by Bob Massaro for Napa Valley Life Magazine
As you read through this section of Napa Valley Life Magazine you are probably among the many who relate the word “sustainable” to environmental issues only. If so, you would only be 1/3 correct.
Without all three legs, a three-legged stool would not stand. Without at least 3 sides, a pyramid would collapse. Without economic vitality and social equity, mated to environmental responsibility, true sustainability would not exist. These are the “Three Es” of Sustainability – Environmental, Economic and Equity. To be fully sustainable all “three Es” must be present and thriving.
Looking for a real life examples of the Three Es? Look no farther than the oceans of this planet, the one commonly viewed as “the blue marble” or “the water planet” because its predominate surface material is the waters of our oceans.
But these oceans are changing. They are becoming more acidic. All over our world ocean acidification is happening at an alarming rate. Ocean acidification is the name given to the ongoing decrease in the pH of the Earth’s oceans, caused by their uptake of anthropogenic (man made) carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (Wikipedia).
The National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration (NOAA) notes in their May 2008 “State of the science fact sheet for ocean acidification” that: “The oceans have absorbed about 50% of the carbon dioxide (CO2) released from the burning of fossil fuels, resulting in chemical reactions that lower ocean pH. This has caused an increase in hydrogen ion (acidity) of about 30% since the start of the industrial age through a process known as “ocean acidification.” A growing number of studies have demonstrated adverse impacts on marine organisms, including:
- The rate at which reef-building corals produce their skeletons decreases.
- The ability of marine algae and free-swimming zooplankton to maintain protective shells is reduced.
- The survival of larval marine species, including commercial fish and shellfish, is reduced.
Plankton are at the bottom of the food chain. As they decrease, so will those that feed on them, and next up the chain and so on. Let’s not lose track of the fact that 70% of the oxygen we breathe comes from the ocean (from plankton and the process of photosynthesis). So ocean acidification will, if not stopped and reversed, affect the availability of the food we eat, and the air that we breathe.
While this may look like a matter affecting only environmental sustainability let’s look closer. Consider the commerce that is generated by fishing our seas. Be it in the recreational or the commercial sector, fishing throughout the world makes a substantial contribution to our global economy. As this food source starts to disappear so will the fishing jobs, and the jobs of those that rely on fishing commerce to support themselves; the dockworkers, the storekeepers in the small communities, the packaging plants, the transportation facilities, the marketing facilities, and so on. Fishing villages and fish processing facilities could go the way of gold mining towns of the 1800s. Such a scenario is not one of Economic Vitality.
There is one other population affected by the prospect of ocean acidification. These are the smaller economies, the third world countries that border oceans and whose inhabitants rely on the fish of the world for their daily sustenance. For them fishing is not recreation, and while it may play a small part in commerce for them, the main reason they fish is to bring food home to the table. As the food chain of the oceans is affected, as the zooplankton and coral reefs disappear, so will the primary source of food for the inhabitants to these less fortunate countries. There is no Social Equity when there is not enough food to eat.
The good news about the non-sustainable acidification of the world’s oceans is that it is happening slowly, and we have realized that it is happening. This gives us an opportunity to stop it. But like so many things that affect us on a global scale stepping in and solving the problem involves the participation of many countries, of different ideologies, many times lead by men and women of unlike mind sets. But as we have learned many times in the past course of history the will of the few can affect the will of the many. The first step is always the hardest.
You have already taken the first step, you are reading this magazine. This means two things. First, you have helped this magazine to remain economically sustainable, which is a good thing for many people. It is also a good thing because that means that this magazine will continue to thrive economically and to get messages like this one out to people like you.
Secondly, the message that this magazine sends with this column will, hopefully, inform you about the 3 Es of sustainability, particularly as viewed through the lens of Ocean Acidification.
Now you have more knowledge, which of course means that you have more power. Put this power to good use. Our earth needs it.