Some friends of mine are working on a new film about an alarming dimension of the global carbon-emission problem that's received scant attention. Accomplished documentary filmmaker Barbara Ettinger (her previous works include Two Square Miles and Martha and Ethel) and her husband and partner Sven Huseby are traveling the globe speaking to leading scientists studying acidification of our oceans, which threatens to change life -- both on land and sea as we know it.
Ocean acidification has been called the sleeper environmental issue of our time. We can smell -- and often see -- the havoc that emissions from smokestacks and car exhausts wreak on our air. But we fail to consider the huge amounts of carbon absorbed by our seas, even though they cover 70% of the planet. Carbon decreases the water's pH, leading to decreases in calcium carbonate, crucial for creating bones in fish, shells on crustaceans and coral reefs.
Biologists and commercial fishermen already are witnessing the harmful effects of acidification. Among the first casualties are pteropods, small mollusks essential to the diet of young salmon. Experts predict that unless we take serious, immediate steps to lower fossil-fuel emissions, there could be a catastrophic ripple effect leading to the extinction of more than one million aquatic species over the next century. Equally at risk are those who depend on the sea for their food and livelihood.
In pursuit of uncovering this calamity-in-the-making and giving it a human face, Sven also has been retracing his past. His family relied on fish -- his father operated a fish market in Norway and later a salmon cannery in Alaska before settling in Seattle, Washington. (Not surprisingly, Sven grew up eating fish six days a week!) While visiting his boyhood haunts, he meets with scientists doing cutting-edge research, activists shining a spotlight on the disaster and fishermen living in fear of losing their cash crops -- and their communities.
In a recent letter to his young grandson Elias, Sven wrote: "I often think about what is happening to the oceans and I wonder if your world is going to consist of a barren sea." Through what promises to be a very compelling film, I hope many more people will start thinking and wondering these same things.
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