No on I-732, a weak, costly distraction from the real work of cutting carbon emissions

This op-ed by Pete Knutson and Hing Ng (from the November 2016 edition of Pacific Fishing) reflects the analysis of the Working Group on Seafood and Energy, Global Ocean Health, and other organizations that worked with us to assess carbon policies around the world and determine which ones are strong enough to protect healthy seas and fisheries (and which ones fall short). After months of careful evaluation, the Working Group determined that a revenue neutral carbon tax proposed in Washington state would be weak, costly, and would obstruct better policies.  The Working Group formally voted to oppose Initiative 732, a Washington state ballot measure, and to advocate stronger measures instead.

By Pete Knutson and Hing Ng

Knutson family 2011We’ve been fishing and direct marketing our salmon since before Ronald Reagan stripped the solar panels off the White House roof. In those days, the roaring two-cycle 6-71 in our old gillnetter was still considered clean and efficient enough to power a working boat. We fought to prevent oil spills and to protect salmon habitat, and not long ago we switched most of our production from air freight to freezer barges to reduce costs and carbon pollution. But until recently, hardly anyone understood how heavily our family business – and the seafood industry as a whole – depends on protecting oceans and rivers from the rising consequences of pollution from burning fossil fuels.

We have learned the hard way. In the last decade, it has become painfully obvious that emissions from coal, oil, and gas are already eroding Northwest fisheries, undercutting the future of both wild seafood and farmed shellfish.

We have no time to waste in confronting this gathering storm. That’s why we’re opposing Washington’s Initiative 732, which will be on ballots Nov. 8. Despite its good intentions, this “revenue neutral carbon tax” proposal is too weak to work, and it would obstruct better policies. As urgently as we need a carbon solution, we need it to be a real one. I-732 offers false hope.

It cannot cut emissions deeply enough to protect our waters, our harvests, and our climate.

Worse yet, Initiative I-732 would block the door to far more effective carbon policies that our state has a chance to adopt as soon as 2017. If you depend on healthy oceans, we urge you to vote this one down and work for stronger measures.

Carbon pollution does more than drive climate change, causing fish-killing hot spells in rivers and helping to crash Northwest salmon runs. It also acidifies seawater, undercuts planktonic foodwebs, clobbers larval shellfish, and increases both the growth and toxicity of poisonous algae blooms. Last winter, West Coast Dungeness crabbers lost most of their season because the fishery was shut down to protect consumers from a massive toxic algae bloom. That bloom also closed Washington’s razor clam fishery.

The Northwest is now viewed as the world’s “front line” in the struggle against acidification and other consequences of carbon pollution in the ocean.

We wish we could support I-732. Hundreds of volunteers worked hard to put it on the ballot. Unfortunately, this measure is fatally flawed. It would hoover up urgently needed funds from the proposed carbon tax and give away the money in tax breaks for business and the working poor.

It might even run deep into the red. Advocates of the measure contest this, but Washington’s Office of Financial Management estimated I-732 would dole out nearly $800 million more than it raises during its first six years (see tinyurl.com/j9awjfb).

Don’t get us wrong. Putting a price on carbon pollution is necessary. But giving away the money cripples the purpose of this initiative.

We can do far better by reinvesting the proceeds to grow a cleaner economy. Nine states from Maine to Maryland have slashed emissions from big power plants – far outperforming British Columbia’s revenue-neutral carbon tax – while accelerating job growth. How? They reinvest the money from a price on emissions to solve the carbon problem. The money from carbon pricing is pooled and invested in projects that help people afford to reduce pollution by burning less fuel, buying cleaner engines, insulating homes and buildings, upgrading inefficient cold storage and factory equipment, and switching to renewables and cleaner energy sources.

Initiative 732 can only drive up fuel prices. If that were a recipe for deep reductions in pollution, we might support this measure. It isn’t. Because I-732 fails to reinvest the money in energy solutions, it can deliver only a fraction of the emissions cuts required by existing Washington law.

A carbon price is too important to squander the proceeds.

Giving away the money in tax breaks also means I-732 would deny Washington the chance to join the growing network of states and nations (40 now and growing, with China climbing on board in 2017) that pool resources to combat the carbon problem. Washington would have nothing to contribute to the hat, so we would lose access to potential investments from other regions. We would be trying to “go it alone” against a global problem.

What about the extra money you would pay at the pump? Well, some of it would give Boeing yet another huge tax break.

