The apocalyptic 1973 film was my first shuddering thought when I read about a new research study documenting a dramatic decline in phytoplankton -- the plants at the base of the ocean food web -- over the past century. The cause, according to researchers at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia? Warming oceans that are one result of global climate change.
There's no way to sugarcoat the findings by Boris Worm and his team. That point was driven home in the email note I received with link to the study -- a note from a leader in the campaign to get political and business leaders to act now and reduce human-generated carbon pollution that is driving climate change:
"Friends, this is stunning. Unfathomable, really. A new article in Nature from Boris Worm at Dalhousie (one of the most respected oceanographers around), claims that phytoplankton biomass in oceans -- the basic engine of carbon fixation and the basis of the food chain -- has dropped, since 1950, by 40%!!!!!
"If this is true, the implications of this are just staggering. It means that the non-linear acceleration has already begun, massively, at the very heart of the carbon cycle. It also means that marine food production systems are already utterly out of kilter."
Friends on the East Coast and Midwest are sweltering, with each month bringing new reports that this is the warmest May (or June, or July) on record. NOAA's just-released State of the Climate report for 2009 confirms these trends. Yet the U.S. Senate can't muster the votes to pass legislation tackling climate change.
In California, our visionary climate-change law is under assault. (Oil companies are the big backers of a ballot proposition to suspend the law.) And, as I learned on a field trip to a Central Valley dairy farm on Tuesday, dairymen eager to convert manure into biomass energy (thus keeping methane, a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide, out of the atmosphere) are running into regulatory hurdles.
The result? We only have ten manure to biogas plants in California, compared with 8,000 in Germany.
It may be summertime, vacation time, but it's time to act -- to tell our members of Congress that addressing climate change is a priority as urgent as cleaning up the Gulf or putting people back to work.
The alternative, vividly realized in Soylent Green, isn't pretty.