I like Grist, most of the time . . . and then there are times when it grates a bit.  Jess Zimmerman got me with one of the latter today – in a post about the grave condition of our oceans.  First, I guess I just like my info delivered straight, not . . . well, this:

Ocean ecosystems are taking a faster nosedive than anyone predicted. Without urgent action, coral reefs and entire fish species could disappear in a generation. Why is this happening? Do you really need to ask? Hint: It rhymes with shmarbon shmioxide.

Shmarbon shmioxide?  Really?

CO2 in the atmosphere increases the temperature of ocean water, throwing off the pH and making the oxygen-hogging algae population explode. Result: OCEAN DOOM.

Ocean doom?  That is the summary of this report?  This does not enhance the readability or accessibility of the report.  Hell, I feel like it trivializes the report, which I suspect was the opposite of Zimmerman’s intent.

But here’s the thing: Zimmerman’s summary mischaracterizes the report.  The title of the press release is the first hint:

“Multiple ocean stresses threaten ‘globally significant’ marine extinction.”

The second hint is the first bullet point of the press release:

  • The combination of stressors on the ocean is creating the conditions associated with every previous major extinction of species in Earth’s history

And finally, just reading down a bit, it becomes clear that climate change is one of three major stressors that combine to cause the challenges we face.

The group reviewed recent research by world ocean experts and found firm evidence that the effects of climate change, coupled with other human-induced impacts such as overfishing and nutrient run-off from farming, have already caused a dramatic decline in ocean health.

Increasing hypoxia (low oxygen levels) and anoxia (absence of oxygen, known as ocean dead zones) combined with warming of the ocean and acidification are the three factors which have been present in every mass extinction event in Earth’s history.

So, to Jess Zimmerman and Grist, please, please take a bit more time reading press releases (God forbid you read the report before reporting on it) and try to get the messages right.  The collapse of our oceans is an incredibly important challenge that is vastly underreported and very poorly understood by the general public (earlier post on this here), and addressing the causes of the depletion of the oceans (and some really significant terrestrial impacts as people look for new sources of protein – see chapters 2 and 13 in Delivering Development) will require addressing how we grow our food and dispose of our waste, and how we choose to fish the oceans for generations to come.  Climate change and CO2 emissions are part of the problem, no doubt, but without a comprehensive approach, we will collapse our fisheries no matter what we do on climate change.