We have real opportunities to solve the carbon problem. This measure isn’t one of them.

A sound policy would help finance projects that reduce emissions or bury carbon in soil and long-lasting products. Fishermen could benefit from investments to help drive down fuel consumption. That might even help our family replace our old 6-71, an inefficient but unstoppable diesel that first entered production in the 1930s.

It’s time for the seafood industry to champion stronger policies to protect healthy waters from carbon emissions. If you vote in Washington, vote no on I-732. Then put a shoulder to the wheel for real solutions.

How? Join the Working Group for Seafood and Energy (seafoodandenergy.org). It’s a forum for fishermen, growers, tribes, and fishery-dependent communities to pursue our shared goal of protecting fisheries and oceans from carbon emissions. This group helps us make a difference without eating up all our time. The Working Group was created at the request of industry and tribal leaders and is led by Brad Warren, a former editor of this magazine.

Peter Knutson and Hing Ng run Seattle-based Loki Fish Co. with their sons, Jonah and Dylan.

Getting the Story of Ocean Acidification to Those Who Need It Most

An international journey to discover how OA will affect human communities uncovered the pressing need to build knowledge and capacity worldwide

An oyster farmer in Surat Thani shows off his prize for having the highest quality oysters in the region. He told me how changes in the water he didn’t understand were causing problems with his oysters. Lack of monitoring in the region and poor education among oyster farmers makes it difficult for them to understand and address ecological problems affecting their industry.

An oyster farmer in Surat Thani shows off his prize for having the highest quality oysters in the region. He told me how changes in the water he didn’t understand were causing problems with his oysters. Lack of monitoring in the region and poor education among oyster farmers makes it difficult for them to understand and address ecological problems affecting their industry.

By Alexis Valauri-Orton – GOH staff member

When I left the United States in July 2012 to learn how coastal communities around the world might be affected by ocean acidification (OA), I did not expect the most common response to my questions to be, “Ocean acidification? Never heard of it.” From the oyster farmers of Surat Thani, Thailand to the Minister of Marine Resources in the Cook Islands almost nobody has heard of OA, the alarmingly rapid decrease of oceanic pH and changes to carbonate chemistry due to CO2 pollution. OA poses serious threats to the economy and food security of many coastal communities. How have we failed to spread the message to the communities that need it most?

For a full year, I traveled on a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, studying human narratives of OA in Norway, Hong Kong, Thailand, New Zealand, the Cook Islands, and Peru. The Watson Fellowship allows 40 recent college graduates one year of independent, purposeful exploration outside of the United States so they may become more humane, effective participants in the world community. During that time, I interviewed, lived and worked with hundreds of members of marine-dependent communities, investigating how they valued resources threatened by OA. I chose these countries as a means to understand how varying levels of income, social services, and education can shape perceived and real vulnerabilities to OA. As a native of the Pacific Northwest, the ocean has always fascinated and inspired me, but when I became familiar with OA my fascination took on a sense of urgency. How will this problem affect our world and its inhabitants, how can we work together to address it, and why has no one heard of it?

A mussel farmer in The Marlborough Sounds of New Zealand adjusts fine netting that catches the natural stocks of mussel larvae floating in the water. In Washington, many bays can no longer rely upon natural sources of shellfish larvae and have turned to hatcheries instead.

A mussel farmer in The Marlborough Sounds of New Zealand adjusts fine netting that catches the natural stocks of mussel larvae floating in the water. In Washington, many bays can no longer rely upon natural sources of shellfish larvae and have turned to hatcheries instead.

In March I sat down with Bruce Hern, longtime shellfish farmer in the Marlborough Sounds of New Zealand, home to the famous green-lipped mussel. “Have people here been talking about ocean acidification?” I asked him. “No, not at all, not at all.” Three weeks earlier, when I attended the New Zealand Workshop on OA at Otago University, there was a whole lot of talk about it. But this information never made its way to the people who have the most at stake, and who were not included in the conversation.

In 2011, 323 articles about OA were published in scientific journals (revised from Gattuso and Hansson, 2011), but between January 2011 and June 2012 only 45 stories on ocean acidification appeared in popular print and televised news sources (Theel, Medial Matters, 2012). How many stories have been published in the local section of newspapers? How many in aquaculture and fishing newsletters? While academic publications provide excellent and necessary insights into the science of OA, they rarely reach the communities who will be affected by the issue and the stakeholders who can change its trajectory.

