Us Eat Jellyfish?
When I woke up on Monday morning and looked outside at the
falling snow, my first thought was “Ah, that’s what
January is supposed to look like.”
Granted, I have the luxury of being neither the person who
had to clean off the car and drive it nor the one who had
to shovel the sidewalks. And granted, perhaps I haven’t been
upstate long enough to overcome my upbringing of New Jersey
winters where we usually got maybe one or two snows per winter
that actually last more than a day.
But when my mother-in-law, who recently and reluctantly moved
back to this clime from Florida, gets up and makes a snow
angel in the lawn before 9 AM, you know that it’s more than
just the skiers who found something a little disconcerting
about our recent extended January thaw.
Like everyone else who’s been fretting about fuel bills and
doubling up on the wool socks, I certainly enjoyed the chance
to walk around outside bare-headed for a few days, even if
I wasn’t thrilled with the torrential rains and howling winds.
But even the pleasant warmth was creepy. Enjoying it felt
a little like make-up sex in an argument you know is going
to eventually end your relationship.
Is that over-dramatic? It’s hard to know. Global warming is
hard to talk about without sounding either dramatic or pedantic.
But the conversation is starting to be marginally easier.
After a couple conversations about it recently, I perused
the news reports on the topic a little more closely than I
had in a long time and found something I hadn’t expected to
find: In terms of media coverage, science seems to have triumphed.
The obligatory nod toward the tiny minority of oil-company-funded
naysayers who try to argue that everything’s fine has nearly
disappeared. (If only the same thing would happen in the evolution
In South Carolina, the recent news is about the possibility
of the extinction of brook trout in waters that are already
just barely cool enough for them. Several Arctic communities
are asking the government of Canada to relocate them because
their permafrost and ice sheets are melting. Shifty politicians
are now trying to adjust the numbers to say they are making
emissions go down, rather than denying the need for it. This
year’s hurricane season left most people in this country uneasy
and willing to accept that something major may be going on.
This doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods yet. It doesn’t mean
the United States has agreed to limit emissions. It doesn’t
mean we have any sort of grasp on the complexity of climate
change or can accurately identify which changes in the natural
world are being prompted primarily by warming and which are
Japan, for example, is trying to figure out how to save its
fisheries from an invasion of giant (like 440 pounds each)
jellyfish with poisonous stings. These jellyfish breed near
China, and some usually make it out to Japan, but last year
and this year they got there earlier, spread farther, and
appeared in much greater numbers, clogging fishing nets and
destroying local fishing economies.
The cause is hard to pinpoint, mostly because there are so
many candidates in the running. Heavy rains that washed more
nutrients off China’s fields and provided a strong surge of
fresh water in the direction of Japan could be part of the
problem. So could the fact that the jellyfish prefer warmer
water and the waters are becoming warmer farther north, and
warm currents are coming closer to Japan’s coast line. Pinning
the problem on global warming is not simple, exactly, but
it’s not irrelevant.
Meanwhile, here in the chilly Northeast, joking that we could
use some global warming is not unheard of. Sure, it’s not
impossible that we could become the new sunbelt. Of course
before then we’ll lose any tourism based on leaf-peeping or
skiing and have to start importing maple syrup from Canada.
I know, compared to drowning cities, massive species die-offs,
the end of agriculture in the Midwest, and the spread of tropical
diseases north—not to mention global water wars—the loss of
leaf peeping and maple syrup seem awfully provincial and superficial
things to worry about (especially if maple syrup still exists
But I think that feeling of the known world changing subtly
but persistently and permanently to something new and strange
is going to end up hitting us as hard as the fear of disasters,
at least until one of the disasters hits very close to home.
We structure our world around how things are supposed to be—upstate
New York is cold and snowy in the winter. Maple sap starts
flowing in February. Leaves are pretty in the fall.
We’re at a point where climate change is happening, and the
question is only how much, how fast, how long. That means
we face the double challenge of trying to make the hard changes
that will limit the worst of its long-term effects at the
same time as we have to start adapting to the changes that
are already happening. After all, denying the realities around
us is much of what got us this far in the first place.
People in Japan are learning, slowly, to snack on dried jellyfish
and use it as fertilizer. If hickory trees are going to drive
the sugar maples north, it may not be too soon for us to cultivate
a taste for hickory nuts.