On climate change, and our planet’s ‘self-cleaning’ oceans

Does the ocean "clean" itself? Sort of, but that won't fix climate change.

An encounter with a climate change-denier last week yielded an interesting new argument.

It went something like this: “Even if human beings emitted massive amounts of carbon, our earth is self-sustaining! You could take all of that carbon and trap it into the ocean, because the ocean cleans itself and would therefore clean all the carbon!”

Tempting though it may be to dismiss this comment outright, the climate change-denier did have two things correct. First of all, it is true that the oceans clean themselves, in a manner of speaking. After all, it’s filled with salt and bacteria that can eat pollutants like oil.

It is also true that even people who accept man-caused climate change have tossed around the idea that perhaps we should take excess carbon and trap in the ocean… somehow.

The problem with the climate change-denier’s argument is simply this: drop by drop, nautical mile after nautical mile, our carbon emissions are changing the very chemistry of the ocean.

The massive amount of C02 we release into the air, is actually causing the ocean to become more acidic, thereby reducing its ability to clean itself and posing a threat to the animals that make their home therein.

Even if you believe that trapping the very thing that’s causing the ocean to become more acidic in the ocean, will solve the problem of climate change, you still have to give an answer for how this acidic ocean will then clean the carbon trapped inside of itself, as opposed to destroying itself and all living things in it.

Have you heard a similar argument posed by climate change-deniers in your life? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Race Hochdorf

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  • Nancy R.

    Newt Gingrich had some interesting things to say about the prospect of a warmer planet – if it was good enough for the dinosaurs, it’s good enough for us. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/07/newt-gingrich-climate-change_n_4554530.html

  • Alan S

    I am not convinced of all the doomsday scenarios promoted by Al Gore and others, and neither are unbelievers like Bjorn Lomborg, Ian Plimer and others. Plimer is one of the most vocal supporters of evolution against creationism (with a famous and entertaining debate with Duane Gish, which can be viewed on youtube), and also a scientist who has written against the conventional wisdom on climate change. Is the debate over climate change really in the same ballpark as creation v. evolution? Just asking.

    • It’s a valid point. And I agree that the “doomsday scenarios,” as you appropriately describe them, are not exactly “proven science.” However, there is vast consensus among scientists, particularly climate researchers, and scientific academies the world over that: 1) the earth’s climate is unequivocally warming, 2) it is a serious concern and 3) the majority of it is most likely due to human activity. Is denying those three statements the same as denying evolution by common descent? I’m not sure I would say that, but to borrow your phrasing, it does seem like it’s “in the same ballpark.”

      • Alan S

        The difference I see is this: Creationism is really a religious perspective trying to pass itself off as science; it undermines the credibility of the gospel and Christianity because it asserts that the Bible opposes a well-grounded scientific theory. When a Christian, who is raised in a creationist church culture, open-mindedly faces up to the evidence for evolution, they may experience a crisis of faith.
        On the other hand, it seems that “Climate Change skepticism/denialism” (CCS/D) is not really a religious perspective. CCS/D MAY in fact be wrong-headed, but for a Christian to hold to it does not seem to undermine the credibility of the gospel/Christianity in any comparable way to Creationism. Maybe some Christians would hold to CCS/D because of their understanding of the Bible, but I think most Christians, just like people of other faiths or no faith, hold to CCS/D because of either scientific or political considerations. Whereas the ONLY people who hold to YEC are Christians, it is telling that you have people who are NOT Christians, some of whom are even hostile to Christianity, who do hold to some form of CCS/D. Bjorn Lomborg is a gay vegan, Penn Jillette is a militant atheist, Jesse Ventura is an atheist, Michael Crichton was a deist; besides these, you have several prominent scientists who, if they ARE Christians, are certainly not known for it, such as Freeman Dyson, Richard Lindzen and Ian Plimer. Although I am a CCS/D (to the extent that I accept that global warming may be a reality, but I’m sceptical about whether it’s primarily due to human pollution, and even if it IS due to human pollution, I’m sceptical about the significance of the consequences), I can confidently say that if I was convinced tomorrow that I was wrong on the issue, it wouldn’t precipitate a crisis of faith in me at all, because I never grounded my CCS/D in the teaching of Scripture.
        Anyway, sorry for rambling! No disrespect mean to Mr. Hochdorf, I just think it might be wiser to keep the website’s focus laser sharp on the compatibility of creation as a Christian doctrine and evolution as a scientific explanation. Diverting attention to other issues, over which readers of this website might have legitimate differences of opinion which have nothing to do with their interpretation of Scripture, may not be helpful. Just my two cents.

        • Hey Alan, good thoughts! Thanks for expounding on the point. I definitely see where you’re coming from, and I think you’re right about the distinction that you’ve highlighted. Although I have certainly known Christians who have tried to use the Bible to support their anti-climate change views (using verses about God being “in control of the seasons” and whatnot), I would agree that this is probably a secondary development, and the genesis of such views really is more political or cultural than purely religious.

          I also appreciate your thoughts on the focus of the site, and rest assured, I don’t plan to stretch it or our audience’s patience too thin. I didn’t see any harm in exploring a bit of new territory, but I did ask Race to keep it short, which I thought he did very well 🙂

          • Alan S

            Thanks! I am not trying to diss Race (I hope he knows that too), and I agree that there is no harm in getting off the main topic here and there. 🙂