I asked each person I interviewed, “What do you want to know about ocean acidification?” The most common answer was, “I want to know how it will affect me and what I can do about it.” Coastal communities don’t just want to know a piece of the OA puzzle, they want to know the whole story and how they fit into it. Telling audiences about decreased calcification rates rewards me with blank stares, but telling the story of how the oyster industry in my home state has been affected by and responded to OA gives me a room bursting with raised hands and questions like, “How can I learn more about this? Who can I contact?”

A scallop diver in Sechura, Peru prepares to enter the water.  He may spend up to six hours a day underwater, receiving oxygen through a narrow, free-flowing tube and shoveling scallops from the muddy bottom into the bag around his neck.

A scallop diver in Sechura, Peru prepares to enter the water. He may spend up to six hours a day underwater, receiving oxygen through a narrow, free-flowing tube and shoveling scallops from the muddy bottom into the bag around his neck.

There are thousands of coastal communities whose entire economies rest upon vulnerable species such as scallops, oysters, and coral and these communities will be affected. Sechura, Peru, is built upon the scallop-farming industry. Divers and deckhands spend hours out on the water harvesting; hundreds of men and women work late into the night in processing plants; entire fleets of self-employed taxi drivers shuttle workers from the town to the docks; and stall owners in the local market told me “If there are no scallops in Sechura, there is nothing.”

If communities like Sechura understand what they’re up against, they will be in a far better position to adapt to changing conditions and protect their livelihoods. The fishermen I met this year all wanted to know, “What is the story of ocean acidification, and how do I fit in?” By meeting communities where they are and telling stories that empower them with relevant, applicable knowledge, we can help coastal communities prepare for OA. Telling good stories also requires having good information, so it remains crucial that we continue to invest in research.

Alexis Valauri-Orton, the author, working on an oyster boat in Stewart Island, New Zealand.

Alexis Valauri-Orton, the author, working on an oyster boat in Stewart Island, New Zealand.

Global Ocean Health (GOH) and our partner organizations are working to secure funding for science that will help us answer important questions, questions that marine-dependent communities need answers to. In order for our research investments to reach their potential, however, we must take them one step further. That’s where GOH comes in. I started working with GOH about a month ago, and I have been blown away by how the organization is tackling the very issues I encountered during my fellowship year. GOH works with waterfront communities to help them monitor and adapt to ocean acidification and become their own advocates for preserving ocean health in the face of OA.

In New Zealand, as illustrated by my conversation with Bruce Hern, past work on ocean acidification has failed to engage the industry. GOH saw this problem from the other side of the globe and organized a workshop in New Zealand in December of 2013 called “Future proofing New Zealand’s shellfish aquaculture: monitoring and adaptation to ocean acidification.” In partnership with the Marine Conservation Institute, GOH brought government, industry and science stakeholders together to hear from members of the US shellfish farming industry, the experts from the frontlines of OA. The ball is officially rolling in New Zealand, and I have a feeling that if I go back to talk to Bruce Hern this year, we will have a very different conversation, one about a shellfish industry engaged and interested in adapting to ocean acidification. This is the conversation we need to be having around the world, and GOH is actively engaged in it.

Helpful Links

For more information, check out these websites:

www.sustainablefish.org/global-programs/global-ocean-health

National Fisheries Conservation Center

www.nfcc-fisheries.org

https://globalpartnershipforoceans.org/indispensable-ocean

http://bcsga.ca/ocean-acidification/

NOAA on Pacific Oysters and Ocean Acidification

NOAA Ocean Acidification Research Page
http://www.oceanacidification.noaa.gov/

NOAA PMEL Ocean Acidification Page
http://www.pmel.noaa.gov/co2/story/Ocean+Acidification

NSF Ocean Acidification Page
http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=125523

Washington Blue Ribbon Panel on Ocean Acidification
http://www.ecy.wa.gov/water/marine/oceanacidification.html

California Current Acidification Network
c-can.msi.ucsb.edu/

EPOCA Blog, information outlet of the European Project on Ocean Acidification
http://oceanacidification.wordpress.com/

UK Ocean Acidification Research Program
http://www.oceanacidification.org/

NANOOS Ocean Acidification Website;
http://www.nanoos.org/data/products/noaa_ocean_acidification/summary.php

NIWA Acid Test

http://www.niwa.co.nz/publications/wa/water-atmosphere-6-november-2012/acid-test