At its heart, the global warming problem is about food.
There’s a local angle to the climate news that the Atlantic “conveyor belt” is slowing down. Also known as North Atlantic Drift, these are the ocean currents that go from the tropics and bring relatively mild weather to Europe. The melting of Greenland’s glaciers has significantly slowed down the conveyor belt. So, Europe may well be getting colder. But there’s a local problem as well — where do the fish go?
CURWOOD: Now, when you say it keeps Europe warm, we’re saying places like England, which is far north of eastern United States – New York, Boston – tends to be much warmer and has an earlier spring.
MANN: That’s right. And of course, Western Europe relies upon that moderate climate. If they were to lose that moderate climate that would obviously be problematic for them, for their economy. The pattern of climate, of rainfall, of drought, of temperature, that we rely upon today, and we rely upon the stability of those climate patterns for human civilization, well, if they were to change abruptly, that could really spell trouble, for us, for other living things, so any abrupt change in climate could potentially be catastrophic. We have long suspected that the North Atlantic Ocean circulation, the conveyor belt is one of those components of the climate system that could potentially undergo a very rapid change if we continue to warm the planet with fossil fuel burning and increased greenhouse gas concentrations. The climate models predict that we could see that current begin to shut down perhaps by the end of the century. As it turns out, the models appear to be too conservative because in our latest study we find evidence that that current is already weakening substantially and could be much closer to a total collapse than current generation climate models would suggest.
My emphasis. And the Massachusetts angle of the story? No good news for our beleaguered fishing industry:
One of the greatest concerns here is that if we did shut down the ocean circulation system, the conveyor belt, while we wouldn’t get a new ice age in the northern hemisphere, we would fundamentally change the flow of nutrients that feed ecosystems in the north Atlantic Ocean, which is one of the most productive regions for sea life in the entire world, and we would potentially lose access to fish populations that we rely upon right now, at a time when we’re already seeing threats to fisheries from ocean acidification, from overfishing. And so, while the impacts wouldn’t play out like a Hollywood disaster film, they could still be disastrous for us.
Here in Massachusetts, if we want to preserve a local industry — hell, if we want to eat — we’d better figure this out. Mitigate and adapt: What can we do to slow this process down, and what can we fish and eat in the future?