Year 4, Month 10, Day 25: Unraveling

The Vancouver Sun notes that there’s trouble in the waters:

A $32-million commercial fishery has inexplicably and completely collapsed this year on the B.C. coast.

The sardine seine fleet has gone home after failing to catch a single fish. And the commercial disappearance of the small schooling fish is having repercussions all the way up the food chain to threatened humpback whales.

Jim Darling, a Tofino-based whale biologist with the Pacific Wildlife Foundation, said in an interview Monday that humpbacks typically number in the hundreds near the west coast of Vancouver Island in summer. They were observed only sporadically this year, including by the commercial whale-watching industry.

“Humpbacks are telling us that something has changed,” he said. “Ocean systems are so complex, it’s really hard to know what it means. For one year, I don’t think there’s any reason to be alarmed, but there is certainly reason to be curious.”

Not a single fucking fish. Not one. What would they do if they only caught one, I wonder? Would it get interviewed on “Oprah”? October 15:

While there can be no doubt that economically-driven overfishing has been a huge factor in the extraordinary collapse of many fish populations, the evidence is now overwhelming that another ingredient in this toxic mix is the impact of climate change. As Earth’s oceans absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, they are becoming ever more acidic, which has devastating consequences for many forms of sea life. Furthermore, this change in the water’s chemical makeup is exacerbated by a global increase in temperature — a double-whammy which is forcing many species out of ecological niches they have occupied for centuries or millennia and into a stressful and failure-prone struggle for survival.

The interdependence of oceanic ecosystems is still poorly understood, but the empty fishing nets of the sardine industry provide tangible testimony to the unraveling fabric of aquatic life. By muddling the public discussion of this crucial issue, climate-change deniers in industry, politics, and the media are contributing to an ongoing environmental and humanitarian disaster.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 10, Day 22: That Voodoo That You Do So Well

Derrick Jackson, in the Boston Globe, asks:

Are lobsters the new symbol of climate change?

The answer, increasingly, is yes. Lobster populations are exploding in the Gulf of Maine, but are plummeting in the waters of southern New England. In 2012, the Gulf of Maine set a record catch of 126 million pounds, double the average of a decade before and six times the average of the 1980s.

Meanwhile, annual lobster landings in Buzzards Bay were just 72,000 pounds last year, down from 400,000 pounds in the late 1990s and from just under a million pounds in the 1980s, according to Massachusetts state lobster biologist Bob Glenn.

The population loss is likely due to warmer waters and disease that may be associated with such water. “We just watched a geological event occur in about a decade,” Glenn said. Scientists speculate that the population boom in Maine is also due to record warm waters, which fueled massive early productions, as well as the overfishing of ground fish that eat lobsters.

The lobster catch in Maine had a record value of $340 million. But the bounty backfired for many individual lobstermen, who were stuck with the lowest per-pound prices in nearly 20 years.

I never liked lobsters, so climate change doesn’t concern me. October 12:

Massive shifts in lobster population off New England’s coastlines may temporarily favor Maine, but in the long run, climate change is going to bring everybody a bumper catch of pain. Fishermen everywhere are encountering catastrophic declines; there may be brief interludes of plenitude, but overall, it’s indisputable that we’ve reached Peak Fish. The two most immediate oceanic impacts of climate change are heating and acidification, which will bring increasingly catastrophic disruptions in the coming decades.

Given that several billion people directly or indirectly get their sustenance from the seas, this is a genuine humanitarian emergency. Factor in the greenhouse effect’s impact on agriculture, and it’s a grim harbinger of future sorrows.

The fossil-fuel industry’s support for climate-change denial in politics and the media is a grave error. With billions of lives at stake, these corporations have elevated the easy lure of quarterly profits over our species’ long-term happiness and prosperity.

Warren Senders


Year 4, Month 9, Day 24: Carry That Weight A Long Time

More on the acidifying oceans, this time from the San Francisco Chronicle:

The problem: When carbon dioxide mixes with water, it takes on a corrosive power that erodes some animals’ shells or skeletons. It also robs the water of ingredients animals use to grow shells in the first place.

New science shows ocean acidification also can bedevil fish and the animals that eat them, from sharks to whales and seabirds. Shifting sea chemistry can cripple the reefs where fish live, rewire fish brains and attack what fish eat.

Those changes pose risks for food supplies, from the fillets used in McDonald’s fish sandwiches to the crab legs sold at seafood markets. Both are brought to the world by a Northwest fishing industry that nets half the nation’s catch.

Sea-chemistry changes are coming as the oceans also warm, and that’s expected to frequently amplify the impacts.

This transformation — once not expected until the end of the century — will be well under way, particularly along the West Coast, before today’s preschoolers reach middle age.

