RI is situated in a part of the country rich in sources of inspiration. Our ever-changing landscape of soft woodland hills, fieldstone pastures, ponds and streams, industrial mill valleys, suburbs and cities is edged to the east with quaint old coastal towns, sun-drenched beaches, reedy marshes, rocky peninsulas and rugged islands. We have an abundance of artists and photographers who are inspired by these varied vistas. As someone who grew up in the Midwest, where cornfields may be traversed for hundreds of miles before a change in scenery, I really appreciate our inspiring landscape!
Our cultural landscape is just as inspiring! There are so many cultural events happening. Art shows, concerts, dance and theater performances, lectures and great food abound all year thanks to RISD, Brown, Johnson & Wales and a host of venues and galleries. Our towns and cities value artistic culture, and a variety of organizations, such as RISCA, RIF, DxRI, AS220 and WaterFire, kindle more creative endeavors than you can participate in. Summers here are highlighted with art and music festivals such as PVDFest, and the world famous Newport Folk and Jazz Festivals which take place right on this Ocean State’s ocean.
In RI, inspiration is yours to breathe in like the air. But did you know that your simple act of drawing in that air is also an act of inspiration – and the origin of the word itself? Take a breath and consider that for a minute. And now let’s talk about ocean love. Because as inspiring as our geographic and cultural landscapes are to us, the mother-source of all inspiration is the ocean.
Because without the healthy living ocean, that breath you just took would not have enough oxygen to sustain you, let alone inspire you to sing or to paint a fiery sunset slipping into the bay! That’s because an enormous 70% of the oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere is produced by marine plants that live in the ocean. So even if you lived in Nevada, your breath would still rely on the ocean. Even if you lived in the rainforest, which provides 28% of atmospheric oxygen, you’d still be gasping for air without healthy oceans.
That’s a breathtaking thing to consider. And an inspiring reason to show the ocean some love! And there has never been a time where ocean love was more urgently needed.
The health of the ocean is up against powerful political and economic forces. Most recently, our current administration announced the planned opening of nearly all US shores to offshore drilling. This announcement was accompanied by the move to repeal rig safety regulations put in place after the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe. More drilling with fewer regulations obviously compounds the likelihood for an outrageous increase in the number and scope of devastating spills that would expose the ocean and its creatures to deadly toxins, harm our fishing and oyster farming livelihoods and destroy the beauty of our coastlines. Plus, these directives utterly deny the role of fossil fuels in climate change.
The timing of these pro-oil announcements after a year of chart-breaking global warming symptoms – monster hurricanes, massive wildfires and record setting heat waves – is both absurd and callous. And profitable. Only bitcoin and the stock exchange are racing to the tops of the charts as quickly as these climate symptoms. We know what happens when stock markets heat up and crash – we dread the instantly lost fortunes and slow recoveries. But what happens when the oceans heat up and crash?
Aside from the rise in hurricane intensity, which could really damage our state, we know that warming oceans cause sea level rise. Though it has only risen 10 inches since 1880, its rate of rise has doubled since 1993. Now NOAA predicts a rise as high as 9.2 to 11.5 feet by 2100, which is shocking! It threatens entire towns, coastal populations and landscape features. Rising waters would flood into industrial areas and wash all their contaminants into the ocean and bay. They would flood watersheds and undo the hard work of non-profits that focus on reducing ocean pollution by monitoring the health of the watershed that flows into it. All this threatens to transform RI into a very different place. Will Little Rhody be reduced to an archipelago of tiny Rhode Islands by 2100? Towns and cities are planning for rising waters. You can learn all about the estimated rise in your area by visiting the Rhode Island Shoreline Change Special Area Management Plan at beachsamp.org
These projections are devastating, but do they actually signal a crash?
Well, remember those ocean plants that produce our atmosphere’s oxygen? Those microscopic plants are called phytoplankton and they produce oxygen through photosynthesis, ingesting the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide and generating oxygen. You might expect that the more carbon dioxide we emitted as we burned fuel, the more oxygen they would produce, thereby offsetting the climate crisis. However, their oxygen production rate depends on water temperature, which has been rising with global warming. The warmer the water, the less oxygen the phytoplankton can produce. The world sea temperature has risen 1.5 degrees F since 1950, and the atmospheric oxygen has decreased 0.7%. That may seem unsubstantial until the delicate nature of that photosynthesis system is further explained: oxygen production halts completely at an increase of 6 degrees C (10.8 F). Some scientists and Sergei Petrovskii, an applied mathematics professor at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom, believe this breathtaking oxygen crash could happen by 2100.
Let’s hope they are wrong. Even so, warming sea temperatures aren’t the only threat to phytoplankton brought upon by fossil fuels. The ocean soaks up more than half of the carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere. But because carbon dioxide forms carbonic acid when water absorbs it, it makes the ocean more acidic. Acidification reduces the availability of iron, an essential nutrient for phytoplankton growth. Less iron means less phytoplankton. So even if ocean water temperatures remain cool, acidification will eventually cause a reduction in available atmospheric oxygen for every creature whose lungs rely on these tiny ocean plants for breath.
It also means less food for the entire marine food chain because phytoplankton is the food chain’s base layer. All life forms depend on it, no matter how they breathe. Without food and oxygen you definitely have a crash.
If phytoplankton crashes, the ocean crashes. If the ocean crashes, life on earth crashes, and yes, fossil fuel investors, even the stock market will crash, though nobody will be around to care. Luckily we still have time to care about what matters. It all starts with inspiration!
Visit your favorite beach or ocean overlook and get inspired! Breathe in that clear ocean air! Summon all your ocean love! And summon your fury! Exhale and start making some noise!
Call your council person, mayor, governor, senators and representatives and insist that they oppose any new fossil fuel expansion projects whether they involve extraction or storage or laying pipelines. Demand that all new energy projects be renewables like solar and wind. If you have a 401k or an IRA, divest it from fossil fuel energy companies just like New York City did with its pension funds. Join an organization that is focusing on climate action, environmental justice and ending fossil fuel dependence. They need your time, money and sign painting skills.
Here are a few local and national organizations that are addressing fossil fuels:
Climate Action Rhode Island/350.org: world.350.org/rhodeisland
FANG (Fighting Against Natural Gas): thefangcollective.org
NoLNG in PVD: nolnginpvd.org
Fossil Free: gofossilfree.org
Healthy Oceans Coalition: healthyoceanscoalition.org
Finally, I hope you will come to the March For The Ocean, June 9, 2018, which I will be helping to organize. I’ll be there with The Whale Guitar, and I hope you’ll join me!