Skip to the content

We can’t stop climate change by reducing carbon emissions

… because it is not just about carbon

Dr.Howard Dryden        Goes Foundation

Diane Duncan               Clean Water Wave CIC

1st May 2021

Roslin Innovation Centre
The University of Edinburgh
Easter Bush Campus
Midlothian EH25 9RG

Report summary


Climate change is caused by more carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels entering the atmosphere than is being removed by plants on land and under water by photosynthesis.  This is the consequence of deforestation, drained wetlands, destroyed mangroves and polluted oceans, we have eroded the ability of nature to use the carbon and recycle nutrients.

Carbon dioxide dissolves into the oceans, and marine plants turn it into food for microscopic plankton, fish and whales. When the plants and animals die, they sink to the abyss, and this represents 90% of the world's carbon bank. Over the last 70 years we have lost more than 50% of all marine life due to pollution, and it has gone largely unnoticed because most of it is under 1 mm in size. The microscope marine life is hugely important, but it has been decimated to such an extent that it can no longer keep pace with the carbon dioxide entering the seawater, and for this reason the oceans are becoming less alkaline.

Less alkaline means more acidic, hence the reason why it is called Ocean Acidification or the evil twin of climate change because the consequences to humanity are far more catastrophic than climate change, and they are happening now.More than 50% of the remaining marine life is made from aragonite, a mineral of calcium carbonate that will dissolve by the time the acidity drops to pH7.95, that is in 25 to 30 years.The survival of humanity depends upon the oceans and nature living below the surface, but it will simply dissolve over the next three decades, and the consequences will be catastrophic.



Marine pollutants are impacting the health of our oceans, we and countless other species are totally dependent on healthy ocean ecosystems for food, regulation of the climate, and life itself.[1] UNESCO acknowledges that the Oceans represent 90% of the worlds carbon bank and are the blue lungs of our planet, but they could end up contributing to global warming.[2]

Marine plants called phytoplankton use carbon dioxide to produce most of our oxygen. In fact, marine plants produce more than 90% of our oxygen so they are the true lungs of the planet, not the Amazon rainforest, trees or grass but marine plants smaller than the point of a pin. Just one plant called Prochlorococcus makes 20% of our oxygen and removes 20% of our carbon dioxide, yet it only measures 0.6um is size. There are massive numbers of these plants, think of a 5 with 27 zeros, this is a really big number. There are more cells of this plant than grains of sand on the planet, and collectively they weigh seven times more than all of human agriculture, yet we didn’t even know they existed until 1985, just because they are very small, and pass through the plankton nets used by oceanographic ships. 

There are lots of things that we don’t know about the oceans, but what we do know for sure is that humanity cannot survive without clean healthy oceans with lots of marine plants and animals, humanity needs Nature.  The problem is that most of the important marine life could be dead in 25 to 30 years, and with it any hope we have to reverse climate change will be gone.

Why does humanity depend upon the oceans and nature?

When phytoplankton produce oxygen, they use carbon dioxide in order to grow just like any plant on land.  When these phytoplankton die, or are eaten by animals called zooplankton, some of the waste eventually ends up in the deep ocean called the abyss, 3000m to 11,000m below the surface.  This is your real carbon bank, where all carbon eventually ends up.

Zooplankton eat the phytoplankton, there are more than 5 Giga tonnes of these animals, that’s equivalent to 17 million 747 Jumbo Jets. To put this into perspective, it you laid the jumbo jets nose to tail, they would circle the earth 30 times. The zooplankton eat their own body weight every day, and poop out 30 times more carbon than humans produce from burning fossil fuels.  Only a small percentage reaches the abyss and is deposited in the carbon bank, but it still equates with more than 3 Giga tonnes of carbon every year, 60% of the carbon causing climate change.

When fossil fuels such as diesel oil (made from phytoplankton) is used in a car, or natural gas (made by bacteria) is burned in a power station, oxygen is used and carbon dioxide is released back into the atmosphere in exactly the same proportions of carbon dioxide that was removed, and oxygen produced by the plants in the first place. Everything is recycled, everything is reused and is in balance, the problem is that humans have knocked it out of balance, because we now burn and produce more carbon dioxide than can be captured by nature.