“I used to think it was kind of hard to make things in the ocean go extinct,” said James Barry, of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California. “But this change we’re seeing is happening so fast it’s almost instantaneous. I think it might be so important that we see large levels, high rates of extinction.”

Still hammering away on Jacques Cousteau. One day, one day…September 16:

The crisis of oceanic acidification recalls memories of the late Jacques Cousteau, who introduced countless Americans to the extraordinary beauty and mindboggling complexity of the world’s oceans — and taught us, as well, that caring for them must be one of our generation’s responsibilities to posterity.

Katharina Fabricius’s report has me imagining that tough old Frenchman’s response to such an emergency. After a volley of unprintable Gallicisms, he’d tell the world’s industrialized nations — leaders and ordinary citizens alike — that the time is long past for us to shed our apathy and show genuine leadership on climate change and carbon emissions. He would once again remind us that “the water cycle and the life cycle are one” — a fact that’s easy to forget when we are distracted by petty politics and the scandals du jour of an industrialized civilization disconnected from the core truths of the natural world.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 9, Day 5: Drown In My Own Tears

The Washington Post addresses the IPCC report on oceanic acidification:

The world’s oceans are turning acidic at what’s likely the fastest pace in 300 million years. Scientists tend to think this is a troubling development. But just how worried should we be, exactly?

It’s a question marine experts have been racing to get a handle on in recent years. Here’s what they do know: As humans keep burning fossil fuels, the oceans are absorbing more and more carbon-dioxide. That staves off (some) global warming, but it also makes the seas more acidic — acidity levels have risen 30 percent since the Industrial Revolution.

There’s reason for alarm here: Studies have found that acidifying seawater can chew away at coral reefs and kill oysters by making it harder to form protective shells. The process can also interfere with the food supply for key species like Alaska’s salmon.

But it’s not fully clear what this all adds up to. What happens if the oceans keep acidifying and water temperatures keep rising as a result of global warming? Are those stresses going to wipe out coral reefs and fisheries around the globe, costing us trillions (as one paper suggested)? Or is there a chance that some ecosystems might remain surprisingly resilient?

Same message, so they get another version of the Cousteau letter. Aug. 31:

Walter Cronkite may have been the most universally trusted figure on television during the 1960s, but there was another who ran a close second. How many of us were introduced to the profound and protean beauty of the world’s oceans by the late Jacques Cousteau? One wonders that that tough old Frenchman would say and do if he had the opportunity to hear the IPCC’s grim discussion of intensifying oceanic acidification.

My guess: he’d start speaking truth (probably laced with unprintable Gallicisms) to the world’s industrialized nations, telling them in no uncertain terms that the time is long past to demonstrate genuine civic responsibility in dealing with their accelerating carbon emissions.

This eloquent and dedicated explorer long ago told us that “the water cycle and the life cycle are one.” Our political leaders and those who captain the engines of our economy can no longer afford to ignore these words.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 8, Day 31: Merde Alors!

Time Magazine’s Bryan Walsh notes that the IPCC Report discusses oceanic acidification, saying of climatologists:

But here’s one thing they do know: oceans are absorbing a large portion of the CO2 emitted into the atmosphere—in fact, oceans are the largest single carbon sink in the world, dwarfing the absorbing abilities of the Amazon rainforest. But the more CO2 the oceans absorb, the more acidic they become on a relative scale, because some of the carbon reacts within the water to form carbonic acid. This is a slow-moving process—it’s not as if the oceans are suddenly going to become made of hydrochloric acid. But as two new studies published yesterday in the journal Nature Climate Change shows, acidification will make the oceans much less hospitable to many forms of marine life—and acidification may actually to serve to amplify overall warming.

The first study, by the German researchers Astrid Wittmann and Hans-O. Portner, is a meta-analysis looking at the specific effects rising acid levels are likely to have on specific categories of ocean life: corals, echinoderms, molluscs, crustaceans and fishes. Every category is projected to respond poorly to acidification, which isn’t that surprising—pH, which describes the relative acidity of a material, is about as basic a function of the underlying chemistry of life as you can get. (Lower pH indicates more acidity.) Rapid changes—and the ocean is acidifying rapidly, at least on a geological time scale—will be difficult for many species to adapt to.

I revised a letter I sent to Time on the same subject about 2 years ago. Took me about 10 minutes. Better luck this time, non?

Those of us who grew up in the 1960s will remember that Walter Cronkite wasn’t the only man on television who was universally loved and trusted. The late Jacques Cousteau introduced millions of young people to the notion that our planet’s oceans were places of strange and profound beauty, well-worth the effort to preserve and protect. The IPCC Report’s distressing news about accelerating oceanic acidification makes me wonder that that tough old Frenchman would say — and do — about it. It’s easy enough to imagine: after a few unprintable Gallic expletives, he’d start speaking truth to the world’s industrialized nations — telling them to show genuine leadership on climate change and carbon emissions. This passionate and eloquent explorer noted years ago, that “the water cycle and the life cycle are one.” Our captains of industry and the leaders of our civilization need to heed those words before it’s too late.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 10, Day 2: Release The Kraken!

