Estuaries, Climate Change, and “Blue Carbon”

By Lambert Strether of Corrente

In my slow perambulation through the biosphere, I’ve looked at mangrove swamps and coral reefs. Today, I’ll look at estuaries! From the air, the Yaquina Estuary:

And I’m not sure where this one is, but it looks a bit like Maine:

(There might be something to the idea that our sense of beauty is adaptive.) Here is a map of well-known estuaries, like New York Harbor and the Pearl River:

And here is a map of estuaries, globally (marked in orange):

However — as New York Harbor and the Pearl River, not to mention to Mississippi delta — we’re losing or destroying our estuaries. From the San Francisco Chronicle, “New maps show how little is left of West Coast estuaries“:

The cutting-edge survey led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration determined that 85% of vegetated tidal lands that once existed in California, Oregon and Washington has been diked, drained or cut off from the sea.

The study, published Wednesday in the scientific journal PLOS One, documented dramatic decreases in wetland habitat around San Francisco Bay, the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and nearly 450 other bays, lagoons, river deltas and coastal creek mouths throughout the West.

“We now have a new and considerably more accurate measure of the historical extent of these estuaries,” said Laura Brophy, director of the estuary technical group at the Oregon Institute for Applied Ecology and the lead author of the study. “Having accurate spacial mapping is important because many groups use these maps to locate restoration opportunities and to understand the impact we have had on the landscape.”

More generally, from the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, “The Management of Natural Coastal Carbon Sinks“:

Tidal salt marshes are located on prime coastal real estate and in the last century extensive areas were lost to development of ports and residendial complexes…. Construction of roads and causeways through marshes and coastal bays has disrupted tidal floooding and marsh hydrology. Proposals to harness tidal power are one of the newest threats to marshes. Some schemes are based upon construction of barrages that alter tidal flooding patterns. These activities continue to threaten marshes, and in some countries marsh loss is permitted if equal or greater areas of marsh are created or restored elsewhere. Marshes that remain face a suite of multiple stressors that include invasions of exotic species, climate change, and pollutoon with excessive nutrients, pesticides, herbicides, heavy metals and organic compounds released into coastal waters.

But what, you ask, is an estuary? In what follows, I’ll answer that question. Then I’ll address the issue of whether estuaries are a carbon source or a carbon sink. Finally, rather than looking at organizations who are mobilizing to protect or restore issues, I’ll veer off to the concept of “blue carbon,” and who is supporting it.

NOAA defines estuary as follows:

Estuaries and their surrounding wetlands are bodies of water usually found where rivers meet the sea. Estuaries are home to unique plant and animal communities that have adapted to brackish water—a mixture of fresh water draining from the land and salty seawater….

Estuaries are among the most productive ecosystems in the world. Many animals rely on estuaries for food, places to breed, and migration stopovers.

(There are also freshwater ecosystems similar to estuaries, along the Great Lakes, for example.) Fascinatingly, at least to a taxonomy geek, estuaries can be classified based on geomorphology (“lagoon”) or water circulation (“salt wedge”), or in more complex ways. I’m going to skip over the obligatory economic arguments (“the total fish catch in estuaries contributes $4.3 billion a year“) and go directly to carbon.

Are estuaries carbon sources or carbon sinks? Up until recently, they were considered sources (“heterotrophic“). But science seems to have changed. For example, “Salt marsh aids in fight against climate change“:

Nelson Mandela University researchers are studying how the salt marsh in the Swartkops estuary is helping to combat climate change.

The marsh sequestrates carbon by trapping and stabilising leaf litter, mud and sticks in the water.

This sediment built up among the marsh plants and as long as the system was left intact it inhibited the release of carbon dioxide, a key driver of climate change, study co-ordinator and shallow water ecosystems research chair Prof Janine Adams said.

“The global loss of these coastal salt marsh ecosystems reduces the capacity of natural carbon sinks.

“When we degrade or disturb them . . . carbon gets released back into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.”

