On August 23, two days after The Berkshire Edge published my “Letter from Maine,” which told of the rapid warming of the Gulf of Maine and its effects on marine life, the Portland Herald ran an article headlined “Puffin chicks in Gulf of Maine’s largest colony starve to death at record rate.” (The piece was written by Herald staff reporter Colin Woodard, author of a six-part 2015 series that appeared under the heading “Mayday: Gulf of Maine in Distress.”)
On August 28, the Herald published an article by AP reporter Patrick Whittle headlined “Mussels Disappearing From New England Waters.” The piece summed up the findings of a study by marine ecologists at the University of California at Irvine: they found that, whereas wild blue mussels formerly covered up to two thirds of the Gulf’s intertidal zone, they now cover less than 15 percent.
Meanwhile, from friends in Iceland I received reports on that country’s threatened puffin population. A Google search brought up an article headlined “Iceland’s Seabird Colonies Are Vanishing, With ‘Massive’ Chick Deaths,” written by Cheryl Katz of Environmental Health News, as published by National Geographic. The subhead read: “Climate and ocean changes blamed for huge losses of puffins, kittiwakes, and terns.”
Such news is enough to bring a bird lover to tears — or to drive one to demand answers or action from one’s representatives. One might start by checking out whether your senator or representative supported funding under the Omnibus Appropriations Act designed to keep the federal government running until September 30, 2016. The culpable bill which was part of that package — HR 2578 — awarded NASA’s planetary science division $1.63 billion, but gave NOAA, which deals with earthly matters, a mere $58 million for climate research and only $10 million for ocean acidification research – a third of the requested amount.
The appropriations bill was sponsored by Texas Republican John Culberson, who has voted to bar the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases, has voted no on enforcing limits on CO2 global warming pollution, and has said he believes that a higher power has put life on other worlds and he wants to find it on his watch. One of Culberson’s staunchest supporters is fellow Houstonite Brian Babin, whose website describes him as “the proud Representative of Johnson Space Center,” which is located in his district.
The disparity in amounts allotted to the two agencies makes one wonder if our elected representatives have given up on planet Earth. Or is this, perhaps, a case of American exceptionalism at its most extreme: we will pursue our extravagant space dreams while the rest of the world can go hang. Captain Ahab would applaud.