|Carlo Crivelli (circa 1435–circa 1495)|
Two years ago I wrote a post St. James, Scallops, and Drought about the stress ocean acidification places on populations of scallops and other shellfish and how the acidification of the oceans connects to other stresses on on other ecosystems. What do we know about this in 2014?
This has been a difficult year for scallops and the scallop industry in the northwestern United States and British Columbia. In February of this year, the death since 2009 of around 10 millions scallops before they could be harvested resulted in layoffs of workers. (See the CBC article Acidic ocean deadly for Vancouver Island scallop industry.)
The Seattle Times has put together the Sea Change report, an excellent written and video report that describes what is happening in the Pacific Ocean, showing the connections between what is happening to seafood in the Pacific Northwest and what is happening to coral reefs off the coast of Papua New Guinea and the primary protein source for people in the region. The threat to the Pacific Northwest seafood industry and the people who depend on that for their livelihood is tied to a lessening food supply for rural people on South Pacific islands.
The same carbon pollution that contributes so much to global warming is the cause of ocean acidification. A side bar to the report notes that we add “the equivalent of a hopper car of coal — about 100 U.S. tons — into the ocean every second.” Even if we set the huge challenge of global warming aside, what is happening to our oceans is reason enough to shift quickly away from the use of fossil fuels as our primary energy source.
In an announcement last Friday from U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, we learned that the eastern coast of the United States will be opened to oil and gas exploration and to seismic surveys using “sonic cannons” to locate deposits under the ocean floor. (See Obama opens Eastern Seaboard to oil exploration from the Associated Press.) Environmentalists object to the sonic cannons because they harm marine life. Harming marine life in order to make more fossil fuels available, thus increasing the acidity of the ocean and the temperature of the planet, seems especially evil.
One of the most sobering pieces of this report is that the sorts of changes scientists are finding in the Pacific are happening much sooner, at a much faster rate, than predicted:
“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.”
Globally, we can arrest much of the damage if we bring down CO2 soon. But if we do not, the bad news won’t stop. And the longer we wait, the more permanent the change gets.
“There’s a train wreck coming and we are in a position to slow that down and make it not so bad,” said Stephen Palumbi, a professor of evolutionary and marine biology at Stanford University. “But if we don’t start now the wreck will be enormous.”
You might think that would lend the problem urgency. So far, it has not.
St. James was a fisherman. He and his brother John were mending their nets when Jesus called them to follow him. The Eucharistic reading for the Feast of St. James is Matthew 20: 20-28. In this passage, the mother of James and John asks Jesus to give her sons places right next to him in his kingdom. Jesus replies, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?”, and the brothers reply, “We are able.”
Jesus asks whether they are able to stick with following him when discipleship becomes even more difficult. Can the Church stick with following Jesus when the right thing to do is to work for an end to our reliance on oil, gas, and coal? Can we stand up to the considerable power and clout of the fossil fuel industry in order to safeguard the welfare of the ocean on which the lives of humans and marine life depends?