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 30: Break Your Heart and Leave You To Sing

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports on an ichthyologist who’s noticing stuff:

On a dark night in the middle of a wide marsh near Tuckerton, N.J., a team of Rutgers University researchers lowered a net over the railing of an old wooden bridge. Then they turned off their flashlights and waited.

Below, in Little Sheepshead Creek, the incoming tide was washing hundreds of tiny fish larvae into the net.

By now – 24 years after these weekly surveys began – Rutgers ichthyologist Ken Able is seeing the unmistakable effects of warming oceans and climate change. Especially in the last decade, the researchers have been seeing more southern species, including the larvae of grouper, a fish common in Florida. At the same time, they’ve been capturing fewer northern species, such as winter flounder.

The changes Able is recording at Little Sheepshead Creek, near Great Bay, are reflected along the East Coast and worldwide. They have the potential not only to alter ecosystems, but also to change the seafood on our dinner plates. Out on Jersey’s beaches, where Atlantic croaker catches used to be a rarity – this was considered the northern end of the fish’s range – anglers now commonly reel them in.

Have a beer. September 22:

The dramatic relocation of fishes to more hospitable locales isn’t the only example of climate change’s effects on the interdependent systems of Earthly life. As the greenhouse effect intensifies, more and more plants and animals will be forced from endangered regional ecosystems into new territories, with unpredictable consequences not just for our meals, but for the other species they encounter. When human beings are forced from their homes by drought, extreme storms, or rising sea levels, we call them “climate refugees,” and the term is as accurate for Atlantic Croakers and other displaced fish as it is for members of our own species.

For fish to relocate to cooler water doesn’t sound like such a big deal — but it could easily be catastrophic for many other species struggling for survival in a complex, symbiotic oceanic environment. An unraveling web of life ultimately leaves us all uprooted and unsupported.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 8, Day 26: Two Words.

The Waterville Morning Sentinel (ME) tells us about the problems of their state’s fishing industry:

Maine’s fishermen must be better informed, more communicative about conditions on the water and responsive to change to survive the constant shifts brought by a warming climate and water that is growing warmer and saltier.

That was the message from about 100 marine biologists, fisheries managers, commercial fishermen and others who shared both scientific findings and anecdotal observations on the changes that are occurring in the Gulf of Maine. The fisheries participants gathered Wednesday in Portland at a two-day Island Institute symposium on climate change and its impact on fisheries in the Gulf of Maine.

The consensus on the changes in conditions was predictable, given the roller-coaster ride over catches and pricing for lobstermen in 2012 and the ongoing crisis over groundfish stocks.

Peak Fish. August 1:

Maine’s fishing industry would be facing huge changes even without the looming threat of climate change, since overfishing has made the huge catches of the past increasingly harder to achieve. But adding heating and acidification (the two most tangible oceanic consequences of the accelerating greenhouse effect) to the mix means that fisheries are likely to confront catastrophic declines. In the coming decades, there will be fewer fish, and they’ll be harder and more expensive to find and catch. In other words, we’ve reached Peak Fish.

Given that between a quarter and a third of Earth’s population depends on the ocean directly or indirectly for food, this amounts to a humanitarian emergency. Combined with the likely impacts of climate change on land-based food production, this constitutes a stark warning to our species: get ready, for the storm clouds are gathering, and it’s going to be a rough ride.

Politicians who cater to the fossil-fuel industry and promote climate-change denialism are doing a grave disservice to their constituents, to their fellow citizens, and even to their myopic corporate paymasters.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 8, Day 17: A Flip Of The Tail

The Vernon County Broadcaster (WI) writes about the likely end of trout fishing:

If you were to ask neighbors over 50 years of age what the weather was like in the summer of 1993, most would not remember the great flood of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, which happened from April to October. However, ask about the weather in 2012 and most would tell you it was hot and dry.

We remember the extremes, providing they are recent. Most of us think of changes locally on a year to year basis, instead of globally for a decade, therefore it’s difficult to believe global warming has become a serious worldwide problem.

Scientists are now telling us the earth is warming at a faster rate then they had previously forecast. For example, 13 of the warmest years ever recorded on earth happened in the last 15 years. World Meteorological Organization Secretary General Michel Jarroud said in November 2011, “Our science is solid and it proves unequivocally that the world is warming and that this warming is due to human activity.”

This one was pretty easy, leading up to the last line. July 25:

For hundreds of years, anglers have extolled the virtues of fishing. It teaches patience, brings us closer to the natural world, provides an excellent opportunity to drink beer, and even provides a tasty meal once in a while. That climate change may put an end to this venerable pastime is an unpleasant piece of news, but not an unsurprising one.

