12/4/2009 by Erica Gies
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Might all the world’s fish die? This question is posed by a documentary about ocean acidification that will screen at the upcoming Copenhagen 15 climate change conference. “A Sea Change: Imagine a World Without Fish,” invites viewers to travel along with grandfather Sven Huseby as he learns about what happens as the oceans absorb some of our excess CO2 pollution. Huseby’s parents were fishermen, and he grew up around the ocean. Early on, he introduces us to his grandson, Elias, a precocious boy with whom Huseby is clearly close. Just because the intergenerational trope is a bit cliché when discussing environmental issues doesn’t mean it can’t be extremely moving, as it is here. By shadowing ocean scientists, Huseby learns that our oceans are 30 percent more acidic than they were at the beginning of the industrial revolution, and the rate of change is increasing. These changes corrode the shells and skeletons of many marine organisms, including corals and shellfish. Larval fish are also at risk, as are entire food webs. The fact that we’re not just losing species but major ecosystems is a sign of bad planetary stewardship, said Ken Caldeira, a scientist at Stanford University who is interviewed in the film. “It raises deeper concerns, like, what else are we screwing up that we’re not aware of?” However, all fish will likely not die. Rather, species evolved for highly specific environments will likely disappear, in favor of invasive generalists. CO2 appears to be a common factor in the major mass extinctions in Earth’s history, said Caldeira. Ocean acidification is such a scary problem that many people would rather not think about it — kind of like climate change. But “A Sea Change” goes a long way toward making this uncomfortable topic oh-so-human.