Ocean Acidification from Green Energy

As promised, let’s talk about ocean acidification.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), “Ocean acidification (OA) refers to changes in global ocean carbon chemistry in response to rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2).” NOAA asserts that the surface absorption of CO2 in our oceans and Great Lakes is causing them to acidify by reducing their pH levels. For instance, since the industrial age, our ocean acidity levels have increased 30%, which is faster than any known ocean pH changes within the past 50 million years. There are other factors that can affect OA, like stormwater runoff, heavy rainfall events and cold water inclusion. But clearly, society’s use of carbon-based fuels is the predominant cause of ocean acidification. If you take a look at the correlation trends below, it’s easy to conclude that ocean acidification will progressively get worse if we don’t stop our CO2 emissions.


co2_atmosphereseawater_noaa_2014-1217_with_text_696w
OA Graph. Source: NOAA PMEL graphic

Here’s why it’s so important. Small marine invertebrates like zooplankton, copepods, mollusks and crustaceans are the base of an ocean-wide food chain. Ocean acidification, which causes oceanic carbonic acid; can have a deadly dissolving affect that stops the ability of these animals to grow and develop their larval stage shells. The collapse of this important food web endangers other marine and fish species that solely rely on these tiny creatures for food.

Shell
Before/After Shell Dissolve. Photo: NOAA.gov

The fact is, our oceans absorb 25% of all our atmospheric CO2 emissions, which includes biomass emissions. What’s unbelievable, is the biomass industry claims they’re a “carbon neutral” source of clean energy that’s good for the environment, when in fact, they’re a major contributor to ocean acidification.

BiomassOA-Art
Graphic: Brett Leuenberger

There’s no way around it, carbon is carbon. Which brings me to the point; biomass is just another source of CO2 emissions, adding to ocean acidification. Whether we’re burning coal, natural gas, fuel oil, wood pellets, ethanol, biofuel or forest biomass for energy or heat; it doesn’t matter, they’re all carbon emitting fuels.

The biomass industry claims they’re a “carbon neutral” source of clean energy that’s good for the environment, when in fact, they’re a major contributor to ocean acidification.

I’ll give you some simple math again, so you can visualize how bad this is. Using the 50MW McNeil biomass plant as an example; it can generate 3.5 million pounds of CO2 per day. A staggering amount of 875,000 pounds of CO2 (25% of 3.5 million pounds) per day, will end up in our oceans. Remember, that’s just one biomass plant that has the capacity to emit 319 million pounds of CO2 a year, directly absorbed into our oceans as clean, “renewable energy.”


Dr. Mark Green of St. Joseph’s College in Maine, talks about OA


 

What bothers me most, is knowing that the industry is systematically removing locked-up terrestrial carbon and unnaturally transforming it to atmospheric and oceanic CO2. Look, there are two places we can’t afford to add any more CO2; our atmosphere and our oceans have both reached their carbon tipping points. We can however, safely and naturally sequester gigatons of CO2 within our forests and biosphere.

It’s pretty hard to squirm away from the science, especially knowing that every biomass emission cycle adds to ocean warming and acidification.

Keep in mind, here’s a “green” industry that knowingly emits carbon and publicly eludes any culpability or environmental responsibility for their contribution to global ocean acidification. I’ve personally called out several operators in the biomass industry regarding their ocean acidification donations; every one of them has deflected their misgivings to the weak, “we can grow more trees” argument. It’s pretty hard to squirm away from the science, especially knowing that every biomass emission cycle adds to ocean warming and acidification.


Next week, I’ll talk about deforestation from biomass and America’s role in the global wood pellet market. Cheers.

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