When carbon dioxide is dissolved in water, just like sparkling water, or a fizzy drink, it forms carbonic acid, and this makes the water acidic.  If you were to add chalk, or sodium bicarbonate to the water, it would foam up and release the carbon dioxide to atmosphere as the chalk dissolves. Ocean acidification is a similar process, carbon dioxide enters through the surface of the seawater and from rainwater. 70 years ago, the oceans had a pH of 8.20, now it is 8.04 and in 25 years it will be pH7.95, data from the (Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change) IPCC[3]

Ocean acidification is referred to as the evil twin of climate change, meaning that it is far more serious than climate change, because all life on earth depends upon marine life in the oceans.  This is such a serious point that I repeat, all life on earth, depends upon marine life, yet Governments, the United Nations and the IPCC did not take marine life seriously until 2015.  Indeed, they still do not give the subject the attention that it desperately deserves.

More than half of the marine life is made from chalk, or a mineral form of calcium carbonate called aragonite. From the IPCC[4] aragonite carbonate-based life forms start to dissolve at pH8.04 and by the time it drops to pH 7.95 it is essentially complete

The consequences to marine life will be catastrophic, there will be a trophic cascade, domino effect, chain reaction, and we lose all the whales, seals, birds, fish, food supply for 2 billion people as well as the life support system for the planet.  Again, there is no questions about this, it will happen, although some may argue that it will be pH7.9 or pH7.85. It is not possible for the plants and animals to adapt, because it is happening too fast, and they are dissolving into the water.  It will start in the Southern Oceans in the most productive seas, and then progress towards the equator.

We will reach the tipping point in around 25 years +/- about 5 years. If the world becomes carbon neutral by the end of the decade, we still hit pH 7.95, but just 5 years later.  So, all our efforts in carbon mitigation and net zero, buys us 5 years before the planetary life support system shuts down. [5]

We are not wasting our time with carbon reduction, but it is not going to work on its own, we will still have catastrophic climate change and loss of nature.

Is there anything we can do to prevent destruction of our oceans and climate change?

There has been a 50% loss of marine plant and animal life over the last 70 years (since the chemical / plastic revolution) and it is currently dying at a rate of 1% year on year. Only 13.2% of the world’s oceans now classified as marine wilderness, but even these wilderness regions are impacted by chemical contamination and plastic litter. Ocean pollutants are contributing to the destruction of marine ecosystems and food supplies, while the impacts of climate change on the marine environment and our life support systems are devastating.[6]

The consequences are that there are simply not enough marine plants and productivity remaining to remove the carbon dioxide dissolved from the water. This is the other side of the climate change equation, the evil twin.  We are destroying marine plant life faster than we are reducing carbon dioxide, so it is impossible to stop ocean acidification and climate change. The reason why the plants are dying is due to pollution[7][8] from toxic chemicals such as herbicides, pesticides, oxybenzone, PCBs, PBDE, PFOS, DBT etc etc and plastic.[9] 

In 25 to 30 years, we will have lost 80% of all marine plant life, and without them any hope of reversing climate change is gone.

If we were to remove the constrains on nature by eliminating pollution, then Nature might regenerate, and it has the capacity to do this in a very short period of time. Nature on land takes 60 years to double, but because 60% of all marine life is under 1mm in size, the total mass of life in our oceans has the potential to double every 3 days, but only if we stop the pollution, stop the overfishing, and develop nature reserves.  If we had not poisoned 50% of marine life, we would not have climate change, carbon is therefore secondary, the primary reason for climate change is chemical and substance pollution.

On land

 The same scenario in our oceans is mirrored on land, we have already killed 50% of all insects in soil and 80% of all flying insects due to herbicides and pesticides[10]. The decline is progressing at a rate of 1% year on year, in 20 years they could be gone, and with them agriculture collapses. This has already happened to some extent in California, and now the almond trees are being pollinated by spreading pollen using drones.

Do we have a future?

If the current policies continue, we will experience a complete collapse of Nature, not in 100 years, but over the next 3 decades, it has already started.  

Focusing most of our efforts on reducing carbon emissions is simply not going to work, we are now too late to save the oceans and the primary mechanism that controls our climate. 

However, if we eliminate pollution from toxic chemicals and micro-plastics and prevent them from entering our water, atmosphere and soil over the next 10 years, then it may be possible to Regenerate Nature, and this could be our best hope to avoid the worst of climate change.

What are the consequences of ignoring the oceans?

The following sections are a bit technical and are based on what we believe may happen as we approach the tipping point for the oceans.