The painful fact is that the accelerating greenhouse effect has been affecting ecosystems all over the planet. Whether it’s farmers discovering that their crops aren’t producing because of drought, native species finding their habitats no longer welcome due to increasing temperatures, or wildfires simply wiping regional ecologies off the map completely, there is no shortage of devastation in the natural world. Sadly, this trend seems likely to continue and accelerate.

While fishermen have long been stereotyped as serial exaggerators, it’s not stretching the truth to say that in another century, the beautiful and beneficent natural world in which all of us grew up may well be the greatest and most tragic example of “the one that got away.”

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 6, Day 10: Khizr Khud Denge Aakar Sahaara…

The Express Tribune (Pakistan) tells us of the sad condition of villagers in the Northern Subcontinent:

Today fishermen living in one of the hundreds of villages in the Indus Delta have truly understood what the great saint meant to say.

Nearly three hundred families living in Kharo Chan village – which in Sindhi language means ‘bitter jetty’ – have bitter memories to share. Allah Din, a farmer, said, “There was a time when the area was lush green and fertile. For nearly 150 years this area fed all of Sindh with its record rice and wheat produces.” But then, the Kotri Barrage was constructed. “The level of sweet water in the Indus River began to go down and salty seawater began to rise. The once fertile lands turned barren,” he said.

He added that things aren’t better off on the other side of the bank – the residents of the taluka on the opposite side can’t produce enough food to sustain themselves, said Allah Din. He added that because seawater has moved inland and freshwater is scarce, villagers have been eyeing urban centres and packing their bags.

Another resident, Muhammad Ayub, who is a schoolteacher, claimed that corruption and political jousts have worsened the situation. He said villagers oppose the government’s plan to build Zulfikarabad because they feel they will become strangers in their own lands. “The government may create problem for us. They want us to migrate, but we will fight till our last breath against the development of Zulfikarabad.”

This is a generic “we’re all fucked; blame the evil corporations” letter. Let’s just say it needed to be said. May 27:

The effects of the rapidly transforming global climate are keenly felt by the world’s farming and fishing societies, whose collective survival is intimately linked with that of the land. It is a cruel irony that these people are perhaps the ones who’ve done the least to bring about the climate crisis; with greenhouse emissions that are statistically non-existent, they are paying the penalty for the high living standards and modern conveniences of the developed world — amenities which depend on an abundant supply of cheap energy.

The plight of Kharo Chan village (and others like it in the Indus Delta) is a harbinger in microcosm of what may lie in store for all humanity. Unless rapid, comprehensive, and responsible action is taken to address this disaster-in-the-making, all of us — rich and poor, traditional and modern, Eastern and Western — will find that the world which nurtured our civilization has been replaced by one far less hospitable to the vast web of Earthly life.

The corporate entities which have corrupted governments around the world and are delaying action on global warming are standing in the way, not of progress, but of survival itself.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 5, Day 9: Great Green Gobs…

The Lewiston Sun-Journal (ME) runs a good article from a trio of scientists, explaining all about fish kills:

Last summer, hundreds of economically valuable, fun-to-catch trout died at Lake Auburn. Some people blamed this event on “global warming,” but were they right to do so? It’s hard to say for sure, but the early ice-out and warm summer temperatures in 2012 did probably play a role, in combination with other, locally controlled factors.

To understand what happened to the fish, we need to know a bit about how lakes work.

During the summer, deep lakes stratify — divide horizontally — into a warm, well-lit upper layer and a cold, dark lower layer. Sunfish, like bass and bluegills, grow fastest at water temperatures around 80 degrees F, so they tend to live near the surface of the lake. However, lake trout and other salmonids live in the deeper layer, since they grow best at temperatures around 48 degrees F and cannot tolerate temperatures above 75-80 degrees F.

Last summer, a large bloom of phytoplankton — algae and cyanobacteria (sometimes called blue-green algae) — developed in Lake Auburn. Phytoplankton growth got an early start when the ice went out in late March 2012, which was the second-earliest ice-out ever recorded for the lake.

More science in the popular press! April 28:

Fish kills are one of many ways that climate change, usually thought of as a planet-wide problem, manifests itself locally. The consequences of our civilization’s century-long carbon fuel binge will differ radically, depending on the particular regional environment — and this variety of impact creates another problem. Our news media’s fixation on simplistic explanations of complex phenomena means that even though its epiphenomena (freak storms, torrential rainfalls, droughts, forest fires, fish kills) may lead the nightly newscasts, the climate crisis will not be televised.

