North Of Falcon In Decade Zero: Decisions And Life On Earth



By Debra Chase

“Florence: Who knows anything about fish?
I mean fish don’t tell you anything much do they?
You ask ‘em a question, they flop around……”
Israel Horovitz – North Shore Fish

On a cold breezy morning in Friday Harbor Washington I was fishing off the main pier watching a well dressed angler lose his prize catch of a King salmon to a sea otter. This was in 1982 and the Chinook/King salmon were far more plentiful than they are today. My fishing expeditions on the pier and in the Puget Sound were a daily event back then. And the catch was always a good one. Here we are, just 33 years later, approaching the end of 2015 and the Chinook are a listed endangered species.

The effect of the current climate crisis on our fisheries, rivers and oceans is nearing devastation. We have a serious threat of sea level rise which, left unchecked will flood many regions of the world. Ocean warming and acidification is happening much faster than science predicted for this point in time, with some areas dying faster than we ever thought possible. Ocean temperatures have risen so high that the blue whale, an endangered species, is feeding closer to shore causing them to be caught in commercial fishing nets. The dungenss crab population is infected with high levels of toxins in the water. Domoic acid, a neurotoxin that can accumulate in shellfish and other invertebrates is attributed to a massive toxic bloom of algae called Pseudo-nitzschia developing along the California coast. Algae blooms in the ocean are common but this bloom is large and tenacious and is also caused by warmer ocean water temperatures. This neurotoxin is deadly to humans and birds that eat the infected fish.

The coral reefs, often referred to as “ jungles of the ocean,” provide habitats for a million or more species of ocean life, are vanishing at the rate of 1% per year through anthropogenic ocean acidification and warmer waters primarily caused by climate change. Add to that mix overfishing, pollutants and an inconsiderate tourist industry and some have said that we will not have any living coral reefs on the planet in as little as 40 years, some say sooner. Caribbean coral have plummeted 80 % or more since the 1980’s leaving just 10% on average of available surface area today. We know now that what’s happening in the Caribbean is a microcosm of a global trend: the speed at which the ocean is warming and is over acidified will prove too much for the coral and we can look forward to 90 percent of the world’s coral at risk of disappearance by 2030. That quick and devastating change is not one to be tucked away in denial. The Caribbean system may be one of the first systems to experience collapse but it will become a global collapse if human use of coral reefs and the climate crisis continues as it is.

For as long as we can remember humans have been harvesting foods from the ocean. (Back in the 80’s I was one of many that received most of my protein intake from ocean fish). Ocean harvests have become so large that within the last two hundred years we have successfully wiped out or transformed marine habitats beyond recognition.
Wild Salmon, Sea Bass, Cod and Tuna are four fish that we have exploited to near extinction. With the potential loss of the coral reefs we will be seeing even greater losses of ocean life.

The Wild Chinook/King salmon are a case in point. For the first time in years, state fishing regulators in Washington State canceled the recreational fishing season for Chinook salmon in central Puget Sound, sighting ongoing concerns about ocean conditions and a very low snow pack that is expected to lead to an increase in water temperatures. Salmon depend on fresh, clean free flowing cold water and we are at a crucial point in our relationship with the oceans and the history of human consumption of animals wherein the decisions to take or leave a wild species are critical to the survival of that wild species. Here in California litigation by environmental groups were filed against the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and Sacramento River settlement contractors for alegedly taking water that would have supported the fish. One more year of a lack of cold water could mean an end to the Wild Chinook.

Warming waters and low snow packs are not the only threat to our fisheries. Consider the fractured relationship we humans have with the ocean and its inhabitants; rampant overfishing and an un-tethered biotech industry have brought us to a point where farmed fish are invading the waters of the wild fish. If all of this continues, there will not be any more of the famous four fish in our fisheries. Is there a way for us to move toward a future in which healthy and sustainable seafood is the rule rather than the exception? The answer is doubtful and dependent on many decision makers.

The conclusion of the California Climate Change Symposium that was held in Sacramento on the 24th and 25th of August 2015, is reported via headline in the 25 August 2015 edition of the Daily Breeze: “California climate researchers sound the alarm at symposium: ‘There’s no way out.’”

Susanne Moser, a leading Santa Cruz-based climate change researcher, was quoted in the article: “We need transformational change. We don’t need more studies as much as we need to communicate the urgency …. We need to not debate forever.” A scientist admitting we don’t need more study of an issue is stunning and sobering.