  1. 50% of coral reefs are already dead, in 10 to 15 years it could be as high as 90%. 25% of all marine life use coral reefs as a nursery ground.
    1. Around 0.5 billion people depend upon food and income from coral reefs
    2. Coral provides coastal protection, especially for Indian and Pacific Ocean island communities
    3. There will be up to 0.5 billion climate change migrants
    4. The loss of coral reefs is not just in tropical countries, there are also deep-water corals around most coastal countries, they are critical marine communities.


This could initiate a trophic cascade collapse of the entire marine ecosystem in 15 years, not 25 or 30 years


2. 0.5 billion climate change migrants in 10 years

    1. Wind strengths are going to increase faster than predicted, and climate will become more humid but maybe less global rainfall, plankton start sinking to the abyss, planetary life support is degraded along with the plankton
    2. Currently the climate change model does not explain why the wind strengths are increasing so rapidly. It is the opinion of GOES that the most likely reason is the loss of marine plants and the surface oil film derived from the plants. Without the natural plant oil film, water can evaporate more easily and transfer its energy to the atmosphere. This is going to accelerate even more during the coming years, potentially way beyond the prediction of the climate change model.
    3. Loss of marine plants means reduced DMS (dimethyl sulphide) and phytoplankton particulates that seed cloud formation. A slight reduction is cloud cover lets more energy from the sun reach the surface. This feed-back loop accelerates climate change. This means higher humidity and water vapour pressure, water vapour accounts for 50% to 80% of all green-houses gases, yet there is less cloud formation if there is less seeding, so a double-whammy.
    4. Fewer zooplankton and phytoplankton in the water means, nutrients are not recycled, less vertical mixing of the water column and more thermal stratification results in higher water surface temperatures. This is a feedback loop that accelerates the decline of the plankton.
    5. Increased particle zeta potential (-ve electrical charge on particles) due to lower concentrations of plants and oxygen, make it difficult for the zooplankton animals to swim and migrate because it lowers water surface tension and sort of makes the water thinner. The low water tension is throughout the whole water column, not just on the surface, the water cannot support the buoyancy of the phytoplankton and zooplankton, so they sink to the abyss. This feedback loop could be responsible for the HNLC zones (high nutrient low chlorophyll zones) which accelerates all of the above states. This has already started and covers huge areas of the oceans, the consequences of which could result in the loss of all marine life except for benthic communities 3000m below the surface


Wind strengths will increase exponentially in excess of climate change model, humidity will increase but there may be less global rainfall. Higher humidity will greatly increase the greenhouse effect.


  1. There will be a shift away from carbonate-based plankton such as Coccolithophores to toxic dinoflagellates and cyanobacteria as ocean acidification progresses.
    1. We are already seeing this impacting on the fish farming industry. At some stage possibly in 10 to 20 years, seawater starts to become too toxic for marine fish especially in fish farms.
    2. Most public aquaria cannot use seawater, it is too toxic. The marine fish/shrimp farming industry can no longer use seawater, again this is because of pollution. The water needs to be treated and recycled
    3. In Florida there are occasional red tide dinoflagellate blooms, the aerosol spray is extremely toxic, communities sometimes need to be evacuated as a consequence. It may not be possible to live by the sea in future, or transport goods by sea.
    4. There will be massive jellyfish blooms, we are already seeing this in Japan and the Arctic. Almost everything around the coast and on the continental shelves starts to die, a combination of dead zone, eutrophication and acidification.

Coastal sea water followed by oceanic water becomes toxic, shipping industry may not be possible


  1. Drinking Water treatment systems start to fail, agriculture begins to collapse
    1. Membrane drinking water systems will also start to fail due to toxic algal blooms, the Middle East will run out of water, as will other countries including South Africa, and Australia, maybe even China
    2. Mountain snow and glacier derived water decline will accelerate
    3. Toxic dinoflagellates in the atmosphere contaminate rainwater, the rain now becomes toxic, freshwater supplies and agriculture will be contaminated.
    4. Wet areas become wetter, arid areas become drier and are subjected to torrential floods
    5. Ground water becomes more saline, due to lack of infiltration, and no longer suitable for irrigation or drinking water, more than 4 billion people will be water stressed.