Of course, it’s not just that our collective national ADD makes it impossible for us to understand the greenhouse effect, and for our pundits to explain it. Our broadcast and print outlets are also prone to the fallacy of false equivalence, in which a scientist’s measured statement about global warming is “balanced” by the dismissive rhetoric of a petroleum-industry shill. Climate change’s effects can no longer be ignored or trivialized; Drs. Cottingham, Ewing and Weathers deserve our appreciation for their careful explanation of how a global phenomenon can manifest itself in a single lake.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 10, Day 10: You Can’t Tuna Fish…

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune cites a report from the LA Times that as the oceans change, fish are shrinking:

It’s not just fish populations shrinking, according to a new study. Fish themselves will be much smaller within a few decades.

Global warming linked to greenhouse-gas emissions will cause the body weight of more than 600 types of marine fish to dwindle up to 24% between 2000 and 2050, according to a report in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Additional factors, such as overfishing and pollution, will only make matters worse.

Ultimately, the changes “are expected to have large implications for trophic interactions, ecosystem functions, fisheries and global protein supply,” according to the study.

Aquatic creatures grow depending on the temperature, oxygen and resources available in water, according to researchers. Fish will struggle to breathe and develop as oceans become warmer and less oxygenated.

Rush Limbaugh thinks it’s environmentalists doing it, I’m sure. Sent October 2:

Leave aside that industrialized fishing and exploding human populations have already reduced world fish populations to a fraction of their former numbers. Leave aside that as oceans absorb excess CO2, they acidify, creating hostile conditions for much sea life. The news that climate change is affecting fishes’ physical size may seem surprising, but in a larger context it’s one among many unanticipated consequences proliferating in the wake of rising atmospheric CO2.

As we enter the Anthropocene Era, defined by human intervention in the climate, we’ll be facing a lot of surprises. While some will be pleasant (longer growing seasons in Northern latitudes may make farmers happy), the vast majority point to a more difficult life for our descendants, who may well find themselves gasping for oxygen as oceanic phytoplankton die off in record numbers.

Shrinking fish are just one more dismaying facet of a metastasizing planetary crisis, one we ignore at our peril. How many more such news items must we read before we finally act?

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 8, Day 30: Two Game Wardens, Seven Hunters, And A Cow.

The Bozeman Daily Chronicle (MT) discusses climate change’s impact on huntin’ and fishin’ and all that kinda outdoors-y stuff:

Climate change and the subprime mortgage crisis share two trends: They had early signs that some people ignored or denied, and they can strain the economy, experts said Wednesday.

Four people addressed both trends during a presentation titled, “Feeling the heat: The impact of climate change on Montana’s outdoor heritage,” at the Emerson Center for the Arts & Culture on Wednesday.

All four said this summer’s excessive heat and drought were bringing the issue home to more people nationwide. Crop failures in the Midwest and large wildfires in Colorado and Idaho have dominated the news and demonstrate how climate change can cause costly events.

Montana has so far been spared the brunt of the extreme weather. But many Montanans didn’t need the heat to hit before noticing changes that have occurred over the past quarter century, said Bill Geer, a 39-year veteran of the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks.

“We believe that sportsmen are actually among the first to recognize climate change, even if they don’t say the word,” Geer said. “They see the evidence in the field because they’re out there hunting and fishing.”

Sent August 24:

There’s one group of people who’ll be among the first to recognize the signs of climate change. When the timing of animal migrations changes radically, when entire forests are devastated by invasive insect species, when regional biodiversity is decimated by shifting patterns of extreme weather — who better to notice and report the damage than hikers, hunters, and fishermen?

It’s a tragic irony that the national discussion of the climate crisis has become politicized through the misrepresentations of conservative politicians and media figures. Teddy Roosevelt, a great Republican president, and a legendary outdoorsman, was the force behind America’s system of National Parks, and a staunch advocate of wilderness conservation; can you imagine his response to the science-denying anti-environmentalists in today’s GOP? A vote for the party of Big Oil and Coal is a vote against the timeless joys of the wild, and for a Big Sky turned gray with smog.

Warren Senders

Month 5, Day 19: Dunk ’em All!

Back to the Gulf. The Boston Herald printed an AP article on the effects of the spill on the fishing industry, so I used that as the hook for a short and vicious little rant. Will they print it? Ha.

Oil gushes from a hole in the ocean floor; British Petroleum won’t let scientists measure the flow, although estimates go up to 80,000 barrels a day (almost 3.5 million gallons). While the corporations involved in the disaster point fingers at one another, and Republican senators block legislation raising the liability cap, there’s a different sort of buck-passing going on outside the hearing rooms of Congress: Transocean, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon rig, just announced that it would give its shareholders a billion dollars in dividends (that’s twice the amount BP has spent thus far on this crisis). Meanwhile, tar balls wash ashore, the ocean is saturated with oil and toxic dispersants, and communities and industries that depend on the Gulf of Mexico are devastated. Will Big Oil and the politicians they’ve bought ever recognize that their responsibilities go beyond maximizing shareholder return on investment? Don’t bet on it.

Warren Senders