« January 2011 Table of Contents
Going Green: Policy watch
Fisheries experts see change is afoot with CO2 emissions cuts to curb ocean acidification
By Lisa Duchene
January 01, 2011
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the second in a two-part series
ocean acidification's effects on seafood supply.
Clem Tillion doesn't get very excited about global warming.
Alaska's former fisheries czar, who has worked on fisheries
policy since before Alaska's statehood in 1958, views global
warming as a human-amplified, natural process.
But Tillion is very concerned about ocean acidification, the
oceans' changing chemistry due to absorption of industrial
carbon dioxide emissions that threatens entire marine food
webs. Tillion, a self-described free-market Republican,
supports policies that favor home-grown, clean energy like
geothermal energy in
Alaska, and a curb on carbon dioxide
emissions, but not through a carbon tax.
While the latest numbers indicate the world has not made
on cutting CO2 emissions driving ocean
acidification and climate change, some are optimistic that a
sea change on carbon is nonetheless underway.
Key voices - like Tillion's - are increasingly engaged in
the carbon debate, says Brad Warren, director of the productive
oceans program at Seattle-based Sustainable Fisheries Partnership. Warren works not to lobby, but to inform
companies about ocean acidification and help them manage the
business risk it presents to a sustainable seafood supply. He
watches the policy landscape closely and is encouraged by
number of signs that it is ripe for meaningful reduction in
global CO2 emissions.
"[Changing energy policy] is a long, hard process," says
Warren. "You're talking about really transformative changes in
the energy economy. The appetite for doing that work is
developing in both major parties."
In baseball terms, the game has changed to small ball: While
sluggers have failed to hit grand slams, there are plenty of
singles and stolen bases in play. In other words, Warren is not
discouraged that the United Nations climate talks have so far
not produced a binding agreement among 190-plus countries to
reduce their carbon emissions, or the failure of a climate bill
to be passed by the U.S. Congress.
"What will happen now is a bunch of smaller measures that
are bite-sized that people understand," says Warren. "It's one
atmosphere, so anywhere you can get at the problem is just as
good as anywhere else. There's no need to regard a setback in
one area as a catastrophic failure."
Another seafood industry voice out front on the ocean
acidification issue is Bill
Dewey at Taylor Shellfish Farms in
Shelton, Wash. Dewey, Taylor's director of public policy and
communications, learned firsthand how ocean acidification
disrupts supply when Taylor's oyster hatchery production
dropped 60 percent in 2008 and another 80 percent in 2009.
Puget Sound seawater, corrosive to oyster larvae, was blamed
for the high mortality rates. "We definitely are encouraging
legislators and congressional delegates to pass carbon-emission
limits," says Dewey.
Yet, his position is hardly industry-wide. There is
controversy around such limits and what they will cost
businesses as the U.S. economy is powered by burning fossil
fuels. Republicans gained significant ground in the 2010
midterm elections, when the U.S. climate bill - pegged as "cap
and tax" and now considered dead in the Republican-controlled
House - was a political liability for Democratic congressional
Politically, the seafood industry is considered
conservative. The National Fisheries Institute has not taken a
position on limiting carbon dioxide emissions in any arena,
according to spokesman Gavin Gibbons.
Scientists say significant cuts in global CO2 emissions are
to head off the most severe effects of ocean
acidification and a warming planet.
In order to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius this century,
the target is annual global CO2 emissions of 44 gigatons - or
billions of tons - by 2020 followed by more steep emissions
cuts, according to a Nov. 23 report from the U.N. Environmental
Program. The report, issued on the eve of the next round of
U.N. climate talks in Cancun, Mexico, aimed to compare global
climate pledges with scientific advice. If countries don't cut
emissions, annual global CO2 emissions are predicted to climb
to an average of 56 gigatons by 2020.
In Copenhagen in 2009, 85 countries agreed to non-binding
pledges of emissions reductions. If all those countries
follow-through on all their pledges, estimated global emissions
would reach 49 gigatons by 2020 - 60 percent of the way, but
falling 5 gigatons short of the 44-gigaton target, according to
the U.N. report.
In Cancun on Dec. 11, representatives of 193 nations agreed
on ways to help developing countries cut carbon output and
adapt to effects of climate change. While making progress, the
Cancun talks did not - nor were they expected to - reach a
binding, carbon-reductions agreement among the countries.
On the U.S. stage, Warren predicts policies that will meet
multiple goals of reducing energy dependence, creating jobs and
reducing both energy costs and carbon emissions.
Tillion, for example, favors a geothermal project in Adak,
Alaska, on a U.S. Navy base in the Aleutian Islands that he
says would reduce CO2 emissions. The project also could
provide inexpensive energy to allow the Pacific cod industry to
locally process product that now goes to Portugal for secondary
processing because expensive diesel fuel makes the cost of
local processing too high.
Tillion has been calling on Alaskans to protect their
economy and fisheries by supporting a national policy to limit CO2 emissions and investing in the state's renewable-energy
"We need law that will establish a new national energy
policy, put a price on carbon, reverse ocean acidification and
promote renewable energy infrastructure and the jobs that go
with it," Tillion wrote in a recent editorial in the Anchorage
Tillion's passion could extend to seafood-related businesses
in the Lower 48 whose success or failure will ultimately be
linked in the near future to ocean acidification.
Contributing Editor Lisa Duchene lives in Bellefonte,