Oceans of Acid

21 11 2009

Here’s  a nice article from Australia’s Cosmos magazine.  It’s nominated for an Earth journalism award.  You can vote for it here.

Oceans of acid

Pickrell, John
Cosmos Magazine (2009-02-06)
Read the original report (online, press)


As global warming wreaks havoc on coral reefs, evidence is mounting that another problem caused by carbon dioxide is an even bigger threat. But is it too late to fix?

It’s six o’clock on a Sunday morning and I’m sitting on Queensland’s Four Mile Beach. There’s still a night chill to the air. Though the light is dim, a red glow is building on the horizon as the Sun is about to emerge from beyond the Pacific Ocean.

I’m playing with the sand between my toes and fiddling with a small piece of coral rubbed smooth by the tide.

I’ve spent the preceding few days out on an Australian government marine survey vessel snaking its way along the Great Barrier Reef. The trip has given me a lot to think about, both good and bad, and this morning I’m mulling over everything I’ve experienced.

In late July, the CSIRO invited me to join a team of 14 scientists, led by oceanographer Bronte Tilbrook and climate modeller Richard Matear, as they collected data to predict the future health of the reef.

The issue on their agenda is ocean acidification, commonly referred to by those in the know as “the other CO2 problem” – separate, but linked to climate change. Though acidification has had a lot less press, there is mounting evidence to suggest that it will be a bigger problem for marine life than the warming of the oceans themselves.

Our waste carbon dioxide (CO2) is mostly maligned for causing climate change as it builds up in the atmosphere, trapping heat, but for the past 200 years it’s also been quietly dissolving into the oceans, slowly making them more acidic.

Continued here.

Sleek freaks and links to critiques

19 11 2009

flickr user: Rusty Sheriff

I’ve been watching the Superfreakonomics saga unfold with interest.

I confess that I have not read either this book or the earlier Freakonomics, that kicked off the franchise. I have however, observed the exuberant confidence with which the field of micro-economics has taken on new subjects and new challenges in modern times, to some extent spurred on by this bestselling first book. For me this is of great concern. I have always been worried about the way economics has divorced itself from its fellow social sciences and how it dominates decision making and consulting in the halls of power. Perhaps this is best represented by the tip-of-the-tongue familiarity of names like Stern (and Garnaut to Australians). How odd that politicians have sought sagely advice from economists about the unfolding crisis of climate change (as opposed to other thinkers – political scientists, geophysicists, biologists, ecologists and so on).

Also concerning is the claim to this new form of micro-economics to being “value-free” or agnostic on morality. This is not true. Any decision to emphasise or frame matters is coloured by values. All the more dangerous that the authors cannot see this. There is no doubt that the power of statistics in highlighting causal relationships is something that can be put to good use. But the idea that this is new ior revolutionary is insulting to the statisticians, epidemiologists, sociologists and so on, who have used powerful statistical methods to draw such conclusions in the past.

With a major financial collapse just starting to ease, now is the time for the discipline of economics to take up its most important challenge – shaping economic systems that serve the people and nourish the living world. Systems which do not require further growth in energy consumption or resources. Some have started down this path. But until the mainstream of the profession grasps the new realities of material and energy constraints, it will indeed remain the dismal science.

Here is a great collection of links to blogs and media discussing Superfreakonomics. (Most are critical, some defending the book).