“News from a Changing Planet — #16”

From the email sent by Tatiana Schlossberg today, 30MAR21

Tatiana Schlossberg is a science and climate activist writer. She was a reporter for The New York Times, and has written for The Atlantic. She has also been actively involved with the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library ( https://www.jfklibrary.org/ ).

“Recently, I was reading a story from the June 9, 1986 issue of The New Yorker about the scientists who discovered that the chemical compounds used in air conditioning, refrigeration, and aerosol sprays were depleting the stratospheric ozone layer, which, they said, could cause widespread skin cancer, crop damage, shifting weather patterns, a warmer atmosphere and planet. The story (at great length!) describes the discovery, and the various research-related backs-and-forths, including the hole in the ozone over Antarctica. It gets into how the scientists demurred on presenting solutions, how research was presented and manipulated by industry, which stalled and sowed doubt about the science. On the one hand, they made a lot of money from manufacturing and selling these chemicals. On the other hand, life on earth! 

“One of the scientists, F. Sherwood Rowland, who, along with his colleague Mario Molina, won the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1995 for this work, said something to the story’s author about the failure of government to regulate these chemicals and the lobbying and misrepresentation by industry to prevent any regulation that I now think about once a day:

“What’s the use of having developed a science well enough to make predictions if, in the end, all we’re willing to do is stand around and wait for them to come true?”

“Oof. A dagger to the heart! 

“In this case, people did actually do something: in 1987, 197 countries signed the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, which is phasing out these chemicals over time. Because of these policies, the hole in the ozone over Antarctica (which has gotten larger because of the chemicals already in the atmosphere, as scientists predicted) will begin to decrease in approximately 2023 until around 2065, when it will return to its pre-1980s size. (However, there was a worrying spike in CFC-11 emissions from China over the last few years, which may affect the recovery, but they have started to decline, which could delay recovery, according to this study.) 

“But still, this whole saga presaged the debate and inaction on climate change: that the science would be overwhelming, the scientists would all agree, many non-partisan government employees (including government scientists) and politicians would agree, the public generally believes this is a problem and wants the government to do something about it, and yet…

“Of course, this was just one class of chemicals (though it did underpin a large section of industry) as opposed to the fossil fuel sector as a whole, but I think you will agree with me in principle here. Or maybe not! Would love to hear from you. (And in general, I would love to hear from you about what you’d like to read about here or any questions you have! I usually put that call-out at the bottom but it occurs to me that not everyone always gets that far…)

“What really is the point of all the science — not just about climate change and the environment, but about everything we see: COVID-19, racism, poverty, gun violence, extremism, sadly, more than that — if we stand around and do nothing?

“Instead of being depressed, exclusively, about that, I try to take it as motivation that we can do something. They did something with the Montreal Protocol. It’s always possible to do something. Lots of things! We know what happens if we do nothing; we know that, even though the little things might not be enough, they matter. So to that end, I also wanted to share part of a piece I wrote last week for the New York Times about a few companies and projects that are trying to show that ocean conservation, carbon sequestration, and preserving biodiversity can be good for “the blue economy,” which is what some people call marine-based business. (I also wrote another piece, at the bottom of this newsletter, about one thing YOU can do: join a local environmental organization. Try that!)

“One of the companies featured is Running Tide, an aquaculture company with aspirations for saving the planet. I enjoyed speaking with the founder, Marty Odlin. He has some great quotes in the piece, which you will find a portion of below, and I was inspired by his vision for ocean restoration, climate solutions, ecosystem restoration, and his commitment to making it happen in Maine, a place that has been important for me in understanding the costs of the climate crisis, managing the risks, and figuring out if/how it’s possible to share our resources and for communities to thrive…”

“What’s Good for the Ocean May Also Be Good for Business

“Companies are trying to prove that conservation, sustainable fishing and carbon sequestration are profitable.

 “Marty Odlin, who grew up and lives on the Maine coast, remembers what the ocean used to be like. But now, he said, “It’s like a desert and just within my lifetime.” In the last few years, he said, he has seen lots of sea grass and many other species virtually disappear from the shoreline.

“Mr. Odlin, 39, comes from a fishing family and has a passion for the history of the ocean and the coast, both of which have informed his sense of the ocean’s decline, a small part of the catastrophic deletion of marine life over the last several hundred years.
 Using his training as an engineer, Mr. Odlin has decided to try to reverse that decline with his company, Running Tide, which is based in Portland. Using a combination of robotics, sensors and machine learning, he is building an aquaculture operation that is selling oysters now and eventually clams. He is also using that system to grow kelp, with the goal of producing enough of this seaweed to pull carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and permanently sequester it by burying it on the ocean floor, and sell carbon offsets…

“Mr. Odlin’s plans are one of a number of efforts in the “blue economy,” a term used to describe commercial activity on the oceans, seas and coasts. He and others are trying to prove that ocean conservation, sustainable fishing and carbon sequestration can be good for business, especially as global shipping, aquaculture and the appetite for wild seafood increases around the world…

“You can read the rest of the article here.  And as always, please let me know what you’d like to read more about here, or ask me any questions by replying to this email. Oh, and if you are looking for books about climate change, I recently reviewed a few

“Speaking of books, you can always order your copy (or audiobook! read by me!) of Inconspicuous Consumption: The Environmental Impact You Don’t Know You Have.

“Find more of my work here…”

— Tatiana 

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