Oceans can be Restored in 30 years
I am never bored near the ocean. With the exception of a few years in the middle of Canada, I have always lived near it, on one coast or another.
I truly love the ocean. I find it infinitely interesting and I can literally spend hours observing the waves, weather patterns, and the life that lives in, on and around it. Don’t get me wrong, big mountains are stunning and the great plains have an overwhelming and immense beauty, but the ocean? There is where I find constant activity; the whales and the birds, the fish, and the people, even boats make for interesting observation. The food chain is exemplified by the sea, with some of the largest creatures on earth thriving there, evolving huge brains and the huge bodies to support those brains. The amazing thing is that these massive creatures, like the Blue Whales, for example, have evolved to this size by eating some of the smallest creatures on earth; plankton and krill. In the area where I live, the Pacific Northwest, the ocean has provided life for first nations people for tens of thousands of years. Shellfish, salmon, and sea mammals all provided food, clothing, and even tools for the people who lived here, harmoniously with nature, never taking more than they needed.
The ocean provides not just for the people and water-borne animals but also for the forests and the land animals. The salmon is one of the quintessential icons of the Pacific Northwest and is a huge part of the cycle of life here; they are hatched from eggs in the gravel of the coastal rivers, sometimes hundreds of miles from the sea. They live there growing strong enough for their amazing swim to the ocean where they feed on such rich biodiversity they grow to magnificent size. Historically Chinook salmon have been caught up to 100 pounds, although a 5-15 pound fish would be more common.
When they reach maturity after 4 years, they return to the rainforest rivers where they were born. In larger river systems such as the Columbia, Fraser, and Skeena, the fish are numbered in the tens of millions. Multiplied by the weight of the fish, an extraordinary amount of food material is delivered far from the ocean to the forest and to the creatures that live there. The salmon spawns and then dies; the cycle of life now complete. But is it? The salmon now have fed birds and larger fish as juveniles in the rivers where they were born, whales, and seals in the ocean and bears and humans as they migrate upstream. As they weaken and die, another host of creatures is able to benefit. Eagles, foxes, coyotes, martin, mink, wolves, raccoons, and many others forage for these dense sources of protein. Those that hibernate, such as bears, make huge weight gains, packing on winter fat for the long sleep ahead.
These creatures carry the salmon carcasses to the shelter and safety of the forest where they consume the tastiest bits of the fish before going back for more. The rest is left behind but is not wasted. Decaying into the forest floor, the inedible portions to a bear now feed the roots of massive cedar trees, huckleberry bushes, and ferns. It provides food and a home for insects that then may pollinate flowers on plants and provide food for birds, snakes, and reptiles. All considered, it is a truly amazing natural cycle that has been provided for us and the ecosystem that we benefit from. The same is true around the world; the oceans provide a huge resource of nutrients beyond our wildest comprehension – everywhere there is a sea, there are humans and animals enjoying the bounty.
When the system is out of balance things start to fall apart. Humans, with our massive egos and ingrained hubris, have destroyed in a couple of human lifetimes what has taken millennia to evolve. Pollution, habitat degradation and overfishing have caused many of the world’s oceans to lose their ability to provide. In British Columbia where I live, the salmon that once numbered in the tens of millions are but a fraction of their former numbers.
But Oceans can be restored to former glory within 30 years, say scientists. This article, number 1 in this week’s Top 5 gives me hope. It shows that nature’s capacity to regenerate and heal is astounding. In only one generation or just 30 years, scientists say we could reverse much of the damage done by humans in the past two centuries. If you simply stop hunting whales, their populations will rebound, if you stop destroying habitat, the salmon will repopulate urban rivers, if you remove a dam, in a few seasons the entire ecosystem will recover.
The most beautiful thing is that this type of recovery doesn’t require huge interventions, we simply need to stop destroying nature, and nature will bounce back.