Another example, “Study shows wetland restoration increases carbon accumulation“:

After collecting dozens of such samples — called core samples — up to a meter long and analyzing how much carbon they contained, [John Rybczyk and Katrina Poppe of Washington University] concluded in a report this year that the portion of the preserve restored to the tides in 2012 is excelling at preserving carbon.

“Wetlands are very good at sequestering carbon, so if you think of climate mitigation — of removing CO2 gasses from the atmospheric system — wetlands are very good at that,” Rybczyk said.

That carbon is primarily in the form of plant matter that gets buried under wet sediment, where oxygen can’t reach it to start the decomposition process that would release carbon dioxide.

“Previous to the restoration, that area was actually losing carbon,” Rybczyk said. “It was subsiding, so it wasn’t gaining carbon at all.”

A final study, “Upper Estuaries Found to Be Significant Blue Carbon Sink“:

In recent years researchers have determined that blue carbon wetlands—those found in coastal ecosystems—store more carbon than their limited size would suggest. Should sea levels continue to rise as projected, blue carbon wetlands are expected to play a growing role in global carbon calculations.

To understand how transitions in coastal ecosystems will affect carbon budgets, Krauss et al. studied how carbon is stored, sequestered, and transported in estuaries in the southeastern United States. The researchers specifically looked at tidal freshwater forested wetlands and low-salinity marshes, two neighboring habitats in the upper estuary that may transform as ocean water encroaches farther inland in the coming decades. The study is the first to explore the carbon dynamics across these coastal environments, which occur around the world.

The researchers established transects along two rivers, the Waccamaw River in South Carolina and the Savannah River in Georgia. The transects spanned four wetland types characterized by freshwater to low-salinity conditions. (The salinity of low-salinity, or oligohaline, marshes is approximately 5.0 practical salinity units. In comparison, the salinity of marine environments is approximately 30.0 practical salinity units). At each wetland, the scientists recorded the aboveground carbon stock housed in the trees, shrubs, herbaceous plants, and downed woody debris and belowground carbon stock in soils, including plant roots and sediments. They also measured the flux of carbon between the soil, vegetation, and atmosphere and tracked how carbon moves between habitats.

The research team found that the upper estuary habitats store more carbon than several well-known carbon sponges, like boreal and temperate forests. Surprisingly, they also discovered the upper estuary carbon stocks even exceed those of seagrass and salt marsh ecosystems, two celebrated coastal carbon sinks.

However, the tidal freshwater forested wetlands and marshes differed in how they stored carbon. Whereas the tidal freshwater forests store an appreciable amount of carbon in aboveground woody material, the carbon generally migrates belowground into the roots and soil as salinity increases downstream and herbaceous vegetation becomes more prominent. The more saline lower reaches of the transects also appear to store more carbon than their upstream counterparts.

Although it is still unknown if similar wetlands behave comparably in different parts of the world, the research positions upper estuarine wetlands as carbon storage, sequestration, and flux powerhouses.

(I’m quoting great slabs of these studies because the living processes are so beautiful!)

So, there’s that phrase, “blue carbon.” What does it mean? Again from NOAA:

Blue carbon is simply the term for carbon captured by the world’s ocean and coastal ecosystems….[O]ur ocean and coasts provide a natural way of reducing the impact of greenhouse gases on our atmosphere, through sequestration (or taking in) of this carbon.

Sea grasses, mangroves, and salt marshes along our coast “capture and hold” carbon, acting as something called a carbon sink. These coastal systems, though much smaller in size than the planet’s forests, sequester this carbon at a much faster rate, and can continue to do so for millions of years. Most of the carbon taken up by these ecosystems is stored below ground where we can’t see it, but it is still there. The carbon found in coastal soil is often thousands of years old!

The bigger picture of blue carbon is one of coastal habitat conservation. When these systems are damaged, an enormous amount of carbon is emitted back into the atmosphere, where it can then contribute to climate change. So protecting and restoring coastal habitats is a good way to reduce climate change….

Let me break off and quote myself, back on 2019-10-22:

[W]hen I was writing my piece on coral, I skipped writing up what looked like an interesting case study in Madagascar (IIRC), first because the language sounded driven by marketers (“blue carbon”), second because the project was driven by carbon credits.