USA Today notes a report from NOAA on the transformations currently under way in the Pacific:

Sharks, blue whales and loggerhead turtles look like losers due to climate change coming to the Pacific Ocean in this century, scientists report.

Sea birds, tuna and leatherback turtles, on the other hand, look more likely to prosper as global warming shifts sea temperatures and habitats, finds the report in the journal Nature Climate Change.

“There will be winners and losers,” says National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fisheries scientist Elliott Hazen, who led the study.The report looked at changing temperatures and habitat areas in the Pacific by 2100, under a “business as usual” scenario of increasing greenhouse gas emissions tied to fossil fuel use continuing to heat the atmosphere.

Seabirds, such as the sooty shearwater, which would see their habitat expand more than 20%, appear likely to increase in numbers, suggests the analysis. Blue whales and mako sharks see their habitat decrease due to warming ocean water and less prey, raising issues for these threatened species, Hazen says. The study suggests effects would be noticeable by 2040.

Hope our kids like eating jellyfish. Sent September 25:

When it comes to climate change and its effects on our oceans, the long lag between stimulus and response makes meaningful action politically problematic. While our lawmakers routinely invoke future generations of Americans, the plain truth is that they’re programmed to think, not in decades or centuries, but in the two-, four-, and six-year spans of electoral politics. Since climatic transformations happen over decades and centuries, it will always be easier for our politicians to ignore the crisis.

Our oceans are now showing the effect of the past century’s fossil-fuel consumption, and the picture is profoundly disturbing, with the potential for mass extinctions up and down the food chain, from oxygen-supplying plankton to blue whales. With billions around the planet who depend on the seas for their sustenance, NOAA’s forecast of increasing oceanic acidification and ecosystem disruption isn’t just about whales and turtles, but a wake-up call for our species.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 6, Day 15: …But The Words Aren’t Clear….

Bud Ris, the CEO of the New England Aquarium, has a perspective on the oceans’ message to us that’s definitely worth a read:

As we celebrate World Oceans Day on Friday, it’s worth pausing to reflect on the current state of our oceans and the biggest challenge they face: climate change. This is no longer a problem for the future; climate change is already underway.

We now know, for example, that the heat content of the upper layer of the oceans is on the rise. Just a degree or two of change can make a big difference.

As oceans warm, the water actually expands and takes up more space. This is a basic physics phenomenon called thermal expansion. This means that as water temperatures rise, sea level will rise as well, as it has in Boston by about 11 inches over the last 100 years. (Land subsidence is also a factor)

More from The Podium

The data now show that the pace of sea level rise is clearly accelerating, meaning that one to two feet of additional sea level rise by the end of the century is now likely. Much more is possible if ice atop the land masses in Greenland and Antarctica also melts. This has major implications for buildings and public infrastructure along Boston’s waterfront and other major cities. The risks of flooding during storm surges will increase.

Ocean warming won’t just affect humans. The geographic distribution, feeding patterns, and reproductive cycles of many marine animals are sensitive to temperature changes of just a few degrees and to changes in salinity and pH, caused by more freshwater runoff and increased carbon absorption. That may explain why most of the North Atlantic right whales that migrate annually up and down the East Coast didn’t show up in the Bay of Fundy in 2010 for the first time in 30 years — and why now — two years later — we are seeing the result in emaciated mothers and calves and a precariously low birth rate. It might also help explain why lobsters are molting weeks earlier in Maine, and why lobster populations south of Cape Cod are in decline.

Nothing to see here, folks. Move along. Sent June 5:

It’s increasingly apparent that all our planet’s ecosystems are trying to tell us something. Whether it’s bushes transforming into trees in a warming tundra, forests decimated by invasive insects, or acidifying oceans endangering multiple species of marine life, there’s no doubt that the web of life on Earth is under siege.

Why, then, are we seemingly unable to hear the distress calls of the oceans, the forests, or the tundra? Why do so many deny the rapidly accumulating evidence that climate change is an ongoing catastrophe of epic proportions?

While a selfish resistance to inconvenient truths is certainly part of the answer, it’s also true that industrialized humans have separated themselves from the natural world so completely that its messages might as well be in Etruscan. If we are to survive the climate crisis, we must relearn the languages of ecological interdependence along with the hard facts of sustainability.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 1, Day 7: (cue scary theme music)

The Christian Science Monitor, among others, reports on a troubling development: corporations have learned how to swim:

In what is being hailed as the world’s first evidence of inter-species breeding among sharks, a team of marine researchers at the University of Queensland have identified 57 hybrid sharks in waters off Australia’s east coast.


