Climate Change, Part 3

Aug 22, 2018

By Frank Sargeant, Editor
The Fishing Wire

This is the final in a three-part series on Climate Change or Global Warming. It steps beyond the causes fulminating much disagreement across the nation to look at what is already being done, and what reasonably can be done in the near future to alleviate some of the more obvious and damaging results. While our interest here has been primarily the impact on anglers, boaters and outdoorsmen as well as the industries they support, the issues obviously reach far, far beyond recreational and business issues.

So, we are faced with a climatologic root-canal, following up our environmental colonoscopy. 

We can assuredly argue over what is causing the rapid change, but it's difficult to logically deny it's happening. World temperature charts go up very rapidly starting about 1975, after wavering up and down for the century before that. 

There's no question glaciers and permafrost are melting. There's no question sea level is rising. 

There's no question snook are moving north along Florida's coast, that dogwoods are blooming earlier, confusing both turkeys and turkey hunters, that manatees are found far north of where they used to be along the coast--several have popped up off Cape Cod in recent years.

Manatees are among a number of subtropic species that are showing up ever farther northward as seas have warmed in the last 40 years. (Photo Credit USF&W)

Global Warming appears to be irrefutably underway. Who's to blame or how long it will last may inspire some arguments, but the thermometer does not lie. The question is, what can be done about it, if anything?

Few of us want to pour U.S. taxpayer billions into the pockets of hostile, shaky, inept or corrupt governments with a demonstrated inability to govern effectively in an effort to stem climate change impact in the Third World.  We are already parceling out some $30-billion per year in foreign aid, far more than any other nation.

But this does not rule out measured assistance to needy nations that will put our help to good use, very likely to our benefit as well as theirs. And it certainly does not mean we shouldn't do our best at home to turn this increasingly-leaky climatological ship.

So what, if anything, can be done?

Surprisingly a lot has already been achieved.

Steps in the Right Direction

All is not gloom and doom, by a long shot. There have been enormous strides in switching to cleaner, renewable energy in recent years. U.S. carbon emissions shrank by 14% between 2005 and 2017 — more than in any other country.

Some has come as a result of government requirements: remember the blue haze of oil smoke that used to rise over the lakes when everybody cranked up for a big bass tournament? That's gone now because EPA and CARB rating requirements forced outboard builders to cut emissions dramatically. 

Today, 3-Star CARB outboards--virtually all outboards sold in the U.S.--put out only 10 percent of the CO and other emissions they did prior to 1998. They also use less fuel and start and run a whole lot better. (They cost many times more, but that's another issue.)

My 2016 Pathfinder, which can pull a 6,000-pound boat, gets over 25 mpg on the interstates. (Not when I'm towing, of course, but I can remember when my 1968 VW Beetle, with all of 40 BHP, got about 20 mpg.)  And amazingly, according to the EPA, this truck and virtually all vehicles currently being built in the West put out 1 percent of the harmful pollutants that equivalent vehicles did before the Clean Air Act in 1970. Again, governmental pressure made this happen--and we're all better off for it, despite all the grousing we did during the changeover.

Modern crossover SUV's get far better mileage than even small cars did 25 years ago, and also produce just a fraction of the harmful emissions. Like the Nissan Pathfinder shown here, they also have impressive towing capacities. (Photo Credit Nissan)

Ditto for lightbulbs--the LED versions now all over my house, tackle workshop and garage cost only a few dollars more than the incandescents I resolutely stuck to when they were five times the price they are now--but since then, the lower price, the lower energy use (1/6 as much power cost for the same amount of light) and the fact that I don't have to replace the bulbs for 22 years has made a believer of me. 

Think about that--install these things when your son or daughter is born and they'll be through college before you have to replace the bulbs! Reportedly, they pay for themselves in savings in under a year of typical use.

The bulbs, definitely not the sons or daughters. 

Old style bulbs are going away in 2020 by federal law, in any case, but it makes sense to switch, now.

The Economics of Cleaner Air

There are actually many more improvements that have come for economic reasons than via government regulation. Renewables are now a huge industry.

California has more than 40 geothermal powerplants providing 6 percent of its power--and zero CO-2 footprint. Iceland gets 50 percent of its home heating from hot water tapped from the earth. 

Meanwhile, the American Wind Energy Association estimates about 25 million households can be powered with current installed wind capacity in the US.  (There are roughly 126 million households in the U.S.)  New York State has approved an enormous windfield off Montauk, 35 miles offshore, with windmills 650 feet tall and with a rotor span of 300 feet. The state hopes to generate half its needed energy from renewables by 2030. 

Windfarms are popping up all along the northeast Atlantic Coast to take advantage of the steady breezes usually found there. Whether they become the same sort of fish magnets that oil rigs have been in the Gulf of Mexico remains to be seen, but in any case, they don't appear to present the environmental risk of oil drilling. (Photo Credit American Wind Energy Association)

There's a windfarm already in operation off Rhode Island, and more are planned off Maryland. (No reports yet, but I'm guessing the underwater portions of those windmills are going to be great fishing spots, too.) 