Continuing with NOAA:

One method of slowing climate change impacts is to incorporate coastal wetlands into the carbon market through the buying and selling of carbon offsets. This approach creates a financial incentive for restoration and conservation projects by helping to alleviate federal and state carbon taxes aimed at discouraging the use of fossil fuels. When fewer greenhouse gases are emitted, less pollution is created. When there is less pollution to tax, the process benefits not only the environment but also the financial well-being of the community doing the restoration.

Could be. This is not a post about carbon markets, so let me just link to some NC post on carbon markets:

(I don’t know whether it’s indicative that the first links are to scams discovered by our own Richard Smith.)

Back to blue carbon. I don’t have time to track the phrase “blue carbon” to its origin; I did search the PR- and NGO-focused “Wrong Kind of Green” site for “blue carbon,” and didn’t find anything. I did, however, find a very polished site called “The Blue Carbon Initiative” (“Mitigating Climate Change Through Coastal Ecosystem Management”).

The International Blue Carbon Initiative is a coordinated, global program focused on mitigating climate change through the conservation and restoration of coastal and marine ecosystems.

From their events page:

Monday 9 Dec

1830 -2000
EIB/Benelux Pavilion

Climate finance for coastal resilience – what is next for Blue Natural Capital? This event will feature investors, including governments, multilateraldevelopment banks and private investors, discussing the landscape and needs for fast-tracking investments into coastal resilience projects, building on nature-based solutions. Organized by IUCN, Luxembourg and Conservation International.

So, when I come across an NGO I want to get to know better, I look for the board and the staff. The Blue Carbon Initiative doesn’t seem to have a board (or a funding source), but it does have co-ordinators:

  • Emily Pidgeon, Ph.D. Conservation International
  • Jennifer Howard, Ph.D. Conservation International
  • Jean Brodeur, Ph.D. Conservation International
  • Dorothee Herr, International Union for Conservation of Nature
  • Salvatore Aricò, Ph.D. Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of the United Nations Educational, Social, and Cultural Organization
  • Kirsten Isensee, Ph.D. Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of the United Nations Educational, Social, and Cultural Organization

Working from my elementary knowledge of group dynamics in small meetings, I’d say that Conservation International is running the show at the Blue Carbon Initiative. From their Wikipedia entry:

Revenue: FY 2016: $212 million

Employees: 1,000 in 30 countries

Woo hoo! Another NGO to get to know better. Here’s an abbreviated list of Conservation International’s Board of Directors. I’ve placed the business type in square brackets after the name of each director, thus: “[mortgage finance].

Dawn Arnall
Chairman, SBP Capital Corporation [mortgage finance]

John Arnhold
Managing Member, Arnhold LLC [investment management]

Skip Brittenham
Senior Partner, Ziffren Brittenham LLP [talent representation, corporate advisory]

André Esteves
Senior Partner, Banco BTG Pactual S/A [finanical services]

Mark Ferguson
Founding Partner, Generation Investment Management [investment management]

Robert J. Fisher
Chairman of the Board, Gap Inc. [apparel retailer]

Victor K. Fung, Ph.D.
Chairman, Fung Group [consumer goods (Hong Kong)]

Madame Qiaonyu He
Chairman, Orient Landscape Investment Holdings Co. Ltd.

Lisa Jackson
Vice President, Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives, Apple, Inc. [Silicon Valley]

Laurene Powell Jobs
Founder and Board Chair, Emerson Collective [Silicon Valley]

Hon. Alexander Karsner
Senior Strategist, [X] -The Moonshot Factory (Alphabet’s Labs) [Silicon Valley]

Michael Klein
Managing Partner, M. Klein and Company [Investment Banking]

David Leuschen
Co-Founder and Senior Managing Director, Riverstone Holdings [private equity]

Valerie Mars
Mars, Incorporated [candy]

Stewart A. Resnick
Chairman of the Board, The Wonderful Company [holding company]

