Canaries and smoke

Columnist Rob Brown wonders talks about scallops, smog and early warning signals

The cold, clear, sunny days keep coming.

They started when you were away in Hawaii, I tell Doug. It’s been like this for three weeks.

Doug and Jacquie went to Kauai, the Garden Island. It rained almost the whole time.

All that rain must be the reason it’s the Garden Island, right?

Right, says Doug, rolling his eyes.

It’s minus nine. Just thinking about minus nine chills my fingers and toes. We’ve stomped into the Kalum, waded up to our waists to flog the water when the air was so cold the river was the warmest place to stand, but that was our during Middle Ages, when our cold tolerance levels were higher. Now sub zero temperatures mean it’s time to throw in the cross country skis, and load the dogs aboard and head for a tract of derelict logging road.

We ski six clicks, load up, slake our thirst with India Pale Ale, and drive through the vivid landscape toward town. We’re at the Old Bridge waiting for the light when the CBC news comes on with an item on scallops.

Rob Saunders, the CEO of Island Scallops tells the interviewer his company has lost a million bucks and had to lay off 10 people at his hatchery and 10 more in his processing plant, a reduction of 30 per cent of his workforce.

Saunders’ hatchery is located in Qualicum Bay where mollusks are raised in cages attached to horizontally oriented lines submersed 30 metres below the surface. It takes three years to rear a scallop and get it to market. Island Scallops has lost all the scallops they put in the sea from 2010 to 2013. The company still has three million shellfish in the ocean. Their fate is unknown, but it doesn’t look rosy.

Why? Acidity says the newscaster. The oceans of the world are a huge carbon sink. Oceanographers have been sounding the alarm about the increasing ocean acidification caused by caused by an increase of CO2 in the atmosphere as a result of the burning of fossil fuels by a burgeoning global population.

As the pH in the Georgia Straight plummeted, Saunders’s scallops started having trouble making their shells. They became more susceptible to infection, and their mortality rate soared.

The shellfish industry on Vancouver Island is in survival mode. Some wonder if these scallops are the canaries in the coal mine, said the announcer.

Doug and I grew up near the Straight of Georgia when it was one of the richest marine ecosystems anywhere, so the story had some resonance.

As we drove up Kalum Hill, the news shifted to a related topic – the Chinese “airpocalypse.”

It turns out that while we’ve been having day after day of blue skies, China has been having none, thanks to a killer smog covering a third of the country and making its major cities uninhabitable. Sure, people still live in them out of necessity, but given that the air is full of those nasty particles small enough to penetrate deep into your lungs and enter the bloodstream causing such nasty diseases as lung cancer, emphysema, and heart disease (to name but three of many) they really shouldn’t. According to the World Health Organization, the safe level of these deadly particles is 25 micrograms per cubic metre. In Beijing the levels topped out at 505 micrograms per cubic metre on the day before the broadcast Doug and I were listening to.

To make matters worse, the pollutants are coating greenhouses and plants, interrupting  photosynthesis. China has more than a few mouths to feed. It can’t afford to have anything mess up the country’s food supply. Yet that is exactly what Chinese scientists fear will result from a pollution problem they have likened to a nuclear winter.

Ah, China, the country ruled by a government that practises the killer combination of rule by a communist oligarchy and rampant corporate capitalism; a government with a deplorable human rights record that now has so much capital, and is owed so much more, that it is rapidly buying up most of Africa and a lot of North America and a lot of North American companies. People in Kentucky, for example, watch outraged as the tops of mountains there are blown off to get at coal that subsequently finds its way into the global atmosphere only to discover they are powerless to reign in a Chinese owned company aided and abetted by a complicit right-wing, open-for-business government.

The economy is global. So is the climate. Yet we do everything to curry favour with China, even in Terrace.

Look at China. That is our future if we continue to promote fossil fuel development and let corporations pump poisons into our air sheds.

Doug gathers gear and his dog from my truck and makes for his. To help, I pack his skis.

You feel hot. You can’t can see your wife across the room for the smoke. You have trouble breathing. When do you realize your house is on fire? I ask him.


Terrace Standard