When Fish Can’t Breathe, Colltalers
An alarming report found that an area in the Gulf of Mexico the size of New Jersey is completely devoid of life. In over 8,700 square miles of so-called dead zone, all marine life that could, left, while plankton died due to lack of oxygen, depleted by agricultural nutrients pollution.
The massive ‘desert in the water’ zone, a now annual phenomenon, comes from the reliance on chemical fertilizers by meat producers, such as Tyson Foods. And since Gulf of Mexico will be forever associated with oil spill, yes, that environmental disaster is also linked to the zone.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the largest dead zone ever measured has a huge algal growth, triggered by agricultural nutrients that consume oxygen, causing loss of fish habitat, decreasing their reproductive abilities, and shrinking shrimp size.
NOAA, an agency in the cross-hairs of the Trump Administration for its groundbreaking research on climate change, cites an increase in ‘nutrient discharges’ from the Mississippi River, caused by the agricultural industry as a whole and also the area’s land development projects.
Practically from the moment it exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, on April 20, 2010, the BP-owned Deepwater Horizon drilling rig has created the conditions for dead zones. Spills usually trigger an oxygen loss in water by feeding microbes that consume oxygen and grow on oil.
It’s exactly this ability that is then channeled in the cleanup process that follows an oil spill. It was no different after the largest in history, which dumped some 4.9 million barrels of oil in the gulf waters. Although declared sealed, a 2012 report showed that the seal is still leaking.
It’s now part of standard procedures of ever increasing cleanup efforts to deploy a type of bacteria that ‘chews’ hydrocarbons, delivered in chemical dispersants, designed to break the oil
and mitigate the thick gunk formed after an extensive oil spill such as that one.
Problem is, bacteria do not stop there. The long term result, including pollution generated by the dispersants themselves, is that decomposition gives rise to a burst in bacterial growth, which consume not only the plankton but also all the oxygen on the water’s depths.
As serious as this process is, it’s not the only factor linked to the BP disaster at the Gulf. The NOAA report indicates an increase in nutrient discharges in the water, originated by agricultural companies that use massive amounts of nitrate based-fertilizers to boost production.
This increase is in sync with Tyson’s growth as the largest U.S. meat producer, despite a rising global trend against eating animal products, which may have determined some plant closings. That and allegations of environmental, labor and sanitary violations against the company.
The oil disaster, for which BP has already paid over $60 billion while still beating earnings forecasts, shattered the booming fishing market along the Gulf, and Tyson and other food processors gladly occupied the gap left over by thousands of bankrupted mom-and-pop fisheries.
The spill changed the economic balance of the region, which covers five states and is a home for over 56 million Americans. While still struggling, local economies had to redefine themselves, and there’s been an explosion of subsidy-supported agricultural farms in the area.
These gulf coast-based corn and soy farms are heavily dependent on fertilizers to keep up with rising demand for livestock food, so cattle farmers can sell more to Tyson and other meat processors. While those farms at the entry point of the supply chain are independent, it’s giants such as Tyson that control demand through their expansion. Thus, they should ultimately be accountable at least in part for the dead zones.
As producer of one out of every five pound of meat consumed in the U.S., Tyson is the only company with major facilities in each of the Gulf of Mexico states. A U.S. Geological Survey study also links the company to the region’s highest levels of pollution and nitrate contamination.
That two companies, whose products cause environmental pollution with severe impact on global climate change, are able to thrive in the U.S. market, peddling their wares almost unimpeded, may be an indictment to the current administration. After all, its Environmental Protection director is a climate-change denier, and its Secretary of State was a lifetime executive and CEO of oil multinational ExxonMobil.
In the meantime, the 194 other nations who, along the U.S., have signed the Paris Agreement to reduce climate-linked pollution, unlike it, have renewed their efforts. They continue to build a future where energy sources will come from the sun and wind, and food, from plants.
At the end of the 1800s, Svante Arrhenius, a Swedish Nobel Prize in Chemistry winner, and now considered a precursor of climate change science, asked if ‘is it probable that (…) great variations in carbon dioxide could have occurred within relatively short geologic times?’
It took a century to confirm that, yes, it is. The impact of greenhouse gases on global temperatures, boosted by carbon dioxide emissions, which jumped from around 280 parts per million in his time to more than 400 ppm last year, has just proved it. The Paris accord is our best coordinated effort to prevent world thermometers from rising more than 2°C (3.6°F) above pre-industrial levels, before the 2100 deadline.
Which means, we are signed up on this fight. As extensive as it is, the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico is one out of 405 such zones, totaling over 94,000 square miles around the world. Since 16% of our life-sustaining protein consumption comes from the oceans, you do the math.
As gigantic icebergs continue to break up in Antarctica and the Arctic, the fact that the U.S. president does not care about dead zones, climate change, or rising sea levels, won’t serve as an excuse as for why humanity lost its survival foot during our lifetime. The culprits will be us.
For while this old man lacks foresight or intelligence to envision the future, another Nobel Prize winner, Malala Yousafzai, who’s just turned 20, travels the world with a message linking the education of young girls to climate change as a way forward. Who would you listen to?
A rich person saying he could shoot someone and still be liked, or a then teen, who was shot in the face for the right to learn and become a better person? All we need is what Malala, and we, already have: being alive. Be hopeful and take a moment to remember Hiroshima at 72. WC
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