Rob Walton
Chairman of the Board (retired), Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. [retail]

David S. Winter
Co-Chief Executive Officer, Standard Industries [building material]

And here I’ll stop. Needless to say, if you think The Magic of The Marketplace™ cannot solve the climate crisis, Conservation International is not the place for you, nor are its straws and front groups. I would dearly love to know if “blue carbon” originated with the scientists, or as a bullet point developed by a public relations firm for the investors. And, at the very minimum — at least until further notice; scientist readers? — look askance at any usage of the term “blue carbon” until you understand the venue and the funding sources. Discouraging, because “blue carbon” is a beautiful term. The beauty is the hook, I suppose.[1]


[1] From Ursula Le Guin’s City of Illusions:

[Ramarren] was looking out the glass side of the aircar at the five-hundred-mile circle of fair weather and blue sea that surrounded them. Ramarren was tired, and let himself relax a little in this pleasant moment of suspension, aloft in a glass bubble in the center of the great blue and golden sphere.

“It is a lovely world,” the Shing said.

“It is.”

“The jewel of all worlds… Is Werel as beautiful?”

“No. It is harsher.” … Ramarren said, and as he said it a little gust of panic blew across his mind and died away. He sensed the presence of the Shing’s mind in his own; while talking, [the Shing] had reached out mentally, found his defenses down, and taken whole-phase control of his mind. That was all right. It showed incredible patience and telepathic skill on the Shing’s part. He had been afraid of it, but now that it had happened it was perfectly all right.

Paging Edward Bernays….

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Doug Wuerth

    Although not mentioned in the article, I am very fortunate to live close to the South Slough National Estuary near Coos Bay, OR. Great place to hike!
    Here is the Google map of it at low tide:

  2. SittingStill

    As am employee of a large “big green” 401c3 conservation NGO, I can attest that the leadership of these organizations are only able to think outside of one side of “the box”. The official party line of these organizations will always believe in and offer as solutions initiatives and policies based on “The Magic of the Marketplace”. Such organizations are fundamentally unable to be out in front of the curve – they always follow the curve, even, as is the case now, when it is becoming inescapably obvious that we are heading towards a cliff and radical unprecedented change is the only way of avoiding catastrophe.

    When an NGO reaches a certain size (the one I work for is 3x the size of CI), the fundraising needs become enormous, and these organizations simply can’t sustain themselves if they were to fully align themselves with the truth of 1) how dire our situation is and 2) that radical systematic change and de-growth is needed. Deep pocket funders with wall st money are on the balance averse to organizations that advocate for the type of change that we really need. To be sure, there is some grumbling and angst within the employee ranks of these organizations, but it is a very long process of this filtering up the leadership chain. In general, the bigger the organization, the greater the mis-alignment between operating philosophy and values vs reality.

    1. Off The Street

      Blue-washing, given that list of directors shown above. How many of them snapped up those coastal houses in scenic areas to escape the hubbub of the city, at least for a few weekends a year?

  3. Lee

    Given our state and local governmental collusion with developers, the only things capable of estuarine restoration in my little corner of the SF bay area will be sea level rise or a good sized quake on the Hayward fault. Since both appear to be inevitable, problem solved. Too bad for all those living in the myriad houses built upon the vast acres of low lying shoreline landfills.

    1. hpschd

      My favorite nature spot (when I lived there) was the Baylands near the Palo Alto airport. I’d bike there every chance I got for birding and just being there. There was a boardwalk out into the salt marsh. I’d lie down on it quietly and the shy birds would come out, clapper rails in particular. Once I watched thousands of plovers in a huge flock fly back a forth. The flock appeared dark as they flew then turned back and flashed white in the sun – It was breath-taking. At the highest tides, the whole marsh would flood and birds that were usually not seen flew out – my first look at a black rail.

      I’ve not been back there in decades. I hope that it has been preserved.

