One of my fondest memories of the ocean took place at Moss
Landing when my dad first tried to teach me how to fish. I must
have been 5 years old. I wasn’t much interested in putting bait on
a hook to catch little finned creatures gliding through the
sun-dappled harbor water. Much to my father’s frustration, I
preferred that day to play in the sand.
One of my fondest memories of the ocean took place at Moss Landing when my dad first tried to teach me how to fish. I must have been 5 years old. I wasn’t much interested in putting bait on a hook to catch little finned creatures gliding through the sun-dappled harbor water. Much to my father’s frustration, I preferred that day to play in the sand.
Moss Landing is a charming seaside village of about 300 people. It’s named after Captain Charles Moss, a Texan-born entrepreneur who built a wharf here for whaling ships. The sailing vessels brought in freshly-caught blubber which went into massive iron boiling pots to be rendered into lamp-oil. As the whale population diminished, the price of the oil produced from these sea mammals went up.
The law of supply and demand pushed people to find alternative lamp-fuel sources – including making kerosene by distilling petroleum. This discovery not only saved the whales, it started humanity on the path to fossil fuel dependence. Thanks to improved distillation processes, people found other uses for petroleum products, including gasoline and diesel for transportation. In 1950, PG&E built its Moss Landing power plant which, ironically, burned petroleum to generate electricity. From whale blubber to electric power, Moss Landing has long lit up our lives.
Recently, I drove to Moss Landing State Beach and strolled by the spot of my dad’s unsuccessful attempt to teach me how to fish. The crashing surf exploded salty mist into the air that a robust ocean wind blew into my face. With the noon-time sun high overhead, I looked out at the waters of Monterey Bay and wondered about the future of the seas as we transform our planet’s biosphere.
Every year, humans dump billions of tons of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere by consuming fossil fuels. The result is a slow yet steady global-wide climate change. Our altered atmosphere retains more of the sun’s infrared heat which increases our planet’s global temperature.
One result of climate change is that glaciers and Antarctica’s ice-sheets now melt at an ever accelerating rate. The water streams into the oceans, and some scientists theorize the pressure of billions of tons of added water produced by the melt runoff might affect Earth’s tectonic plate system. The added mass placed on these plates could destabilize earthquake zones such as the San Andreas fault, causing an increase in the number and strength of seismic tremors. The theory isn’t proven. If it’s true, we probably won’t see much increase in earthquakes and tsunamis for a century or so until the water rises to the critical mass point.
The fossil fuel humanity burns, however, is changing the planet’s oceans in a much more insidious way, one that could severely decrease life in the seas and endanger human survival. The chemistry of our oceans is being slowly altered by our ever-growing consumption of fossil fuels. About a third of the carbon dioxide human produce eventually gets mixed into ocean water, making it more acidic.
Ocean acidification is not good for underwater life. Think about what happens when you pour vinegar over baking soda. The acidic vinegar reacts with the sodium bicarbonate in baking soda. A similar situation happens on a much more diluted level to the coral and shell-fish life in our world’s oceans. Changing the pH balance of ocean water makes it harder for these creatures to survive. Ocean acidification also might harm other sea life as well, including plankton, the miniscule plants and animals that make up the foundation of the ocean food web. Our burning of fossil fuels is slowly killing our planet’s oceans.
At Moss Landing during my recent sand stroll, I gazed at the towering smokestacks of the nearby electric power plant. A technological wonder of the fossil fuel age, it now burns cleaner natural gas instead of oil. But I believe its days are numbered as the modern world progresses toward using sustainable power sources.
On my Moss Landing beach walk, I observed several of these energy resources. The great star of the sun cast its radiance down on me. Wind blew in brisk gusts into my face. Waves exploded into thunderous blossoms of white spray that boomed my eardrums. The throbbing water of the Monterey Bay I stood beside contains enough hydrogen to power fuel cells and perhaps futuristic fusion-power reactors for a million years.
For the sake of our oceans, civilization must quickly make progress in transitioning from fossil fuels to clean energy. It won’t be easy. But we’re running out of time. We must transform our energy infrastructure to save our seas – and ourselves. Let’s make sure that a hundred years hence, there’ll be fish in Moss Landing’s harbor water for fathers and their 5-year-old sons to catch.