Ocean Heat Waves Are Threatening Marine Life

New York Times, March 4th 2019 –
By Kendra Pierre-Louis and Nadja Popovich

When deadly heat waves hit on land, we hear about them. But the oceans can have heat waves, too. They are now happening far more frequently than they did last century and are harming marine life, according to a new study.


The average number of marine heat wave days for the period 1987-2016, compared to the average for 1925-1954. Orange-red range indicates 18-36+ more marine heat wave days compared to the mid-20th century.
Source: Nature Climate Change | By The New York Times

The study, published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change, looked at the impact of marine heat waves on the diversity of life in the ocean. From coral reefs to kelp forests to sea grass beds, researchers found that these heat waves were destroying the framework of many ocean ecosystems.

Marine heat waves are said to occur when sea temperatures are much warmer than normal for at least five consecutive days.

Scientists estimate that the oceans have absorbed more than 90 percent of the heat trapped by excess greenhouse gases since midcentury. Humans have added these gases to the atmosphere largely by burning fossil fuels, like coal and natural gas, for energy.


An estimated one billion people depend on coral reefs, which are highly sensitive to temperature, for food or income. Credit Gabriel Barathieu/Biosphoto/Minden Pictures

Bleached coral in Kaneohe Bay off Oahu, Hawaii. Credit Caleb Jones/AP

An earlier study by some of the same researchers found that, from 1925 to 2016, marine heat waves became, on average, 34 percent more frequent and 17 percent longer. Over all, there were 54 percent more days per year with marine heat waves globally.

The most severe years tended to be El Niño years. Warmer ocean temperatures are one of the characteristics of an El Niño pattern.

“There’s also some indication that El Niños have been getting more extreme with climate change,” said Eric C. J. Oliver, an assistant professor of physical oceanography at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, who was a co-author of the study. But regional marine heat waves can happen even without an El Niño, he said.

Read more about ocean heat waves

Fight Pollution, Cut the Oil Boy’s Allowance: Pass I-1631, say Fishermen

Nov 2, 2018

By Brad Warren, Erling Skaar, Jeff Stonehill, Amy Grondin, Jeb Wyman, Pete Knutson, and Larry Soriano

Erling Skaar with the F/V North American

As voters consider a November 6 ballot measure to cut carbon pollution in Washington state, you might not expect fishermen and marine suppliers to defend an initiative that big oil—in a tsunami of misleading ads—claims will drive up fuel bills and achieve nothing.

Nice try, oil boys. Keep huffing. Initiative 1631 is our best shot to protect both our wallets and the waters that feed us all. We’re voting yes.

We depend on fisheries, so we need an ocean that keeps making fish. That requires deep cuts in carbon emissions. And yes, we burn a lot of fuel to harvest seafood and bring it to market—so we need affordable energy. Washington’s Initiative 1631 provides the tools to deliver both.

Carbon emissions are already damaging the seafood industry in Washington and beyond. This pollution heats our rivers and oceans and it acidifies seawater. These changes drive an epidemic of harvest closures, fish and shellfish die-offs, even dissolving plankton. Pollution is unraveling marine foodwebs that sustain both wild capture and aquaculture harvests—jeopardizing dinner for more than 3 billion people worldwide. Today Washington’s endangered resident orca whales are starving for lack of Chinook salmon. To us, that’s a sobering sign: No one catches fish better than an orca.

We are not amateurs or do-gooders. We are Washington residents who have built careers and businesses in fisheries. Several of us come from families that have worked the sea for generations. All of us have benefited from our region’s strict and sustainable harvest management regimes.

Our legacies and our livelihoods are being eroded by the ocean consequences of carbon emissions. Even the best-managed fisheries cannot long withstand this corrosion. Knowing this, we have done our homework. We opposed an ineffective and costly carbon tax proposed two years ago in Washington. We did not lightly endorse Initiative 1631. We pushed hard to improve it first.

We like the result. The initiative charges a fee on carbon pollution, then invests the money to “help people become the solution.” That is a proven recipe for cutting emissions and building a stronger, cleaner economy.

In the Nov. 6 election, Washington citizens have a chance to face down the oil lobby that has stifled progress on carbon emissions for many years. But we cannot watch silently as some of our neighbors fall under the $31 million blitz of fear-mongering ads that oil has unleashed to fight this measure. We know and respect people in the oil industry. But they are not playing straight this time.