Freshwater sources, and filtration system start to fail, freshwater water dries up, ground water becomes saline

  1. As we approach the tipping point, things will go from bad to really bad very quickly.
    1. Perhaps over a time frame of just 1 or 2 years, we lose all the whales, seal, birds, teleost fish and the food supply for 2 billion people.
    2. All coastal communities become toxic zones.
    3. Agriculture collapses at the same time, due to loss of most flying insects, the soil bio-home is destroyed by chemicals and lack of iodine, phosphate and minerals, and is no longer capable of growing crops.
    4. Sea freight becomes impossible
    5. Antibiotics are no longer effective due to multi drug resistance bacteria, pandemics will become the norm

Living out-side starts to become difficult, maybe even toxic, especially near the coast


What can we do save the oceans and stop climate change?


  1. Industrial and municipal wastewater
    1. Less than 10% of municipal water treatment systems are fitted with tertiary treatment to remove plastic or toxic chemicals, and only some of these systems are effective. Also in Scotland, UK and Europe we are discharging billions of tonnes of untreated wastewater and storm water into the sea every year, see recent report by Panorama on the BBC. This has to stop.
    2. The water industry will argue that they remove 98% of micro-plastic, in reality it is less than 90%, but even if 1% were to get into the sea, it still represents billions upon billions of particles. There are now 21 million tonnes of micro-plastics in the Atlantic Ocean, up to 7 particles in every litre of water. 1 in 15 of all living plants and animals now contain plastic, in 10 years it will be 1 in 5. Productivity and biodiversity decline accelerates
    3. Plastic ends up in sludge from municipal wastewater, which is then dumped on agricultural land or landfill sites along with all the other pharmaceuticals and toxic chemicals that it contains. In effect there is no treatment, just dispersed disposal.
    4. Stormwater runoff from roads is not treated, this is a huge source of micro-plastic, and toxic chemicals. Virtually none of this water is treated anywhere

We must treat all industrial water and wastewater to a quality as good, or better than drinking water, or have zero discharge of water. Pyrolysis or biochar may be a solution for the sludge

  1. Green Chemistry can be used the develop alternative chemical products that are less toxic or benign. This represents a really good business opportunity for many companies


    1. We need alternative chemicals for Oxybenzone used in cosmetics, not only are they toxic to nature they are toxic to people. 70,000 tonnes of oxybenzone would kill all life in the oceans, cosmetics contain up 20,000 tonnes, plastic contains 1,5000,000 tonnes. This is just one chemical, there are many thousands that are just as bad.
    2. The concentration of PCBs, and heavy metals in the whales around Scotland are now 50 times higher than the toxic threshold that allows them to breed. Google…. Lulu the orca and an example. The business opportunities from green chemistry are immense, this should be the new revolution, place Nature first. Even by some miracle if there was an invention that sucked carbon out of the atmosphere, how could you live in a toxic world devoid of nature.
    3. Every living human now contains PFOS (Teflon plastic) which is cancerogenic, we consume around 5g of plastic every week.
    4. Molecular plastic (acrylates) were once used as a soil conditioners, they are now used as a sewage sludge thickeners, and end up on land or not disposed properly. We now have an unquantified risk from molecular plastic. The chemicals are carcinogenic

We must stop the discharge of all hydrophobic, lipophilic toxic chemicals, and toxic-for-ever chemicals into the atmosphere, water and soil

  1. Regenerative agriculture
    1. We have already wiped out 50% of all insects in our soil and 80% of all flying insects, and they are being killed off at a rate of 1% year on year. In 20 years, agriculture will collapse because there are no pollinators.
    2. Green chemistry needs to be applied to develop a range of products that are not persistent. Organic farming will need to become the norm.

We must ban the use of all toxic-for-ever herbicides, pesticides, fungicides and molluscicides

  1. Textiles
    1. We need green chemistry and manufacturing to develop textiles that do not emit micro-fibres and the development of chemical products that do no harm.
    2. Green chemistry needs to be applied to the detergents and cleaning agents, there are examples.

Stop all micro-fibre discharge to atmosphere and water, revert to natural fibres for clothes

  1. Plastic loss of biodiversity and human disease
    1. Plastic is not the problem; it is the uncontrolled dumping and discharge of plastic back into the environment
    2. Not only is plastic directly toxic, but it also acts as a selective incubator for bacterium such as vibrio (causes cholera) and mycobacterium (causes tuberculosis).
    3. Many of the chemical components of plastic are horribly toxic, Oxybenzone UV screens, DBT, lead and antioxidants

Green chemistry, non-toxic forms of plastic, 100% plastic reuse

  1. Petrochemicals and Carbon

We are not going to be able to stop climate change, it will happen. However, if the ocean ecosystems crash, then climate change will be the least of our problems.  By reducing carbon emission we reduce the carbon dioxide dissolution into the oceans and this helps prevent a catastrophic issue of a low pH and collapse of the planets life support system.