“Wild hybrids are usually hard to find, so detecting hybrids and their offspring is extraordinary,” said Ovenden.

Hybridization is common among many animal species, including some fish, but until now it has been unknown among sharks. In most fish species, fertilization takes place outside the body, with the males and females each releasing their gametes into the water where they mix. Blacktip sharks, by contrast, give birth to live young and actively choose their mates, which, as the scientists discovered, can sometimes be of a different species.

Ovenden speculated that the two species began mating in response to environmental change, as the hybrid blacktips are able to travel further south to cooler waters than the Australian blacktips. The team is looking into climate change and human fishing, among other potential triggers.

This is straining a bit for effect, but it was fun while it lasted. Sent January 3:

With the discovery of a new species of hybrid shark in the waters off Australia, we’re getting a glimpse of what the next few centuries have in store for us. In a post climate-change future, Earth’s fauna will respond to extreme weather conditions the only way they can — by adapting under extreme evolutionary pressure. It’s just our luck that the critters involved are vicious, soulless, mindless, predatory killing machines propelled only by the most basic of survival instincts.

Meanwhile, humanity’s attempts to mitigate runaway climate change are stymied by the corporate interests most implicated in causing the greenhouse effect — fossil fuel companies, which could just as easily be described as vicious, soulless, mindless, predatory killing machines propelled only by the most basic of survival instincts. Are twenty-first century mega-corporations the economic analogue to new species of sharks?

Will it ever be safe to go back in the water?

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 8, Day 8: Here’s Hoping My Kid Likes To Eat Jellyfish

The Boston Globe has a good editorial on a terrifying subject. The threatened oceans:

THE WORLD’S oceans provide a crucial environmental safety valve: The blue territory that covers 70 percent of the globe absorbs 80 percent of the heat we are adding to our climate, and about a third of carbon dioxide we are emitting into the atmosphere. A recent report by the International Program on the State of the Ocean, however, has found that the oceans may not be able to sustain these burdens much longer.

The report highlights a combination of factors that put us at high risk for, as the report puts it, “entering a phase of extinction of marine species unprecedented in human history.’’ The combined effects of overfishing, marine pollution, and carbon emissions are responsible for this basic fact: Our oceans are degenerating far more quickly than previously predicted. This has consequences not just for marine ecosystems and species, but also for humans.

Sent July 22, gloomily:

Considering that we lived in close interaction with the natural world for countless thousands of years, modern homo sapiens shows a disturbing level of ignorance of the environmental systems of which it is a part. The possibility that the planet’s oceans are entering a death spiral barely seems to be registering on most people’s radar; instead, we are preoccupied with gossip, trivialities, and short-term threats to our comfort. Attention, everyone! A collapse of oceanic ecosystems would not just be a temporary inconvenience, but a world-changing event of a magnitude far beyond our ken! Between oceanic acidification, overfishing, and pollution, we humans have inflicted enormous damage on the seas; if we don’t change our ways voluntarily, we will be forced to change them whether we like it or not. With a civilization struggling in the aftermath of catastrophic ecological implosions, we will have no alternative but to adapt or die.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 8, Day 4: West Coastin’

The July 18 Monterey Herald (CA) reports on a study of Pacific coastal erosion:

The storms that battered the West Coast during the winter of 2009-10 eroded record chunks of shoreline, and more will likely disappear as the changing climate brings more such powerful storm seasons, scientists warn in a new study.

Pacific waves were 20 percent stronger on average than any year since 1997 and higher-than-usual sea levels drove them further inland, tearing away on average one-third m ore land in California.

The state’s beaches were “eroded to often unprecedented levels,” said Patrick Barnard, a coastal geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey who led the research.

“It’s the kind of winter we may experience more frequently” as global temperatures rise, he said.

Nowhere along the West Coast was erosion more pronounced than at Ocean Beach in San Francisco. That winter, the Pacific encroached 184 feet inland, 75 percent more than in a typical season.

Maybe scientists should hold up a big flag when they have something important to say? Sent July 18:

When the U.S. Geological Survey’s Patrick Barnard says, “there’s no indication (of) a light at the end of the tunnel anytime soon, given the current trends that we’re observing,” he’s using language designed for careful and accurate communication. But anyone who understands “science-speak” will recognize the signs: Dr. Barnard is extremely alarmed. While his team’s research on the Pacific coastline’s future in a post-global-warming world has scary enough implications for communities on the ocean’s edge, when you consider that countless regional environments and ecosystems around the planet face similar disturbances, these are frightening findings indeed. Take the changes faced by Ocean Beach and multiply them a hundred thousand times, and you can begin to imagine the disruptions the coming climate chaos will bring. In their precise and unemotional way, the scientists are shouting out a warning: we must act now if we are to mitigate the storms of the coming centuries.

Warren Senders