The State of Our Oceans: Environmentalist outlines climate woes at UC San Diego lecture

"Visualize a beautiful planet," advised Eve Simmons — environmental activist, keynote speaker, green blogger and consultant to both the California legislature and San Diego Fish & Wildlife. "And save our Earth 'cause it's the only planet in the universe with chocolate candy!" she added with a smile.

Simmons insists she's an eternal optimist, but she can also tell you about 100 things that are going deadly wrong with the planet that will raise the hairs on your head.

"We have about a dog's life left until we hit global environmental disaster," she warned, turning to her serious side. "Yet, we have to be optimistic! It's best if we look upon the environmental crisis as a challenge or an opportunity!"

Simmons spoke about "The State of Our Oceans" as a guest of UC San Diego, July 5, in the Humanities & Social Science building. She started off by pointing out what she called the shameful voting record in America.

"Less than 60 percent of our population votes," Simmons told the crowd gathered for the free lecture. "In the last election, 15 million people who call themselves environmentalists did not vote! That's not good because the politicians who make our laws only listen to the people that cast a vote, that's how they keep their jobs.

"If you care at all about the environment, you have to get out there and vote. In addition, it is very important to follow up with e-mails and phone calls to your representatives."

At this point, Simmons launched into a mind-boggling list of things going wrong with the planet. The first is the supersized storms we've been experiencing, which she said are are driven by climate change ... and we are facing a future of even more devastating weather events.

Hurricane Katrina (2005), for instance, killed almost 2000 people and caused $125 billion in losses, she reported. Hurricane Sandy (2012) killed another 233 people and caused losses of $69 billion. In the Philippines, in 2013, Typhoon Haiyan killed 6,000 people with damages at $4.5 billion.

Another glaring problem, Simmons said, is the warming trend at the Poles. In both the Arctic and Antarctic, global warming is causing massive amounts of ice to melt, leading to rising oceans. Antarctic ice loss, for example, has tripled since 1990. In the Arctic, the permafrost covering the tundra is melting and releasing large amounts of methane gas into the atmosphere, which further contributes to the Greenhouse gas effect.

Simmons said warmer conditions in the Arctic are also affecting the jet streams — the generally westerly winds that blow across the continents. The jet streams are starting to slow down causing unusual weather. Minnesota, for instance is experiencing more hot days than ever, but no record cold days.

She reported that water temperature in our oceans is also on the rise because the seas are absorbing carbon dioxide and heat from the atmosphere. Here in La Jolla, the ocean temperature has risen 1.8 degrees on average.

"Our changing habitats are also leading to a loss of species," she said. The prediction? "Extinction of up to half of the world's population of plants and animals by the year 2050."

Simmons said massive starfish die-offs are going on, and added that seahorses are also at risk, as are Atlantic puffins, krill (the chief food of whales), sardines and anchovies. Sea turtles may be extinct in 10-20 years. Within our lifetime, we may witness the depletion of fish as a food source in the oceans.

She reported that there are now five garbage gyres circling around in the world's oceans — not just the one most know about in the mid-Pacific. Plastic in the oceans now outnumbers sea life on a 6 to 1 ratio, she said.

Coral reefs, too, are in decline. Some 33 percent of the Great Barrier has died out: "and it's been suggested reefs are worth $1 million a day in tourist revenue, in places like Hawaii. Yet the United States only spends about 10 percent of that amount on their protection, management and restoration," she said.

In sunny San Diego we aren't helping things, Simmons said: "San Diego is the only city on the West Coast that allows the discharge of 'partially treated' sewage into the ocean." She identified two local problems that need fixing:

• pollution from large cargo ships, which also carries and releases invasive species with their water ballast;

• the (at least) 43 leaks in the 27 operating oil platforms off the California coast (the states of Washington and Oregon have none).

"It is imperative that we take action," she said. "As a society, we should divest from fossil fuels and invest in clean electricity, solar power, wind power, geothermal steam, tidal, and wave power. We can be totally fueled by these alternative sources within 20 years.

"Don't buy any more gas engine cars. Buy an electric car or a hybrid. And don't buy anymore plastic water bottles. Get a metal container and use a refill station. Please stop using plastic drinking straws, which the City of Seattle recently banned. Carry eco-friendly bamboo utensils for use when you go out to eat, and eat only locally grown, in season, organic foods."

— You can read Simmons' environmental blogs at TheGreenFlash.org and she tweets at @Eve_Simmons

Copyright © 2018, La Jolla Light