Carbon reduction must continue, but the focus now is to try and save the oceans, because if the oceans fail then its game over for humanity

  1. Atmospheric pollution
    1. The dust levels in the atmosphere have increased immensely over the last 70 years. The dust has actually slowed down climate change but at a huge cost paid by public health and nature. We must reduce dust entering the atmosphere as a priority, the primary source is car tyres, coal power stations and diesel engines
    2. Car tyres use toxic chemicals, green chemistry needs to be applied to make the components nontoxic
    3. When the tyres wear, they release micro-plastics onto the roads and into the atmosphere. Arctic snow and ice now contain up to 10,000 particles of toxic plastic per litre. The implications to Arctic ecosystems are catastrophic, the implications to humanity are dire.
    4. The black tyre compound coupled with carbon from diesel exhaust is making the snow black in the Arctic. Dark coloured snow melts quicker and this is a major reason for melting of the polar regions.

Stop all toxic particle emissions, especially car tyres, new formulation required to minimise dust and reduce toxicity. Extraction technology is now being developed for cars, but better to try and solve the problem using green chemistry


  1. Ecosystem regeneration, pandemics and natural carbon sequestration
    1. If we just stop using herbicides and pesticides, several giga tonnes more carbon will be sequestered by the soil biome every year.
    2. Plant more trees, restore marsh lands, peat bogs, wetlands and mangrove swamps. Stop trawling as a means of fishing, it is way to damaging to seagrass, coral and benthic seabed communities. Use fish traps as a much more sustainable fishing strategy.
    3. Displacing nature, cutting down forests, factory farming, using toxic chemicals, not treating nature with respect all go towards promoting zoonotic diseases. It provides the conditions for the viri to jump species and then to genetically mutate into forms that can infect humans. Covid 19 is number seven in the series of coronavirus disease out-breaks, there are going to be more.


Treat nature with respect

Carbon reduction or net zero is just a matter of doing less harm to nature, we have to do good, we need to have zero discharge or zero impact at every level not just with carbon, but with all materials and chemicals used as well as manufactured products. We need to preserve diversity in ecosystem and expand productivity by not polluting or exploiting.

We are deluding ourselves like Don Quixote that renewables such as wind turbines are our saviour, they are part of the solution, but if there is no other focus it will seal our fate.  We need to respect nature, and live-in balance because if we don’t, then humanity cannot survive the next 50 years.

Support the GOES project and help stop the pollution and focus on what really matters and that is to place…. Nature first.

Goes Foundation
Roslin Innovation Centre

Edinburgh University
Midlothian EH25 9RG to



[1] Mariann Lloyd-Smith and Joanna Immig B App, ‘TOXIC THREATS TO HUMAN HEALTH AND MARINE LIFE’, n.d., 108.

[2] ‘Integrated Ocean Carbon Research: A Summary of Ocean Carbon Research, and Vision of Coordinated Ocean Carbon Research and Observations for the next Decade - UNESCO Digital Library’, accessed 4 May 2021,

[3] Wendy Broadgate et al., Ocean Acidification Summary for Policymakers – Third Symposium on the Ocean in a High-CO2 World, 2013.

[4] 04/05/2021 07:34:00

[5] ‘Assessing the Risks of Ocean Acidification – BIOACID: Biological Impacts of Ocean Acidification’, accessed 25 February 2021,


[7] Matt Landos, Mariann Lloyd Smith, and Joanna Immig, ‘Aquatic Pollutants in Oceans and Fisheries’, n.d., 88.


[9] Sasha G. Tetu et al., ‘Plastic Leachates Impair Growth and Oxygen Production in Prochlorococcus , the Ocean’s Most Abundant Photosynthetic Bacteria’, Communications Biology 2, no. 1 (14 May 2019): 1–9,


Life on earth depends upon healthy Oceans, we have 10 years to stop toxic chemical pollution, or life on earth may become impossible

Dr. Howard Dryden, CSO

Goes Foundation

Roslin Innovation Centre
The University of Edinburgh
Easter Bush Campus
Midlothian EH25 9RG