Conservative Pundit Jonah Goldberg Calls For More Attention To Ocean Acidification

Goldberg Tells Media To Cover Environmental Issues That He Ignores

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg criticized environmental reporters for focusing on climate change, saying that they were missing “serious problems, such as ocean acidification.” However, ocean acidification is caused by the same carbon pollution driving climate change.

In his syndicated column on April 23, National Review Online editor-at-large Goldberg wrote that Republican politicians “still care about the environment,” suggesting that they pay attention to environmental problems “such as ocean acidification, overfishing, elephant and rhino poaching, and loss of habitat” rather than climate change:

Contrary to what you may have heard, GOP politicians still care about the environment, but they take their cues from public opinion, not from the green lobby.


Important work is being done on serious problems, such as ocean acidification, overfishing, elephant and rhino poaching, and loss of habitat. None of these issues get a fraction of the coverage they deserve. That's because many environmental reporters think their beat begins and ends with climate change.

Ocean acidification is sometimes known as the "evil twin" of climate change as it is also driven by carbon dioxide emissions, making the ocean more acidic -- surface ocean waters are now about 30 percent more acidic than they were at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, as carbon dioxide builds up in the atmosphere and is increasingly absorbed by the ocean. Goldberg is correct that ocean acidification does not get the attention it deserves, as it threatens coral reefs that provide coastal protection from storms and tourism, and shellfish that make up a large part of the fishing industry.

Climate change also exacerbates species loss further threatened by overfishing, poaching and habitat destruction -- the other issues Goldberg names as truly “serious.” In addition, climate change is itself emerging as one of the main drivers of habitat loss. This is why environmental groups and reporters have focused on climate change, while continuing to address environmental problems from overfishing to poaching, as it is a threat multiplier with global consequences.

While Goldberg is now calling for attention to these particular environmental topics, he has not given much attention to them himself in the past. The only time Goldberg has previously mentioned ocean acidification in his column* was to claim that we could address it by giving the ocean “some antacid” in 2009:

Is the atmosphere getting too hot? Cool it down by reflecting away more sunlight. The ocean's getting too acidic? Give it some antacid. The technology's not ready. But pursuing it for a couple of decades will cost pennies compared with carbon rationing. 

Oyster hatcheries have indeed been resorting to putting the equivalent of Tums into hatcheries to make up for the declining numbers of oysters in the ocean, but dumping huge amounts of antacid into the ocean at large is considered impractical by scientific groups such as the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

The only time that Goldberg mentioned overfishing** was in 2005. In that same column was the last time that Goldberg mentioned animal habitats, claiming that the United States had “added vast new habitats for animals” without ever mentioning continuing habitat loss.*** Goldberg has never before covered poaching in his column.****

UPDATE (4/25/14): In response to a Twitter post about this article, Goldberg cited an undergraduate paper to again claim that ocean acidification can be addressed through geoengineering.

The three-page paper was for a student's Marine Science 201 class and later published in a student journal at the University of Hawai'i at Hilo in 2011. Titled “Ocean Acidification: Cause, Effect, and Potential Mitigation Approaches,” it outlines that fertilizing the ocean with iron, one of the approaches for mitigation, “could have negative feedbacks that lessen some of the carbon capture, and could negatively effect [sic] ocean ecosystem functioning,” while using powdered limestone could be useful but the negative side effects “have not been thoroughly examined” yet. Peer-reviewed studies have found that such a method would require massive mining and cost trillions of dollars per year -- all while not addressing the warming of the atmosphere. Geoengineering expert Dr. Ken Caldeira added in a statement to Media Matters that “limestone would not dissolve in surface ocean waters, but rather it would sink to deeper ocean layers. Thus, this would not address surface ocean acidification in the short term.”

Over 150 of the world's top ocean scientists signed a declaration in 2008 stating that geoengineering was not a viable solution for ocean acidification, in part because many of these strategies simply “enhance ocean acidification in some areas while reducing it in others.” The scientists agreed that we must instead reduce our carbon emissions to address it, and the twin challenge of climate change. A 2013 report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service agreed that “Reducing CO2 emissions to the atmosphere and/or removing CO2 from the atmosphere (i.e., carbon sequestration) currently appear to be the only practical ways to minimize the risk of large-scale and long-term changes to the pH of marine waters.”

Caldeira expanded on the implications of large-scale geoengineering in his statement to Media Matters:

The scale of any enterprise to counteract the chemical effects of these carbon dioxide emissions would be approximately the scale of our energy system. If we are going to do something at the scale of our energy system, it would seem the most sensible thing would be to create an energy system that did not use the atmosphere and the ocean as a waste dump.

* According to a Nexis search of “Major Newspapers” for “jonah goldberg and (ocean w/5 acid!)”.

** According to a Nexis search of “Major Newspapers” for “jonah goldberg and overfish!”.

*** According to a Nexis search of “Major Newspapers” for “jonah goldberg and habitat”.

**** According to a Nexis search of “Major Newspapers” for “jonah goldberg and poach!”.