Oceans aren’t ‘losing’ oxygen; our economy is suffocating them

According to the Guardian, the oceans are losing oxygen at an unprecedented rate, with “dead zones” proliferating and hundreds more areas showing oxygen dangerously depleted.

They say that experts have warned about this trend, which is a result of the climate emergency and intensive farming.

We may read this and mourn. But does it inspire action? Quite the opposite. Does it even make sense? Not really.

How can the oceans be so careless as to “lose” their oxygen?

How can those dead zones have the temerity to proliferate all by themselves?

Challenging these passive statements for their grammatical inaccuracies is more important. As they stand, they are dangerous.

By failing to refer to the systems responsible for this horror, or the people and organisations blocking remedial action, these sentences effectively provide cover for the perpetrators.

The rest of the story provides well-researched detail about the physical mechanisms causing the die-off and the urgent need for change, but the cowardly opening framing undermines that.

Here’s an alternative headline:

“Humanity’s industrial growth culture is suffocating the oceans”

With its framing realigned with reality, the story might now proceed as follows:

“By-products of the industrial growth economy — global heating and toxic agricultural chemicals — are combining to devastating effect in the world’s oceans by triggering processes that are robbing the waters of oxygen and killing off the diversity of ocean life.

“The resulting dead zones are growing rapidly. If allowed to continue this process will result in the mass extinction of many species and the irreversible destruction of the delicate ecological balance of the oceans. Large fish and ocean mammals are already being forced out of their natural habitats.

“Despite well-established proof of the cause of this global tragedy, and of the resulting immense harm and suffering caused to ocean life and the human communities that depend on it, the process is as yet not acknowledged for the ecocidal crime that it is, allowing the perpetrators and those who sponsor and profit from them to continue their deadly practices.

“Experts have outlined several steps that could be taken to protect what is left of the wild oceans, including the rapid phasing out of fossil fuels, pesticides and artificial fertilisers, and the implementation of legally enforceable marine and coastal conservation measures. [Cue quotes.] To date, governments and other international organisations are reneging on their responsibilities for addressing the problem even at this level. However, research undertaken by ecological economist [name] at [named] university suggests that full remediation and recovery will require a dramatic overhaul of our economic systems. [Cue quote.]”

Different, isn’t it?

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