Brook Trout in the Coal Mine
To say that I come from a long line of fisherfolk requires something to measure that line by, so let’s see what a brief glance at Google suggests. Though not as helpful as I’d supposed the lineage of fishers clearly goes back a long, long way. Somewhere between two hundred thousand and forty thousand years ago is the scientific range, forty thousand being the first time clear evidence of a heavy fish diet shows up in skeletal analysis. He’s known as Tianyuan man, and chemistry of his bones tell us he fished in eastern Asia and ate his catch regularly.
So when I say a long line it is sparklingly clear that we hominids have been catching and eating fish for more generations than I care to count. My dad fished because his dad fished. I fish because my dad took me fishing. Because of me, one of my sons carries the tradition forward, and both of us are working on my grandson and granddaughter.
My favorite fish, hands down, are trout. There’s something entrancing about their sleek flash in the secret pools wherein they lurk. A cold, clear trout stream deep in the enchanted forest seems like a magic bubble that must be entered ever so gently, so quietly, that the bubble barely ripples as you slip inside. It is then and only then that you may meet the skittish trout.
But here’s the rub. This primal meeting of trout and fisher in the glorious woods is coming to an end in Wisconsin. Sometime this century our waters will have warmed enough to kill off this lover of cold water. Look inside the coal mine canary’s cage today and we’ll likely see a brook trout looking back. Our present way of life is dangerous to trout on this planet as climate change takes another victim.
Lingering on the dark side as long as we’re already there. Once in the creel we ought not eat that trout anyway. Between mercury, pesticides and PFAS – and who knows what else – our fish carry enough toxins to trigger a variety of fish advisories from our DNR science team. Of course, these same toxins are found in the invertebrates, pretty much the foundation link of the food chain. Our way of living, it’s pretty obvious, isn’t working for life on this planet.
While standing waist deep in the river’s current, I swing my arm forward launching line and fly out to the edge of a likely pool. I feel a strike, set the hook and reel in the entire world. Looking into my creel again here is what I see.
Because of our ongoing love affair with gasoline, diesel, coal, natural gas and L.P. we are creating climate chaos. I see ashes. Heat record after heat record falls around the world. Right now it’s got Texas and Oklahoma and much of the south in the cross-hairs. Record wild fires from overheated, dried out forests in Canada deliver their smoke to our lungs whenever the wind is right.. The last few years that smoke has blown in from our own west. How much of what lived in the charred remains has perished? More greenhouse gas rises in the Canadian smoke than from burning fossil fuels all across the Provinces.
Desperate, long standing drought becomes a deadly flood in the wink of an eye. It’s happening all across the globe.
Almost beyond comprehension, but due to our rapidly warming climate the men and women keeping track of Arctic sea ice tell us it will all be melted in the summer, possibly in as little as ten years. How this will impact our climate, and ocean currents is a question we are about to find out. What are we doing to our beautiful, bountiful planet? Surely, something about our way of living must be amiss.
My creel overflows with plastic. According to a recent Sierra Club article since 1950 we’ve produced over nine billion tons of the stuff and over ninety percent of it wasn’t recycled. A lot of what wasn’t recycled is fragmenting into micro plastics that are everywhere in our environment, including inside the bodies of just about everything alive, including ours.
I just read we inhale, unavoidably, a credit card’s worth of micro plastic every week. Research is barely underway on the consequences, but already there is growing concern that this internal plastic load and the chemicals it releases into our blood is the key reason human sperm counts around the world are dropping to dangerously low levels. Add this to the aforementioned chemicals and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realizes that there is a lot about our modern lifestyles that isn’t working well at all.
That eight billion of us are rapidly destroying the planet we love, and I am convinced we do love this wonder filled world, is coming evermore sharply into focus each. What the toxic chemicals in the rail cars that just fell into the Yellowstone River in Montana will do to life in that iconic river begs another question. What are we thinking when we make, ship and use toxic chemicals to begin with? Just one of the questions that demands change. Isn’t this emblematic of what is taking us to the brink of planet wide extinction? In the East Palestine derailment the spilled toxin, vinyl chloride, is used to make plastic. Adding up what my creel is full of spells real trouble for our already shaky biosphere where half of life is in decline, perhaps a quarter headed for extinction by centuries end. How much evidence of real trouble do we need? Is our pursuit of “the good life” really worth all this?
Many around the world, are anxious for real answers, but at every turn find roadblocks thrown up by special interest money, lots of it, to create doubt about the need for change. The oil industry folks, instead of turning to clean, renewable energy and clean energy innovation, work all the angles to convince us to stay the course with fossil fuels. Evs are bad, only good for pinko socialists. This, despite having know for decades what burning oil for energy is doing to our climate, and our health.
The UN is desperately trying to corral the nations of the world into a meaningful climate action plan, so far compliance by member nations has been minimal. The amount of greenhouse carbon in our atmosphere instead of falling is rising at record rates.
The UN is also trying to rein in the production of plastics and end the enormous pollution problems stemming from thrown away plastics. A draft treaty to end plastic pollution is being crafted for consideration this November. The final treaty is due late in 2024. If it follows the pattern forged in climate talks it will be too weak and too easy to for big plastic producing nations like the U.S. to ignore. The petrochemical industry wants to triple plastic production by 2060. Money once again trumps the dream of a livable planet. That must change if we are to pass along a livable planet to our descendants. Our votes must reflect our concern for the environment.
Back in 1992, seventeen hundred of the world’s scientists wrote in report called “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity”:
“Human beings and the natural world are on a collision course. Human activities inflict harsh and often irreversible damage on the environment and on critical resources. If not checked many of our current practices put at serious risk the future that we wish for human society and the plant and animal kingdoms, and may so alter the living world that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know. Fundamental changes are urgent if we are to avoid the collision our present course will bring about.”
Given the growing evidence they were right, isn’t it time we listened to what scientists have to tell us rather than CEO’s trying to entice us to keep buying more? Which of these dwells on their bottom line instead of the health of this unique little oasis in the lifeless silence of space? How much is the well being of planet earth worth? I remain convinced we can learn to live much simpler, more enjoyable lives, lives that enhance our connections to this gorgeous and, perhaps, uniquely alive little world. We have the tools, we only need the will.