Texas is the leading wind-energy state, despite the deep roots of oil production there. Forty states now have utility-scale wind energy production plants, just because they appear to be great investments.

Babcock Ranch in southwest Florida, the nation's first all-solar city, has a solar farm with 340,000 solar panels spanning 440 acres. Utilities love solar because not only is it clean, there's no cost for fuel--the infrastructure and maintenance are their only costs.

Massive solar farms like this one are becoming common across the west, and many are also planned for Florida and other southern states. Maintenance is minimal, life span extensive on these installations. (Photo Credit U.S. Bureau of Land Management)

Home solar power cells are typically warranted for 25 to 30 years, and indications are they'll last a lot longer than that--free energy after they're amortized. Whole house systems currently sell for $15,000 to $30,000, and it takes about 20 years to amortize them through energy savings. Note, though, conventional heat/ac systems cost five to eight grand and are never amortized by energy savings. They also tend to wear out after about 10 years, so then you have another big bill. 

The value-added of these systems when you sell a house should make them even more appealing--free utilities! 

And, there has been a good bit of renewable energy around in the form of hydro-electric dams for decades in the U.S. and around the world. Hydroelectric  produced 35% of the renewable electricity in the U.S. in 2015, and 6.1% of the total U.S. electricity. The dams cause some serious problems for migratory fish, and it's unlikely more will be built in the U.S. because of this and other issues, but they do provide clean energy.

Transportation Is Changing, Too

The Jaguar Vector hydroplane set an electric outboard speed record earlier this year, reaching more than 88 mph. Power is a custom-built 250-hp electric outboard. (Photo Credit Jaguar Vector)

In England, a Jaguar Vector boat powered by an electric outboard just ran 88 mph--not even a Bass Cat owner could complain much about that. This is with a 250-hp custom-built electric motor, of course--but Torqeedo is already building production outboards that put out up to 80 hp, Elco has a 100-hp model and Johnny Morris now sells a Bass Buggy pontoon that's powered solely by an electric. Correct Craft, Sea Ark and Torqeedo just announced a partnership to build a practical all-electric bass boat. A number of larger yacht-class builders are now offering hybrid power options, too.

Tesla is shipping 2,000 to 5,000 all-electric cars PER WEEK and has an extended waiting list, even through the average price is north of $50,000.  It's a long way from the 15,000 internal combustion vehicles per week Ford turns out worldwide, but it's a significant production for an upstart company producing an entirely new technology. (It's good they chose to name the company after the electrical pioneer, Nikola Tesla; calling it the "Musk" might not have been the best marketing move ever--just a thought.) 

Tesla is building and selling high-performance electric cars at a record pace, though fast-charge stations like this one along the Florida Turnpike are still rare. (Photo Credit Tesla)

Tesla's are not electric scooters: The four-wheel drive model does 0-60 in well under 3 seconds and has a top speed over 130 mph. (To say nothing of the one Elon shot into space at 17,000 mph!)

Industrial markets are not overlooked. Tesla reportedly has operating prototypes of semi-trucks that will haul a full load at 60 mph for 300 to 600 miles between charges. Production electric passenger vehicles are not the ticket for long-range travel yet--it takes up to 9 hours to put a full charge into automotive batteries--but for zipping around town on those short trips that make up by far the bulk of most driving, they can be a very clean alternative. (Even Harley-Davidson--Harly-Friggin' Davidson-- is developing an electric hog!)

Toyota is shipping the Mirai compact, which uses hydrogen to run a fuel cell engine or a generator that powers its electric motor. Range is said to be over 300 miles, top speed over 100 mph, fillups take five minutes and it can be leased for about $350 a month. It's only available in California (naturally) but fill stations will spread rapidly if the concept is a success--it has zero harmful emissions, according to the company.

Issues to be Solved

There have been some missteps, to be sure: Ethanol, once thought to be part of the solution, has proven to be more of a problem, with no net energy gain due to the energy costs of farming. 

To say nothing of the problems E15 causes if you accidently put it in your outboard, ATV or chain saw. 

High ethanol fuels, once promoted as a climate change solution, have proven to produce no net benefit considering the energy used in production. And for boaters as well as most small engine equipment, they present a real hazard of expensive damage. (Photo Credit Wiki Commons)

It's also brought a reduction in available food crops in some parts of the world, as well as creating problems with land clearing in South America and Indonesia. American farmers like it because it brings them lots of cash from corn crops, but it may not be the best investment in cleaner air.

Negative load on conventional electric generating plants is also becoming a bit of a problem, particularly in Europe, which is well ahead of most of the U.S. in renewables. These occur when there's more free energy available from solar, hydro and wind power than needed. Coal, oil and gas fueled plants are not designed to be turned on and off quickly--lots of energy is going to waste as the changeover to solar and wind energy speeds up.

