Per Capita Davis: News you may have missed
The climate crisis has so many facets, from global issues to individual purchasing decisions. This column is about some news items you may have missed, most of which are from the low end of the spectrum.
The planet is, as we all know, getting warmer, one might even say hotter. But it’s a slow-moving process, and it’s hard, at least for me, to remember back and compare temperatures today.
I know the north winds seem more numerous and destructive nowadays, and what is new is winds from the south that have the strength of those nasty north winds. Tule fog seems to be a distant memory. But for me, temperature defies a straight-line comparison.
The New York Times, in conjunction with The Climate Impact Lab, each year publishes a calculator that measures the number of days with temperatures higher than 90 degrees and predicts future levels, based on the assumption that the world will implement some level of compliance with the Paris Accords. The calculator asks for your “home town” and I typed in Davis. I’ve been here long enough to consider it as such. Their data only goes back to 1961 when there were 44 days above 90 degrees, compared to 60 in 2020, a projected 75 by 2040 and between 80 to 106 by the turn of the century.
Speaking (or writing) about the planet getting hotter, it’s a truism that emissions, like elections, have consequences, one of which has been, in conjunction with the photograph of earth floating in space taken by astronauts, to shrink our conception of the size of the planet.
Back in the day, the “atmosphere” was, in our imaginations, so huge that few thought us puny humans could damage it. Likewise with the oceans, spanning some 70 percent of earth’s surface and now absorbing an estimated one-fourth of human-generated CO2.
As with trees, plants and soils, the oceans have been buffering the accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere, thereby keeping atmospheric temperatures lower than they would otherwise be. Good, right? But not uncomplicated.
As CO2 increases in the atmosphere, more is dissolved into the ocean surface, and this water gradually mixes downwards, taking the CO2 with it, where, if left undisturbed, it can stay for hundreds or even thousands of years. An opinion editorial from Bloomberg includes the statement that, “The ocean floor stores nearly twice as much carbon as soil on land.”
This brings us to a fishing practice known as “ocean-bottom trawling,” a practice affecting nearly 2 million square miles of the seafloor each year and described in the editorial as, “Heavy nets 100 yards wide, equipped with weighted rollers and steel doors, are dragged across the seafloor to scoop up cod, flounder, rockfish, shrimp, and other deep-dwelling prey.”
Further, “The ocean mud is stirred into underwater clouds large enough to be seen from space” and, “This manner of fishing, hundreds of years old, accounts for about a quarter of sea life caught worldwide.”
This is not exactly fishing in the manner of Huck Finn with a pole, a hook, and a worm. This is industrial scale and in addition to being destructive of sea life, it releases carbon back to the surface where it can be converted to CO2. A study recently published in the journal Nature estimates the total volume of CO2 released as a result of scraping the ocean floor to harvest fish is comparable to that produced by aviation.
The Nature article included proposals that could “confront the interconnected crises of climate change and wildlife collapse at sea.” A New York Times article described the opportunity thusly: “Protecting strategic zones of the world’s oceans from fishing, drilling, and mining would not only safeguard imperiled species and sequester vast amounts of carbon, it would also increase overall fish catch, providing more healthy protein to people.” Win, win, win.
Going back to the Bloomberg opinion editorial, the study “lends fresh urgency to efforts worldwide to limit or ban bottom trawling. The practice is already restricted in many places, including most of the U.S. West Coast and wide areas near Australia and Europe. If bans could be expanded from less than 3 percent of the ocean to 3.6 percent, without any affected trawl operations moving to other areas, researchers estimate that it would be possible to eliminate 90 percent of the risk of carbon disturbance.”
At the risk of descending from the global issue above into the realm of the trivial, I periodically find snippets of information, including these from the New York Times. Some of them seem a bit on the hard to believe side. Here are two.
“Before the Industrial Revolution, the principal sources of noise were thunder, church bells and cannon fire.” Imagine, if you can, a world without leaf blowers.
And; “If they were a country, cows would rank as the world’s sixth-largest emitter of methane gas, ahead of Brazil, Japan and Germany.” Not if UC Davis Professor Ermias Kebreab has anything to say about it (see last column — feeding cows seaweed dramatically reduces “emissions” from either end of the cow).
— John Mott-Smith is a resident of Davis. This column appears the first and third Wednesday of each month. Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published online on June 2, 2021 | Printed in the June 2, 2021 edition on page A6.
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