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Climate Change & Overfishing Are Increasing Toxic Mercury Levels In Fish Study Says

Mercury levels in the seafood supply are on the rise, and climate change and overfishing are partially to blame, according to a new study. Scientists said mercury levels in the oceans have fallen since the late 1990s, but levels in popular fish such as tuna, salmon and swordfish are on the rise.

According to a new study by Harvard University researchers in the journal Nature, some fish are adapting to overfishing of small herring and sardines by changing their diets to consume species with higher mercury levels.

Based on 30 years of data, methylmercury concentrations in Atlantic cod increased by up to 23% between the 1970s and the 2000s. It links the increase to a diet change necessitated by overfishing.

But overfishing isn’t the only contributor to higher mercury levels in fish. Climate change — and the rising ocean temperatures that come with it — means fish are more active and need more food to survive. Consuming more prey means consuming more mercury.

But overfishing isn’t the only contributor to higher mercury levels in fish. Climate change — and the rising ocean temperatures that come with it — means fish are more active and need more food to survive. Consuming more prey means consuming more mercury.

The study also found that mercury levels in Atlantic bluefin tuna have increased by an estimated 56% due to seawater temperature rise since 1969.

Climate change “is not just about what the weather is like in 10 years,” said lead researcher Amina Schartup. “It’s also about what’s on your plate in the next five.”

Scientists said human exposure to methylmercury — the compound created when mercury enters the ocean — is especially risky for pregnant women, as it has been linked to long-term neurological disorders when fetuses are exposed in the womb. It is considered a major public health concern by the World Health Organization.

“It’s not that everyone should be terrified after reading our paper and stop eating seafood, which is a very healthy, nutritious food,” senior author Elsie Sunderland told Reuters. “We wanted to show people that climate change can have a direct impact on what you’re eating today, that these things can affect your health … not just things like severe weather and flooding and sea level rise.”

Since the late 1990s, mercury concentrations have declined overall following increased regulations and decreased coal-burning power plants. In 2017, a global treaty was introduced to reduce mercury emissions.

But mercury levels in fish have not fallen as expected. The treaty failed to account for overfishing’s massive effects on marine ecosystems or climate change’s impact on the diets of fish. So, much of our current seafood supply actually contains more mercury than before.

The study also found that mercury levels in Atlantic bluefin tuna have increased by an estimated 56% due to seawater temperature rise since 1969.Climate change “is not just about what the weather is like in 10 years,” said lead researcher Amina Schartup. “It’s also about what’s on your plate in the next five.”

Scientists said human exposure to methylmercury — the compound created when mercury enters the ocean — is especially risky for pregnant women, as it has been linked to long-term neurological disorders when fetuses are exposed in the womb. It is considered a major public health concern by the World Health Organization.

“It’s not that everyone should be terrified after reading our paper and stop eating seafood, which is a very healthy, nutritious food,” senior author Elsie Sunderland told Reuters. “We wanted to show people that climate change can have a direct impact on what you’re eating today, that these things can affect your health … not just things like severe weather and flooding and sea level rise.”

Since the late 1990s, mercury concentrations have declined overall following increased regulations and decreased coal-burning power plants. In 2017, a global treaty was introduced to reduce mercury emissions.

But mercury levels in fish have not fallen as expected. The treaty failed to account for overfishing’s massive effects on marine ecosystems or climate change’s impact on the diets of fish. So, much of our current seafood supply actually contains more mercury than before.

According to a recent report by Australian climate experts, the world’s oceans will likely lose about one-sixth of its fish and other marine life by the end of the century if climate change continues on its current path. If the world’s greenhouse gas emissions stay at the present rate, that means a 17% loss of biomass — the total weight of all marine animal life — by the year 2100. But if the world reduces carbon pollution, losses can be limited to only about 5%, the study said.

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But our regulations against mercury pollution could be weakening under the Trump administration. In December, the Environmental Protection Agency targeted an Obama-era regulation credited with helping dramatically reduce toxic mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants.

In the U.S. coal power plants are the largest single manmade source of mercury pollutants. As coal combustion emits mercury into the atmosphere, the ocean absorbs it, converting it into methylmercury. The EPA proposal argued that savings for companies were greater than any increased perils to safety or the environment.

The carbon we release into the atmosphere has a direct correlation to the toxins that end up in our food supply.

Methylmercury levels increase when an animal eats its prey — accumulating in larger doses as it goes through the food chain. So when a human consumes tuna, for example, it is also consuming all of the mercury consumed by its prey, all the way down the food chain.