Two sets of decision makers (among several) help to safeguard our wild fisheries, our oceans, and the health of the planet: In the Pacific Northwest federal and tribal fishery managers gather to plan the recreational and commercial salmon fisheries in a series of meetings known as the North of Falcon process. It is in these meetings that decisions are made about the fate of the fish within the northwest region. If the people in the North of Falcon meetings can soon halt the hunting of the Chinook the fish may have a chance of survival. However, the big decisions made at this years United Nations Climate Change Conference, held in Paris, from November 30 to December 11 are the most important decisions to be made on behalf of our fisheries and oceans. The objective of this conference is to determine the fate of the planet (and everything that lives on the planet), by attempting to achieve a universal agreement on climate from all nations with the goal of capping warming at 2C over pre-Industrial Revolution levels. If the talks are successful we may have a chance to save the oceans. If they are not successful, well, in the words of general secretary Sharan Burrow, there are “no jobs on a dead planet”.

The alarm bells of the climate crisis have been ringing for most of my life, more than fifty years. That 2c cap is fast approaching. The World Meterological Organization (WMO) in their 2014 report stated that the planet was at 400 ppm but this March global levels of CO2 passed the 400 parts per million mark. This is the first time since records have been kept that CO2 levels have risen this high and stayed this high globally for over a month. This is an ominous sign and one that tells us we need to send a clamoring message to the leaders at the Paris climate talks this December. “We will soon be living with globally averaged CO2 levels above 400 parts per million as a permanent reality,”said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud. “Carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for hundreds of years and in the ocean for even longer. Past, present and future emissions will have a cumulative impact on both global warming and ocean acidification. The laws of physics are non-negotiable,” said Mr Jarraud.

According to an article in Scientific American ; “We aren’t done yet. Greater concentrations will be achieved, thanks to all the existing coal-fired power plants, more than a billion cars powered by internal combustion on the roads today and yet more clearing of forests. That’s despite an avowed goal to stop at 450 ppm, the number broadly (if infirmly) linked to an average temperature rise of no more than 2 degrees C. More likely, by century’s end enough CO2 will have been spewed from burning long-buried stores of fossilized sunshine to raise concentrations to 550 ppm or more, enough to raise average annual temperatures by as much as 6 degrees C in the same span. That may be more climate change than human civilization can handle, along with many of the other animals and plants living on Earth, already stressed by other human encroachments“.

It’s time to act and act quickly. As Fatih Birol, the IEA’s chief economist, bluntly put it: “The door to reach two degrees is about to close. In 2017 it will be closed forever.” We are now in what some activists are calling “Decade Zero” of the climate crisis: we either change now or we lose our chance.
The consequences of failing causes my heart to ache for those that have no recourse and are depending on us to help sustain them.

What can you do to influence the Paris talks? Call your elected representatives and tell them to put every effort into mitigating the climate crisis and then “write a letter to the future“. It is a sobering and humbeling excercise, one that may well change some minds and hearts for the better. As part of the Paris Climate Project a call for letters is out to predict the success or failure of the Paris talks. The letters will be sent to targeted delegates and citizens convening at the Paris talks. My letter is there along with the letters of Michael Pollin, Bill McKibben, Senator Lois Wolk and many others. You can write yours now. The climate crisis depends on all of us to fight and do our part. What you do (or dont do) today may save many from harm.

Ecologist Garrett HardiIn in his 1968 essay The Tragedy of the Commons published in the journal Science noted, “natural selection favors the forces of psychological denial. The individual benefits as an individual from his ability to deny the truth even though society as a whole, of which he is a part, suffers”. “But, in terms of the practical problems that we must face in the next few generations with the foreseeable technology, it is clear that we will greatly increase human misery if we do not, during the immediate future, assume that the world available to the terrestrial human population is finite. “Space” is no escape.”    We must take care of what we have.


About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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13 thoughts on “North Of Falcon In Decade Zero: Decisions And Life On Earth”

  1. Frankly

    “current climate crisis”

    I wondered when we would start hearing this.

    The fundamental question: what will be more harmful to humanity… climate change or climate change alarmism?   I put money on the latter.

    1. David Greenwald

      I’d put the fundamental question differently: what will be more harmful to humanity… climate change or climate change denial? I put money on the latter.

  2. Tia Will

    Because my personal evolution which reflects the evolution of my field of medicine through the past 30 years has been a shift from treatment of the medical problem once a “crisis” has arisen, to prevention of the problem in the first place, it surprises me that much of our society seems to still respond only when a “crisis” has been identified.

    It seems apparent to me that if everyone would keep an open mind and evaluate all the evidence objectively, instead of through the lens of whatever happens to be best for them economically or allows them to not have to examine their own core beliefs, we could avoid this dramatic “crisis” management mode. People only become “alarmists” when they feel that their views are being ignored. When others trivialize their concerns without due reflection on their merits, the “militant” voices become more strident and everyone entrenches behind their own ideologic stand regardless of the evidence.

    Would it be so very difficult to at least admit that human activities play a role in climate change, and that since human activities are the only factor that we have direct control over, perhaps we could at least take a hard look at what we could do to mitigate the effects of our own activities ?

