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.