Here we refute their misleading claims.

MYTH: Oil pays, but other polluters are unfairly exempted

REALITY: A fee on all heavy industries would kill jobs, exporting pollution instead of cutting it

If you want to cut pollution, it pays to aim. Targeting carbon prices where they work—not where they flop—is necessary to reduce pollution and build a stronger, cleaner economy. That’s what Initiative 1631 does.

For some key industries, a price on carbon emissions kills jobs without cutting pollution. That’s what happens to aircraft manufacturers, or concrete, steel and aluminum makers. They use lots of energy and face out-of-state competitors (I-1631 Sec. 8). Suppose we slap a carbon fee on them as the oil boys pretend to want. Sure enough, their competition promptly seizes their markets and their jobs, and factories flee the state. Way to go, oil boys! You left pollution untouched, and you crushed thousands of good Washington jobs!

By waiving the fee for vital but vulnerable industries, Initiative 1631 keeps jobs and manufacturing here in Washington. The initiative helps these companies reduce emissions over time, just as it does for the rest of us. In fact, it even reserves funds for retraining and assistance so fossil-fuel workers can transition to new careers. That could become necessary as the state migrates from dirty fuels to a cleaner, more efficient economy (Sec 4,(5)).

In a clean-energy future, Washington will still need local manufacturing and basic materials. Keeping these businesses here allows the rest of us to buy from local producers, instead of paying (and polluting) more to haul those goods back to Washington.

The oil boys also whine about Washington’s last coal plant, in Centralia. It is exempt from the fee because it is scheduled to close by 2025 under a legal agreement. Why shoot a dead man?

MYTH: This is an unfair tax on low-income families.

REALITY: The poor get help to cut fuel and energy bills.

Initiative 1631 provides both the mandate and the means to avoid raising energy costs for lower income people. Carbon revenues fund energy efficiency and more clean power—permanently reducing fuel consumption. The measure reserves 35% of all investments to benefit vulnerable, low-income communities (Sec 3, (5)(a)) —ensuring a fair share for those of modest means. It also funds direct bill assistance where needed to prevent unfair energy burdens on those who can least afford it (Sec 4, (4)(a)).

MYTH: The fee would burden businesses and households

REALITY: I-1631 will cut fuel bills by boosting efficiency, clean energy

Despite the scaremongering from oil companies, consumers and businesses are saving hundreds of millions of dollars in states that have policies like I-1631. How? Carbon revenues fund more clean energy and fuel-saving improvements (such as heat pumps, solar and wind power, and fuel efficiency retrofits). That’s what 1631 will provide in WA. These investments reduce fuel bills. Even the big oil companies use internal carbon pricing, as do hundreds of major corporations. Their internal prices drive energy efficiency and lower emissions in their own operations, cutting their costs; they also help position the firms to thrive in a carbon-constrained world. If this didn’t pay, big oil wouldn’t do it. Big oil producers like Exxon hate spending money on fuel they don’t need to burn. They just don’t want the rest of us to have the same tool.

Nine East Coast states are using carbon revenues to cut both their fuel bills and their emissions. Their Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) helped them avoid spending $1.37 billion on imported fuel in the last 3 years alone.  If refineries do pass along Washington’s fee to consumers (as we expect), households and drivers here will still reap the same kind of benefits as ratepayers back East: efficiency and clean energy investments funded by the fee will reduce our energy bills. A heat pump alone can cut home heating costs by half to two thirds. The fee starts in 2020 at less than 5% of today’s gasoline prices, and rises to about 13% by 2030. Fuel efficiency investments help protect people who still need fuel-burning trucks and vehicles: you can’t haul timber or fish to market with a bus pass. For those who cannot switch to transit, electric vehicles, or low-carbon fuels, the initiative funds fuel efficiency improvements (Sec 4, (1)(d)(iii)). The resulting fuel savings can easily outpace the cost of the fee. One example: HyTech Power, in Redmond, sells a system that increases combustion efficiency in large diesel engines, saving at least 20%. This retrofit alone (one of many proven options) could save diesel users more than the future cost of the carbon fee projected by its opponents.