What About Jobs?

When those in the coal, gas and oil industries look at renewables, they no doubt get the feeling that the folks at Rand McNally did the first time they opened Google Earth. 

To be sure, all of this will put many in the carbon-fuel industries and those who depend on their products under duress--just as the Internet put newspapers and all forms of print under duress, just as the arrival of the automobile put horse carriage makers under duress and the electric light bulb did bad things to candle-makers. 

(There are thousands of uses for coal and petroleum-based products that have no impact on air-quality, however, including building graphite rods, monofilament and Dyneema lines, microfiber fishing shirts, most fishing lures, fiberglass boats, shotgun shell casings, composite stocks and lots more, and those are likely to thrive for the foreseeable future.)

Human progress often requires us to shift gears--but we are not static creatures. In West Virginia, they're teaching  former coal miners to become computer programmers. Georgia already has 3,000 employed in solar jobs, lots more in the works.

The Solar Foundation, a non-profit keeping tabs on the solar industry across the U.S., says about 250,000 Americans are currently employed in solar. That's not many, but it's up 168 percent since 2010 and growing.

It's unlikely renewables can absorb all those disenfranchised by slowing carbon-based fuel production, but there are a lot of other options. 

The Marine Industry Guide to Growing the Workforce, a plan to recruit and train boat-builders for the many skilled positions currently hard to fill in many parts of the nation, has just been released by  NMMA. And the current administration in Washington is directing a lot of effort into training for skills jobs as well--well-paying, long-lasting jobs that in many cases will be less onerous than the energy jobs they might replace.

Observations from the Industry

Glenn Hughes, president of ASA, says coastal fish migrations resulting from climate change could cause management issues in future, while in fresh water, hotter streams could restrict the range of trout and salmonid species. (Photo Credit ASA)

The industry is not ignoring the potential issues of Climate Change. Here's what Glenn Hughes, president of the American Sportfishing Association, told us:

"The potential of warmer oceans can cause species’ ranges to shift. Actual fish populations may change from state to state. From a management standpoint, this creates challenges, since many fish stocks are managed by state-by-state allocations that are based on species distributions. We need to continue to examine allocations as a necessary aspect of fisheries management. In freshwater, we could have similar impacts on species ranges as temperate changes may impact existing fish populations. Cold water fisheries, including trout, could be impacted based on limited habitat and ranges." 

We also heard from Thom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association:

Thom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association, notes the organization has climate change on the radar, but is not seeing direct national impacts on the industry as yet. (Photo Credit NMMA)

"As climate change impacts coastal communities, as well as inland lakes and rivers, it is likely to impact boating. We currently don’t have clear insight as to what the exact impact to the marine industry will be. Changes in weather patterns that leave specific bodies of water too high or too low, or climate changes that exacerbate existing natural conditions in specific regions such as the red tide in Florida, are situations we pay close attention to. We have not seen any national impacts at this point, however, learning more about how climate change impacts our industry is on our radar."

The Road Ahead

We obviously can't believe everything we hear or read about Climate Change these days. There are dozens of websites dedicated to climate change, all with one thing in common--a very large "DONATE HERE" button. Obviously, some of these folks have a vested interest in promoting worst case scenarios, right or wrong, and a few appear to be not too careful with their facts.

And there are those who want to blame it all on the current administration, which has been in power all of 18 months, for a problem that has taken over 150 years developing, and that is the fault of every one of us who consumes energy on the planet. Those now in Washington can surely do far more than they have, but just as surely they did not cause the problems.

It appears, in any case, that the worst that happens if we do the things that appear most necessary is we get cleaner air and water, natural places maintain their natural plants, fish and wildlife, we pay less for energy, and our coastal areas remain habitable for farther into the future. At a heavy infrastructure cost, true. But many of the strides so far appear to make economic sense, and we are only in the infancy of the technology.

Political will is a whole other issue--the infighting has the potential to paralyze meaningful action. But when CCA or D.U. or T.U. or NWTF or WTU or B.A.S.S. holds a banquet, they don't seat the liberals on one side of the aisle and the conservatives on the other. We're all there for one purpose, conservation. 

In a healthy democracy, vigorous disagreement is a normal part of government--but in the end, we all need clean air, clean water and a supply of clean, healthy food. 

Consider the facts on Climate Change, as best you can discover them. As my grandpappy used to say, you never know what you never know.

Listen. Learn. Evaluate. Think. 

And vote. 

The continuing wonder of democratic societies is that the people eventually are heard.

It appears we aren't going to stop Climate Change completely, no matter what. The part we have nothing to do with has been going on since before we were here, and will continue after we are gone. 

But we can do our part towards leaving out beautiful planet better than we found it.

The time for all of us to get started is now.

(The Fishing Wire welcomes comments on this series. Please send to Frankmako1@gmail.com.)