According to the study, about 80% of exposure to Methylmercury in the U.S. comes from seafood, and 40% from tuna alone. Scientists said stronger regulations are needed for greenhouse gases and mercury emissions in order to keep our fish supply healthy and thriving.

By Sophie Lewis

Source: Climate change and overfishing are increasing toxic mercury levels in fish, study says

 

 

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This May Be The Single Biggest Business Opportunity In Human History

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Dr. Jonathan Foley, 50, executive director for Project Drawdown, joined me for a discussion about climate change (watch in the video player below). His statement, “This may be the single biggest business opportunity in human history,” sounds like hyperbole but there may be no one better qualified to make that statement correctly.

With a PhD in atmospheric sciences from the University of Wisconsin and having spent three decades doing and managing research into climate change, he is certainly qualified on the science. His case that the business opportunity is there hinges on this key premise:

We literally have to reinvent our energy systems, our food systems, our manufacturing, our cities. Everything! You can look at that is like, ‘Crap, that’s a really big problem.’ I think we have to look at as “Wow, what a great opportunity!” especially if we do it right. We can improve lives. We can reduce inequity. We could solve some of our other social ills if we do it wisely. And we could build a better world for future generations and for ourselves.

If we’re going to have to reinvent so much of our modern world, the investment opportunity does begin to be interesting. Clearly, the need for investment capital is there. What about getting a return on that capital?

Project Drawdown, initially led by Paul Hawken, created a list of 100 climate solutions and published it in the New York Times bestseller Drawdown. The team, now led by Foley, is in the process of updating the list and hopes to have that done before the end of the year.

Here’s what the list indicates about financial returns, according to Foley. “There are dozens and dozens of solutions. If we add them all together, they’re more than enough to stop climate change if we really deployed them at scale. And the preliminary kind of financial analysis is for every dollar we spend doing this we return three to four more back to the economy. That’s not even counting, avoiding the damages of really bad climate change in the future, which it could be untold trillions and trillions of dollars and literally hundreds of millions of lives affected.”

He says we must look past the familiar solar and wind renewables that dominate the discussion about climate change solutions—not that they don’t work—simply because we need more than that.

Foley highlights five areas that make up 90% of climate change drivers:

  1. Electricity
  2. Food, land use and forestry
  3. Industry
  4. Buildings
  5. Transportation

In each of these areas there are opportunities for investors, businesses and entrepreneurs. Trillions will be spent and invested to reinvent the global economy to operate more sustainably.

The carbon impact of buildings is a mystery to some who are new to the climate conversation. Concrete is the biggest culprit, according to Foley. “If cement we’re a country, by the way, it would be the third largest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world after China and the United States.”

Concrete doesn’t just require vast amounts of energy to produce, it also emits carbon throughout its life cycle. Entrepreneurs and investors, including Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, are working on new chemical approaches to cement that will require less carbon or that may even be capable of absorbing it.

Electric cars represent a huge opportunity as well. Over the next decade, if Foley’s belief is correct, much of the fleet of vehicles on the road today will be replaced by all-electric ones. “Two years ago Bloomberg News folks projected that battery powered cars, electric cars would be cheaper than gas car cars as soon as 2027; they just had to revise that the other day and say, nope, that’s gonna happen in 2022, because batteries are getting cheaper.”

Overall, Foley is remarkably optimistic about the future precisely because of market forces. “That’s what I love about these tech disruptions, that solar and wind now are cheaper than coal. You don’t need Washington to tell us don’t burn coal. No one is going to burn coal anymore; the market won. Electric cars: the market will win again.”

“Project Drawdown was a dramatic breakthrough – extending our perspective beyond energy production and consumption to the underlying drivers of energy use. It opens up a whole range of new options to address climate change and puts those in context with all the traditional solutions,” says Bob Perkowitz, president of ecoAmerica.

Only time will tell whether climate change represents the “single biggest business opportunity in history” but Foley makes a good case—and he’s a good one to make it.

Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn. Check out my website.

Deeply optimistic, I’m an author, educator and speaker; I call myself a champion of social good. Through my work, I hope to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems–poverty, disease and climate change. My books—read over 1 million times—on using money for good, personal finance, crowdfunding and corporate social responsibility draw on my experience as an investment banker, CFO, treasurer and mortgage broker. I have delivered a keynote speech at the United Nations and spoken in countries from Brazil to Russia and across the US. Previously, I worked on the U.S. Senate Banking Committee staff and earned an MBA at Cornell. Follow me on Twitter @devindthorpe. Reach me at forbes@devinthorpe.com.

 

 

 

 

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