MYTH: I-1631 is an unproven policy.

REALITY: Price-and-invest policies are clobbering pollution in other states.

Pete Knutson with the F/V Loki

Carbon price-and-invest policies are delivering strong results worldwide. Here in the US, a price-and-invest policy helped California cut emissions enough to surpass its 2020 goals back in 2016—four years early. The East Coast states in the RGGI price-and-invest system have reduced their emissions by 50% since 2009, far surpassing their goal. By cutting harmful pollution, the multi-state RGGI program avoided $5.7 billion worth of healthcare costs and associated productivity losses, saving hundreds of lives. From Maryland to Maine, the RGGI program generated 14,500 job-years of employment and net economic benefit of $1.4 billion during 2015-2017 alone. This program saved ratepayers more than $220 million (net) on energy bills over the last three years. The nine RGGI states achieve this by committing 70% of their carbon revenues—about the same as I-1631—to increase efficiency and clean energy. That’s a recipe for success.

MYTH: 1631 lacks oversight, will waste money.

REALITY: Accountability and oversight are robust.

Accountability is built into this initiative from the ground up, starting with the revenue mechanism: It is a fee not a tax, so the money can’t be diverted. By law, fee revenues must be spent addressing the problem the fee is meant to tackle—in this case reducing carbon pollution and its many costly consequences in Washington. That means no pet projects, and no sweeping money into the general fund.

All investments must earn approval from a 15-member public board that includes experts in relevant technology and science, along with business, health, and community and tribal leaders (Sec. 11). The legislature and board will periodically audit the process to ensure effectiveness (sec. 12).

The oversight panel is deliberately designed to hold state agencies accountable. Washington treaty Indian tribes—who both distrust and respect the agencies— insisted that public members must hold more votes than bureaucrats, who get only four voting seats (Sec. 11 (5)). That power balance restrains the agencies’ ability to grab funds, yet it ensures the panel can tap their genuine expertise. To lead the oversight board, a strong chairman has an independent staff within the governor’s office. This provides the spine and staff power needed to ride herd on agencies and lead a crosscutting mission to combat climate change—a task that spans authorities and talents found throughout the state government.

A word about wasting money: If the oil boys honestly believed 1631 would waste our money, they wouldn’t fear it. They condemn the fee, but we know the price doesn’t worry them, since they use carbon prices themselves. They have poured more than $31 million into fighting 1631—the most expensive initiative campaign in Washington history—for one simple reason: The money will help the rest of us buy less fuel. Pity the oil boys. By passing this initiative, voters can cut their allowance.

Let’s do it.

Note: The authors are Puget Sound-based fishermen, marine suppliers, and policy leaders.

Fishing Industry Businesses Endorse I-1631

FOR IMMEDIATE GENERAL RELEASE:

October 23, 2018

To whom it may concern:

Erling Skaar with his Bering Sea crab vessel the F/V North American. It’s outfitted with his GenTech system, allowing it to operate with far lower emissions and fuel costs than similar vessels.

We write today to announce our support for Washington’s Initiative 1631. As businesses who rely on healthy fisheries for a significant portion of our income, we believe this is a well-designed policy that offers us – and our customers – the best possible chance against an uncertain future fraught with the threats of changing ocean conditions.

It’s become clear that our fisheries need a lifeline. Here in Washington, we are experiencing the worst ocean acidification anywhere in the world. Research has firmly established the cause of this problem: emissions from burning coal, oil and gas mix into the ocean, altering its chemistry. The consequences loomed into headlines a decade ago when the oyster industry lost millions and nearly went out of business during the oyster seed crisis. Temporary and limited adaptation measures in hatcheries are keeping them in business, but in the rest of the oceans, fisheries that put dinner on billions of tables are at risk. Here in the Northwest, harvests are already being eroded and even shut down by the effects of unchecked carbon emissions.

The “warm blob,” an unprecedented marine heatwave off the West Coast, reached its height in 2015 and caused mass fatalities. In the Columbia River, a quarter million salmon died. The largest recorded toxic algae bloom shut down the Dungeness crab fishery for months. The food web crashed, and marine creatures were spotted farther north than ever before. Sea surface temperatures never returned to their previous norm, and new research indicates another blob is forming.

