People of faith brainstorm with scientists to deal with ocean acidification

05/18/09 Seán Kinane
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As atmospheric carbon dioxide levels continue to rise -- in large part due to the burning of fossil fuels – much of it dissolves into the world’s oceans. As a result, the oceans are becoming less alkaline. Today at St. Petersburg’s Eckerd College, scientists and people from a range of faith communities gathered to discuss the implications and solutions for this “ocean acidification.”

As oceans decline in alkalinity, many organisms that form shells -- such as some photosynthetic plankton that form the basis of the marine food web -- may be unable to continue to make their shells. And no one knows exactly what will happen to the rest of ocean life if populations of these phytoplankton collapse. Peter Betzer is president and CEO of the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership and is Dean Emeritus of the University Of South Florida College Of Marine Science.

One reason why global issues like ocean acidification need to be solved through regulation is because of the “tragedy of the commons,” according to Stetson University College of Law professor Paul Boudreax. In a physical space that is open to everyone, such as the two largest commons – the oceans and the atmosphere – there is an incentive to exploit. That’s because when an individual takes resources from a common space, the harm is shared among everyone but the gain all goes to that individual. But Bodreaux says that due to “fuzziness” in current international environmental laws, new treaties are likely needed to solve the problem at the root of ocean acidification.

In order for people to become active on the issue of ocean acidification, Noel Brown says the issue needs to be personalized. Brown is the former director of the United Nations Environment Programme’s North American regional office. Brown says that if participants from the Eckerd roundtable can come up with a way to frame ocean acidification in a way that shows how it affects a typical person, then they can work with the UN to form an international policy.

One of those ‘value builders’ at Monday’s Eckerd College roundtable hosted by their Center for Spiritual Life is Drew Willard, pastor of Holiday United Church of Christ in Pasco County.

Members of several different faith communities -- including Bahá'í, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and several Christian denominations – learned more about ocean acidification from marine scientists. They then shared their concerns and insight from a faith perspective. One even commented on the apparent double standard of holding the meeting in an over-air-conditioned room with close to fifty ceiling lights. These fossil-fuel-powered amenities add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere which will further acidify the world’s oceans. David Weizman is a rabbi at Congregation Beth Shalom in Clearwater.

Imam Wilmore Sadiki is president of St. Petersburg Islamic Center and teaches classes on philosophy and religion at Eckerd. He says that religions should get more involved in environmental issues.

Samir Padhye says that there are several schools of thought in Hindu traditions, but a person’s relation to the universe is common to most of them.

Members of the Bahá'í Faith are involved with environmental issues from a local level to an international level, according to Owrang Kashef.

The roundtable on ocean acidification was sponsored by the Waves of Change Campaign of the International Ocean Institute.

Waves of Change

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