass bleaching was unknown until 
> first described by Peter Glynn in Panama and Galapagos in the early 1980s. 
> Bleaching-caused mortality and acidification-cause slowed growth act in 
> consort to further reduce the status of coral reefs (many of which are 
> already severely degraded by overfishing, pollution and inappropriate 
> coastal development).  Live coral cover in shallow regions (~10m depth) of 
> the Great Barrier Reef has declined by 50% over the past 27 years, due 
> partly to bleaching losses.  Data for the Caribbean are less robust, but 
> tell an equally or more depressing tale.
> This week, the Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, will journey to 
> New York to give a speech in which he will extoll the value to the United 
> States of building the Keystone XL pipeline (jobs and oil for USA), while 
> also claiming a strong commitment by his government to the environment. 
> That commitment is hard to discern.  Tar sands oil extraction is by far 
> the most polluting form of oil production around, both in CO2 emissions 
> and in other forms of pollution (chiefly heavy metals in waterways). 
> Canada is third, globally, in its per capita emissions of CO2.  The Harper 
> government pulled Canada out of Kyoto, has no plan to achieve its own 
> (weak) target for emissions reductions by 2020, and still has not put in 
> place emissions regulations for the tar sands industry.  This government 
> is also the one that keeps getting written up in Science and Nature for 
> its anti-science agenda.
> True, not building Keystone XL will only slow, not stop, Canada's tar 
> sands industry.  and Canada's total emissions of CO2 are a tiny percentage 
> of the world total.  But as someone who would like coral reefs to persist, 
> I think we have to start somewhere if we are going to change our ways. 
> Stopping one pipeline is one small step on a long road to save coral 
> reefs.  Some things in life are more important than the bottom line.
> Peter Sale
> www.uwindsor.ca/sale           www.petersalebooks.com
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Michael Risk
riskmj at mcmaster.ca

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