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Oysters May Foreshadow Acidic Oceans’ Effects

Research on local oysters sheds light on how animals will adapt to ocean acidification

Bodega Marine Lab / UC Davis

Scientists from UC Davis are studying oysters and mussels to figure out if organisms will be able to adapt to climate change.

This week, scientists from around the world are meeting in Monterey to discuss what they call the “other” climate change problem: the oceans are becoming more acidic. It happens as oceans absorb the carbon dioxide we add to the air through burning fossil fuels. It can be bad news for oysters, mussels and the marine food web. How bad? Scientists are hoping that ocean conditions off the California coast will help them find out.

At the Hog Island Oyster Company, near Point Reyes, Terry Sawyer orders oysters from hatcheries in Oregon and Washington when they’re small. They grow up in big mesh bags that sit out in Tomales Bay, where they get plump in the cold waters of the Pacific.

But a few years ago, Sawyer started getting calls from those suppliers. They couldn’t fill his orders. Continue reading

Change Your Diet, Change the Climate?

salinas-007_blog

Climate Watch contributor David Gorn has been looking at the link between climate and the food we eat. His latest report aired recently on NPR’s All Things Considered.

So I have to admit, when I first got this story assignment from National Public Radio, my reaction was mixed. You want to reduce global carbon emissions by changing your personal DIET? Oh, come on. I mean, how much of an impact could diet change have on climate change?

Quite a bit, apparently.

A United Nations report says livestock accounts for 18 percent of the world’s greenhouse gasses, much of it from the methane produced by cows, as well as goats and sheep.

Shipping beef and dairy products across the country and around the globe also contributes heavily to that carbon footprint, in the form of emissions from trains, planes and trucks.

So the idea is that by cutting out beef and cheese from your personal diet, you can significantly reduce your personal carbon footprint. Chris Jones, a staff researcher at UC Berkeley’s Institute of the Environment, says the production and distribution of beef, pork, lamb and cheese are particularly high offenders on the greenhouse gas emissions chart.

In my story for All Things Considered, I focused on an Earth Day event where the University of San Francisco cafeteria and about 400 other food service outlets across the country, managed by Palo Alto-based Bon Appetit, were cutting all beef and cheese out of the menu for one day. Yes, no cheeseburgers in a university cafeteria. Scary thought, eh? The students didn’t seem to flinch, though.

It looks like this approach to the low-carbon diet it may be catching on among Bay Area hospital cafeterias, as well.

It’s unclear what effect the current efforts might have on climate patterns but it’s a familiar pattern to Americans; using personal buying power to influence public policy decisions.

The Insidious Side of Climate Change

If you think climate change just means hotter summers in California, think again. The writer of this week’s guest post argues that we’ll all “feel the heat” in myriad ways, both obvious and subtle.

Climate and Nature
by Anthony Barnosky

Some impacts of climate change in California are pretty obvious, things like rising sea level submerging large parts of the San Francisco Bay region, or drought cutting into our water supplies.  Less obvious, but every bit as important, are impacts on something you probably don’t even know you have: your relationship with nature.

One part of that relationship is the concept of “ecosystem services;” the direct benefits you get from nature.  California’s Climate Action Team highlighted some of the state’s ecosystem services in their recent report.  Examples include the ski trip you may have taken this winter, the salmon fillet you may have bought at the grocery store, or surprisingly, even your hamburger.

barnosky_snowfunSnow will be less, soggier, at higher elevations, and on the ground for fewer days of the winter, melting some of the $500 million-per-year revenues of the ski industry–not to mention melting your favorite ski run.  Altered river dynamics and temperatures will almost certainly cut into the state’s $33-million-per-year salmon industry. Climate-caused loss of forage means that in 2070 California’s cattle ranchers will be losing up to $92 million in comparison to today’s markets, which means higher beef prices at the grocery store.  Combined, the losses in these ecosystem services likely will cost the state’s already suffering economy well over a hundred million dollars per year as we move into the next few decades. And those are just three of many ecosystem services that will be affected.

A second part of your relationship to nature is the species around you, that is to say, biodiversity. Simply put, biodiversity is which species live in a place, and the extent to which those species are rare or common.  In general, biodiversity means more productive and healthier ecosystems, which translates as more benefits to humans that inhabit those areas.  As it turns out, California is a globally recognized biodiversity hotspot, unique in the world.  But biodiversity losses from global warming promise to be severe: one study predicts that two-thirds of the 2387 plant species found only in the state will lose 80% of their range within the century.

barnosky_icylakeThe third part of your relationship to nature is how it makes you feel.  There’s no question: you can’t get the same feeling you get looking at a giant redwood anywhere but in a redwood forest.   Among species that may have little or no suitable climate left in California, however, are its coastal redwoods and sequoias.

Such impacts of climate change on nature are not confined to California.   Many other reports indicate that global warming is redefining our relationship to nature worldwide.  As with other impacts, this one can be partially mitigated by reducing greenhouse gas emissions immediately, but also will require some new management strategies for preserving nature in the age of global warming.  California, in particular, has a lot to lose.

Anthony D. Barnosky is a Professor of Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley and author of the recently published Heatstroke: Nature in an Age of Global Warming. You can read more on this topic in his blog. Photos by the author.

Barnosky is scheduled to appear Saturday as part of Berkeley’s “Cal Day” activities. His talk is scheduled for noon at the Valley Life Sciences Bldg, Room 2060, followed by a book-signing at the T-Rex (which is hard to miss).