Ocean Heating Adds Urgency to Our Task

A new United Nations climate assessment report builds on previous reports to paint a picture of oceans continuing to heat up along with our global atmosphere.

This is the latest in a series of reports that show a more rapid rate of increase in global ocean surface temperatures than previously expected. In the words of one researcher, the rapid increases are “uncharted territory” for global ocean surface temperatures.

Oceans absorb up to 90% of the planet’s extra energy emitted by greenhouse gases and, as a result, have been slowly increasing their temperature globally for at least 40 years. Not only has surface temperature increased, scientists have also found warming deeper in the oceans, where the change comes much more slowly. With ocean heating comes increased likelihood of even more atmospheric warming, which will then contribute to glacial melting, which will then lead to greater sea level rise. As they heat up, not only will oceans’ warming contribute to atmospheric warming, their actual volume also expands, which alone could drive nearly one-third of the earth’s sea level rise moving forward.

What’s worse, even if we can slow emissions now, or even stop them, the heating process in the oceans is already underway and will continue for a long time. This report stated that even if greenhouse gas emissions decline, the warming of the ocean may continue “until at least 2300.” The earth, another oceanographer said, “has this huge ability to absorb heat and then hold onto it.”

This intense, long-lasting ocean heating means huge damage to the life of the oceans themselves, our larger global atmosphere, and of course, the potential to make miserable and possibly destroy all human life on earth. Given the amount of damage we’ve already done, some level of suffering in the coming decades is unavoidable. But that doesn’t mean we have to let it get worse.

We know what the root problem is: the capitalist economy and the politicians that protect it for the One Percent. They are driving the destruction of our world in their endless pursuit of profit. But we also know what the solution is: millions of people coming together to get rid of that One Percent and their dirty, profit-driven system. Our efforts now can help shape the future for decades and possibly even centuries to come.