Farmed Fish Are Becoming More Dangerous to Eat, and Other Climate Change Briefs

‘Dead zones’ are forming on our coasts, insects are starving and Americans are breathing in filthy air – yes, it’s your weekly climate change pick-me-up

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A worker feeding fish at a farm in a floating village in Xiapu, China, December 12, 2019.
A worker feeding fish at a farm in a floating village in Xiapu, China, December 12, 2019.Credit: AFP
Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster

Fish is supposed to be good for the brain – yours, not theirs – but it’s a sad truism that some can make you sick as a dog. The latest blow at piscavorians is a report in Nature Communications linking global warming to spreading antibiotic resistance in farmed fish and shellfish. This is why? Because seas and lakes are warming, albeit slower than our air; bacteria adore this warmer environment; fish farmers are dosing the hapless sea-life with ever increasing doses of prophylactic antibiotics, in the fond but futile hope of keeping them healthy long enough to be sold as food. All of this drives the development of antibiotic-resistant bacterial species – which can and do confer their resistance unto nonresistant bacterial species. Aquaculture is now responsible for more than half the fish and seafood consumption around the world and this isn’t a warning: it’s already happening. Solution? Well, less crowding, alternative medicine…

Forum suggests pH policy

Apropos fish, it has become clearer that global warming is accelerating the development of “algal” blooms, caused chiefly by cyanobacteria, which among other things are causing so-called dead zones on our coasts – areas characterized by hypoxia (low oxygen concentrations). It has also become crystal clear that our oceans are rapidly acidifying (meaning, the pH is dropping) as the atmospheric dioxide concentration increases. A Stony Brook University Policy Forum suggests that regulation start addressing that for the sake of the fisheries. Also, really, because there is absolutely no upside to oceanic hypoxia and acidification, unless you’re a cyanobacterium.

Nearly half of Americans are breathing filthy air

The Clean Air Act enacted in 1963 is very nice, but nearly half of Americans breathe polluted air, the American Lung Association reported last week. Climate change is contributing to the situation in multiple ways, including increasing use of artificial environment enhancers – aka air conditioners – as record heat withers the cities, and heaters when record snows and cold descend; and wildfires, which significantly boost soot in the air – one of the many forms of particle pollution. The association points out that particle pollution can trigger “heart attacks and strokes, and cause lung cancer. New research also links air pollution to the development of serious diseases, such as asthma and dementia.” Also, the filthier the air you breathe, the more likely you are to suffer serious consequences if you catch COVID-19.

Locust plagues linked to climate change

Inexorable locust swarms have bedeviled Africa and Eurasia since time immemorial, but their magnitude is being boosted – enormously – by climate change-driven heavy rains, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s locust watch. The outbreak in January, during which swarm sizes in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia reached up to 40 by 60 kilometers (25 by 37 miles) in area (!) are expected to be dwarfed by the monumental swarms expected to form in June-July, a key harvest season. The swarms are also expected to affect Iran and Yemen. There is no solution to locusts except for spraying, which has consequences of its own – and in any case is hampered by the coronavirus causing a supply chain crunch. The result: massive food insecurity.

Insectageddon: They’re starving

A host of sources warn that locusts aside, insects are declining, which is seriously bad news for posterity. Now a study done in the canton of Zurich, representative of all central Europe, and reported in Ecological Applications, has isolated a cause beyond rampant pesticide use and habitat devastation: they’re starving. Farming has “captured” vast areas and the diversity of food plants the insects need has dramatically shrunk over the past 100 years, leaving bees, butterflies and, yes, flies unable to find the food they need. Even leaving aside fly rights, this is seriously bad news because insects play an unimaginably enormous role in the ecology.

Image of Trump on a flag at a protest in Las Vegas against Nevada governor's lockdown orders, April 24, 2020Credit: AFP

Would you bet the house on Las Vegas beating the virus?

As climate change-driven heat descends on Las Vegas, the city’s mayor, Carolyn Goodman, urges that businesses reopen because the coronavirus doesn’t like heat so hopefully the desert climate will help eliminate COVID-19. As she stated: “Although it has not been clearly determined as to the effect that extreme warmth will have on the virus, it is assumed that it shall deter its ferocity. Our hot summer coupled with our unique economy compel us to be at the forefront of America’s reopening.” Sad to say, the coronavirus is transmitted person to person, not cool surface to croupier, and even if Las Vegas gets as baked as a moussaka and its surfaces are rendered less than lovely for the virus, that won’t make it skulk off into the hot desert night. The end.

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