Wednesday, July 25, 2012

St. James, Scallops, and Drought

The church today celebrates the Feast of Saint James. It’s perhaps fitting that as we observe the feast day of one of the two brothers that Jesus called “Boanerges” or “Sons of Thunder”, we have a chance for thunderstorms in parts of Nebraska that are sorely in need of rain and cooler temperatures.

The scallop shell is the traditional symbol for St. James. A Google search for “scallop shell, St James”   yields more than one explanation for the association of this shell with St James. There are some fine legends behind these explanations; some involve knights and/or their horses falling into water, being fished out, and then being seen to be covered in mollusks. Whatever the historical reason for the adoption of the scallop shell as the symbol for St. James, one delicious result has been a tradition of eating Coquilles St. Jacques (St. James Scallops) on the day.

We know now that shellfish of all kinds are endangered by ocean acidification. Ocean acidification and global warming are related; both are caused by an excess of carbon in the atmosphere, and both could be mitigated by controlling carbon emissions.  The ocean serves as a carbon sink; this helps make the effects of high levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere milder than they would be otherwise, but it also means that the ocean has absorbed a considerable amount of carbon, leading to a less alkaline ocean. (A recent Scientific American blog guest post – The Flames of Ocean Acidification by Matthew Huelsenbeck  -- explains some of the latest findings.) Some call what’s happening in the oceans “the osteoporosis of the sea” because of the effect of this change of chemistry on the shells of all sorts of mollusks.  When scallops and other shellfish lose the protection of their hard shells, they cannot survive.

The shellfish in the sea and the plants, animals, and people suffering from the heat and drought in Nebraska are connected as all living things are connected. It’s no surprise, then, that carbon emissions that harm one also harm another. This summer’s high heat and drought conditions have helped many people finally see the connections among climate change, greenhouse gases, and hardship for living things. As we wake up to what is happening, we might take a cue from the Sons of Thunder and make sure our leaders hear us when we ask for action that would ensure a more stable climate. And maybe, if we make deep changes soon enough, there might still be Coquilles St. Jacques for someone to eat some July 25 in the next century.