The Feast of Saint James the Apostle
St. James Day is here again — time for this blog’s annual look at ocean acidification and its effects on shellfish. The concerns we had last year are still there, but one year farther into increasing carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere that produce both global warming and ocean acidification. The data from the Mauna Loa observatory shows the carbon dioxide concentration for June 2016 averaging 406.81 ppm; the concentration for June 2015 was 402.80. Scientists think that we have now passed 400 ppm permanently; it will never be near the target of 350 ppm in the lifetime of anyone now alive.
Americans are bombarded with political messages this summer as the two major parties hold their conventions. So far, very little has been said about climate change, and its evil twin of ocean acidification seems to be off the political radar screen for the media, an awful lot of politicians, and many voters. Next Sunday’s Gospel lesson (Luke 12: 13-21) warns us against greed, against the accumulation of wealth and possessions with thought for nothing else. The reality of the unsustainability of our world gets dwarfed again and again by our greed, our desire to accumulate more while ignoring — remaining ignorant of — the price we will pay and that our children and grandchildren will continue to pay.
How are the scallops and other shellfish? They are threatened by our failure to put strong controls on carbon dioxide emissions.
The Paris talks we were anticipating at this time last year are history. The challenge now is to make the targets from these talks more than a nice ideal. The challenge is to take climate change and ocean acidification seriously and to have the will to do what we need to do to significantly and rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This St. James Day is a good time to commit ourselves to advocacy for meaningful public policy to get us — and the shellfish and other living things — a chance at a sustainable future.
Here is last year’s post for the Feast of St. James:
St. James Day and the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Since the scallop shell is a symbol for Saint James, this blog has taken the feast day in the past to look at the future for sea scallops given the increasing acidification of the world’s oceans. [See St James, Scallops, and Drought from 2012 and Feast of St. James: Scallops and their Companions from 2015.] The same carbon pollution that contributes to global warming is also increasing the acidity of the world’s oceans, changing the chemistry of shell production for scallops, oysters, clams, and other shellfish.
So how is our fight against ocean acidification going? How are the scallops this day, this year, and how are they likely to be in the future?
When I looked over information about ocean acidification and shellfish from the past few months, the answers to these questions did not surprise me, yet I can’t comprehend them. The scallops are not doing well, and they are likely to do worse in the future. Moreover, the economic impact of the loss of shellfish seems to be growing more apparent to more people. Yet ocean acidification is increasing, not decreasing. We know it is happening, we know a lot about the harmful effects of ocean acidification, but we haven’t done anything significant to stop it. Because we allow all sorts of short-term concerns to prevent significant action on global warming, it’s not surprising that we treat ocean acidification, its evil twin, the same way. But why do we do that? Why do we prioritize our immediate, short-term comfort and our fear of change over the preservation of life? That’s the part I don’t comprehend.
A new report on research done jointly by NOAA, the University of Alaska, and an Alaskan shellfish hatchery indicates that without mitigation, the ocean waters they studied in Resurrection Bay may not be able to support shellfish hatcheries by 2040, only 25 years from now. Ocean acidification and warming waters also threaten the lobster industry in Maine. Another study released this year looked not only at the vulnerability of the shellfish but also at the social vulnerability of the coastal communities that will be most affected by the loss of shellfish. Several coastal states are looking at changes in policies to mitigate the effects of ocean acidification on the shellfish industry and the communities that depend on the industry economically.
It’s all very discouraging. However, Joe Romm reported yesterday on the probable end to the global coal boom. China’s use of coal has helped fuel the coal boom, but now awareness both of the health effects of carbon pollution coupled with a growing awareness of the threat of climate change to China’s future has resulted in policy changes to transition away from coal-intensive industries in particular and energy-intensive industries in general. Joe Romm’s post suggests that China’s transition to cleaner energy sources should in turn make clean energy sources more available to developing countries. All of this makes real progress from the Paris climate talks a little more possible: “The Paris talks should also make obvious to all what the world’s top climate scientists and governments already know and have stated publicly: The world has to go to zero total carbon pollution long before 2100 and indeed as close to 2050 as possible — before actually going carbon negative.”
While the focus of the Paris talks is mitigation of climate change, a serious commitment to decreasing carbon pollution will mitigate the evil twin of ocean acidification as well. Will it be enough? Is it worth the attempt? The Gospel lesson this Sunday morning is John 6:1-21, which includes the version of the miracle of the loaves and the fishes in which a boy offers his five loaves and two fish, an offering that seems too small to feed the crowd but ends up being sufficient. All we can do to save the shellfish and keep climate change somewhere below the catastrophic category is to offer what we have, to make the attempt and find out later whether the attempt was enough.
We have about four months until the Paris climate talks begin. We can offer our prayers and advocate with our nation’s leaders for a truly significant commitment to phase out carbon pollution soon enough to make a real difference. And even though it's difficult to think about, we can make the effort to learn more about what is happening, talk about it, and pray and reflect on it, and then perhaps find it within ourselves to make it clear to all those in power that preserving life, including preservation of as many ocean species as possible, takes priority over our short-term concerns and our fears of change.