Agrivoltaics + Pollinators = Win, Win
There’s that word again! The word that always comes up in spell check, even when I spell it correctly; Agrivoltaics. In its most basic form, agrivoltaics means planting crops in and around solar farms. The land is used to generate clean power and produce useful crops and food. The areas under the panels are cooler and water evaporates slower, meaning the sheltered areas become a microclimate. The plants thrive in the cooler and more humid areas, and the solar panels themselves last longer due to the cooler temperatures. There are many locations where food crops are not required, so what to do with the unused land? Plant pollinator crops! Due to habitat loss and the overuse of largely unregulated pesticides in traditional agriculture and home gardens, the world’s population of bees and other pollination insects like butterflies has been experiencing a serious decline. In Plot Brewing To Blanket US In Solar Panels + Pollinator-Friendly Plants, the author explains a growing trend in the US for the owners of solar farms to plant crops that feed and provide habitat to pollinators. In many cases, the plants are native flowers to provide groundcover and borders of native trees that provide food and habitat for wild birds and animals. Humans win with clean low-cost energy; the plants and animals win with increased wild areas and native plants.
Oil Industry Write Downs
BP and Shell Write-Off Billions in Assets, Citing Covid-19 and Climate Change is just another article about the large asset write-downs by the fossil fuel industry in recent weeks. While those in the industry have been blaming travel and trade reductions from the pandemic, the truth is that this is an indicator of bigger problems in the industry, more than just a recent trend. Industrywide, analysts think that a day of reckoning is coming as the devaluation of oil assets will soon pass another $300 billion, even after a $450 billion hit in the past 15 years. Some major oil companies are announcing a transition to clean energy and others have already made the move. Demand is down, costs are high, and investors are reacting as one might expect.
Bison are Back
Bison Return to Lakota Reservation for First Time in 150 Years shows us that despite the difficult times for the people who live on the great plains, there is hope for them too. By some estimates there were millions of bison roaming these areas and the first nations people who lived there, relied upon them for their way of life. Like the people of the west coast who relied upon the salmon for their livelihoods, so too did the plains people. The people of the Rosebud Sioux Reservation in South Dakota welcomed 400 bison to their land last October. The band intends to manage the herd, growing it to around 15,000 animals. Not only will the bison provide a valuable source of food and revenue for the Sioux people, but the animals also allow a reintroduction of traditions that have been lost to current generations. The bison have an impact on the land too. Plants and animals evolved for millennia beside the bison and the loss of their grazing and impact on the soil has led to habitat loss for other species. For the Sioux, their entire culture was interrupted by the loss of these magnificent creatures and it is great to see a reintroduction of the old, sustainable ways.
The cost of clean energy production has been falling faster than anyone could have ever predicted. Solar energy in particular is getting cheaper every day, with the cost of installing a solar plant now cheaper than maintaining an existing coal plant. But that doesn’t mean they’ve hit the cost bottom yet. Just like in any industry, the companies that focus on innovation and looking to the future usually end up with a big share of the market. Meyer Burger seems to be one of those companies. While they do not actually make the cells, they provide technology for making them more efficient. One of these technologies is a way to reduce the amount of material lost in the cutting of the solar cells. This material, called the kerf, refers to the part of the material that is turned into sawdust when cut. It is thickness of the saw blade used to make the cut and while only millimeters wide, accounts for a significant and valuable loss when magnified over millions of cells. For example, the kerf losses from 10,000,000 6”x6” cells (not a huge number in regular high-volume production) would equal almost 1,600 pounds of material. Not an insignificant amount. The company also has developed what they call the SmartWire process, a new, speedier way to connect solar cells and modules, further increasing efficiency and lowering overall costs.
Once again, nature shows her amazing ability to heal when given the chance. My hope is that we will give her the break she needs sooner rather than later. We have a huge momentum building in society that is now being reflected in the campaigns and policies of politicians who want our votes. Change is coming.
Happy Eco News, July 27, 2020
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