  3. Davis Progressive

    “More likely, by century’s end enough CO2 will have been spewed from burning long-buried stores of fossilized sunshine to raise concentrations to 550 ppm or more, enough to raise average annual temperatures by as much as 6 degrees C in the same span. That may be more climate change than human civilization can handle, along with many of the other animals and plants living on Earth, already stressed by other human encroachments“.”

    i guess the response from the frankly’s of the world is this is alarmism, but to me at least, what happens if it is accurate science and we could have stopped it, but by the time we had the proof that frankly needed, it was too late?

    1. Frankly

      What happens if it is accurate science? Don’t know if it is accurate, and don’t know what happens.  But can calculate the human suffering caused by extreme environmental policy.

      1. Paul Thober

        Can you be more specific? Please define what “extreme enviromental policy” is and then the calculation used to arrive at the “human suffering” caused by that policy.

        Thank you.

        1. Frankly

          The same scientists that you beleive without a question admit that there isn’t anything reasonable we can do to reverse the trends of warming.  So just writing “mitigation” makes you sound like an extremist.

          Adaption is the only reasonable approach.

    2. Miwok

      I have been wondering what science this “Global Warming” crisis is about. This article, thankfully, says something concrete, however speculative, about it. BUT don’t trees and plants convert CO2 to O2? And my questions don’t end there, but simply to ask how they are measuring a PPM all over the planet? On the coast, in a city, where?

      I read this and the link to CO2 levels to worldwide temperature is kind of a stretch, but with China spewing some of the most toxic air on the plant, is their level higher than here? In Davis? If I move to Colorado, will I be safer? More at risk? I could understand science if I could see more of their methods and tests.

      When we see that the net gain of Solar and Natural Gas generation reveals we may have been further ahead by chopping trees for fires and riding horses, what will be the reaction? The light bulbs they make no are very toxic yet Government has mandated them. The new batteries they are going to mandate for your house may end up the same thing.

    3. tribeUSA

      DP–yes, you present a very important fact: the human species has been and continues to mine enormous quantities of carbon that have been locked up deep underground for 10s of millions of years, and releasing this huge volume of carbon, mainly in the form of CO2, into the biosphere (atmosphere, oceans, waterways, soils). It is a fact that these human activities have indeed changed the composition of the atmosphere and oceans (again mainly CO2 and carbonate species levels, and ocean acidification thru addition of CO2–each additional CO2 molecule dissolved in the ocean results in the release of approximately one additional proton). With regard to Miwoks comments above; the earth’s biomass is in quasi steady-state, though there may be annual to decadal fluctuations, the amount of carbon locked up in biomass hasn’t changed much; and will not as long as the vegetated area of the earth doesn’t change much (and oceanic plankton levels don’t change much). Peat bogs and marshes can sequester a lot of carbon thru burial in anoxic condtions; unfortunately their current rate of formation lags far behind their rate of destruction. Here in the Delta region the draining of wetlands and farming of the land have exposed large areas of peat (formerly in anoxic conditions) to the atmosphere; the land has literally evaporated into thin air in many Delta areas due to oxidation of this peat into CO2 (manifested as sinking land levels, particularly within many of the Delta islands, many of which are below river level).

      There are still some major questions about what the steady-state ocean levels of carbon (carbonate species) are and how long it may take to achieve steady-state conditions, given differing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere; an intensive area of current research.

      So it’s basically an experiment with planet earth; the only planet we have to play with. I personally think there will be some trade-offs; some areas of the earth will benefit from a bit of human-enhanced climate change, and some will get stung. The main danger, which still hasn’t been ruled out (or in, definitively) is some kind of tipping point into a positive feedback mechanism that accelerates the rate of climate change and may eventually destabilize the climate into a much warmer or much cooler regime (the cooler thru mechanism starting with warming and accelerated melting of Greenland icecap, releasing low-density fresh water into the surface of the oceans in volumes huge enough to significantly slow down the sinking of cold salt-enriched (from evaporation of water transported from the Caribbean) water that currently occurs in the North Atlantic; thus significantly slowing the Gulf Stream current that is coupled to this sinking mechanism, resulting in cooling of the North Altlantic surface waters; more snow in northern Canada and northern Europe winters, and the increased surface albedo over large regions leading to a positive feedback in cooling).

      So I go with a principle of prudence, and seems to me a good idea to support efforts to find ways to reduce our enormous rates of extraction/mining of fossil carbon and release of this into the biosphere.

  4. tj

    Hopefully, there will be enough climate disasters soon enough that roads and bridges will collapse, and economic activity as we know it now will also collapse.   Then perhaps the planet will survive.  Human survival will be tough.


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