Summers have become synonymous with a smoky haze from wildfires causing poor visibility and poor health – this summer the National Weather Service warned even healthy adults in some Washington areas to stay indoors due to hazardous air quality. At the same time, our iconic Orca whales are starving from a lack of Chinook salmon. The Chinook in turn are suffering from a lack of the zooplankton that juveniles eat.

Research has made it clear that some of our most lucrative fisheries are vulnerable to ocean acidification: king crab, Dungeness crab, and salmon. Scientists also warm that combining stressors – like warming with ocean acidification – makes survival in the ocean all the more precarious.

We studied to understand how to protect our businesses and the natural resources we rely on. The answer was clear: reduce carbon emissions. Reduce them now, and reduce them as quickly as possible.

This is where I-1631 comes in. This fee on carbon, which starts at $15/ton and rises by $2/year, will raise around a billion dollars a year. That revenue will be spent on clean energy projects, energy efficiency, and climate resiliency. Fisheries and ocean acidification projects are specifically included as priority investments.

Maritime fuels will be exempt, so struggling fishing vessel operators won’t pay any additional cost for their fuel. However, they will still qualify for energy efficiency funding. Many of our businesses offer technologies that greatly increase efficiency: sometimes by more than 50%. But over and over, we hear from our customers that despite the obvious advantages and quick return on investment, they simply don’t have the capital to invest in energy efficiency. A billion dollars a year, every year, would provide unprecedented access to that sorely needed capital. Businesses and fleets of vessels or trucks would reap the savings in energy costs, and our environment would reap the benefits of lowered carbon emissions. It’s an obvious win-win.

The fee will likely add about $.14/gallon to the cost of diesel for road transportation, and other energy costs will rise a bit too. But the additional cost could be eliminated by just a 5% increase in efficiency in year one; even in year ten, a 14% increase in efficiency would more than pay the fee. Such efficiency gains are easily achievable with existing technology. Fleets of vessels could be outfitted with more efficient engines or generators, processing facilities could receive grants for more energy efficient refrigeration systems or boilers.

The initiative will also fund work to prevent and mitigate wildfires, flooding, and other extreme weather events, and research to understand the threats to fisheries and investigate mitigation methods.

And the truth is, we’re already paying much more for climate change than I-1631’s fee will cost. We don’t just pay in harvest closures, reduced catches, and lost jobs. We get stuck with an out-of-control tab for the impacts of carbon pollution through our taxes and insurance bills.  Since 1980, the US economy has already endured climate disaster costs of more than $1.5 trillion, according to NOAA. That works out to nearly $10,000 for each individual taxpayer. And those costs are rising. In 2017, NOAA reckons that extreme weather disasters rang up a $306 billion bill in the US. That’s another $2,000 a year on each of us who do the work and pay the bills around here.

In Washington alone, the $1 billion in wildfire response cost since 2014 adds up to a cost of $371 per household. Enough already. I-1631 will combat these threats. Washington will join a global network of price-and-invest policies with a proven track record of improving economies, creating jobs, decreasing health costs, and dramatically reducing emissions. The initiative protects critical Washington industries that can’t afford an added fee, and ensures that low-income households bear no additional burden. It gives tribes and rural communities their due, and because it’s a fee rather than a tax, the funds can never be diverted for other uses: not for the general fund, not for pet projects. The revenue can only be used for emissions reductions and climate resiliency.

Along with a diverse coalition including labor, tribes, physicians, and environment and science experts, I-1631 is also supported by major Washington businesses. Vigor, Microsoft, Expedia, Virginia Mason, MacDonald Miller, and REI are just a handful of the biggest endorsers. We proudly add our names to theirs, and ask other businesses to join us.

For more information contact the Working Group on Seafood and Energy at info@globaloceanhealth.org.

Sincerely,

Erling Skaar
F/V North American and GenTech Global

Pete Knutson
Loki Fish Co

Matt Marinkovich
Matt’s Fresh Fish

Amy Grondin
Duna Fisheries

Greg Friedrichs
F/V Arminta

Mike Cassinelli
Beacon Charters

Lars Matthiesen
Highland Refrigeration

Bob Allen
MER Equipment

Larry Soriano
Alaska Ship Supply

Robert Loe
Robert Loe & Associates