      1. Amfortas the hippie

        aye. i have the same sort of childhood memories of the Texas Coast…mostly around Matagorda, Texas, at the mouth of the Colorado River(the Texas version, of course)
        we went fishing a lot….big john boat, mostly…and would wade in the salt marsh, fishing for flounder or speckled trout or redfish.
        or stand on an oyster reef, in order to “fish under the birds”.
        i’d get bored and wander off…even beg to be dropped off,lol.
        the thick muck on the bottom of the bay, and especially up in the little natural canals in the salt marsh, is definitely a carbon sink.
        often 4 feet deep…scoop it up to investigate, and it’s full of life.
        eating the parts and pieces of whatever died above it.
        and for freshwater,per Drumlin, below, the Atchafalaya Basin in Louisiana…same sort of thick muck, but with subtle differences in composition.every handful full of life feeding on death and then dying itself and around and around.
        and all of that has familial relationship to what lives and dies in the margins of the Llano River(and every other river, i suppose)
        beneath the cattails, down among the copepods.
        I am unable to get out to such places any more without a helper.

  4. drumlin woodchuckles

    One hopes studies like this have been done for all the types of fresh-water carbon sinks in the world as well. Lambert’s comment referrences the existence of freshwater estuaries . . . where the river meets a Great Lake. Are there enough of strictly-defined fresh water estuaries to deserve a study all by themselves?

    If not, they surely deserve study as part of the wider range of all fresh-water capture-sinkers of skycarbon . . . swamps, marshes, bogs, etc. If the amount of skycarbon these water-features sequester is big enough to be worthy of discussion, then measures to defend and extend the land-surface fresh-water features are worth taking in order to have more fresh-water features. The carbon stored is an extra benefit.

    For example . . . how much wetland has stayed wet, or been bought and re-wetter after having been drained . . . by the duck-maximizing activities of Ducks Unlimited? The Ducks Unlimited people want more ducks to hunt. In the process they have created or protected more carbon-storing duck habitat.

    If the amount of on-land fresh water-feature carbon re-storage could approach the amount of seaside carbon re-storage, should there be a word to enable thinking about the nearly co-equal importance of the two zones?

    Say . . . Fresh Blue Carbon and Salty Blue Carbon?

      1. xkeyscored

        It does look like it started with scientists inventing a catch phrase. I did a Google search for “blue carbon” before 2011. All the results on the first page seem to be from UN or scientific groups, including this:
        THE ROLE OF HEALTHY OCEANS IN BINDING CARBON › publications › Nellemann_2010_BlueCarbon_book
        by ARR ASSESSMENT – ‎Related articlesMay 16, 2007 – Establish a global blue carbon fund for protection and management of coastal and marine ecosys- tems and ocean carbon sequestration. a. Within international …

      2. Susan the Other

        NGOs working for market solutions are creating their own choke chain. If by market they mean profit then they have nothing for an actual business plan. If by market they mean tax incentives from sovereign governments then maybe they’ve got a venue. If corporations use estuaries to enhance or preserve marshes and do so for a tax write-off, rebate, etc. then blue carbon is a sort of fungible idea. Will they be dedicated enough to actually put company resources into the estuaries? Or just fake it? If you are going for a tax write-off it is implied you are also going somewhere else for a big gain. So this whole idea could be self defeating. There are no gains to be had except at the expense of the environment. We might want to consider a more direct and effective way to make money go around. Because in our industrialized world blue carbon turned into blue money won’t clean the planet very efficiently.

  5. Franz Dublein

    “…perambulation through the biosphere…”

    Perambulation? As my baby boomer boss used to say: “Fake it ’till you make it.”

  6. ambrit

    I’m tired and ready for bed, but I must chime in on the health of the Pearl River estuary. We lived at the mouth of the American Pearl River for a decade. Fish, crabs, oysters, all could be had with a little effort. (A boat helps a lot.) Phyllis’ family had a fishing camp in the Riggolets, a place situated between New Orleans East and Slidell. Tidal marsh for miles and miles. Both of us have noticed a slow but steady degradation in the quality and quantity of fish to be seen and caught. Overfishing perhaps. But the ecology of the inshore wetlands has degraded over time with a steady supply of trash, effluent, and human interference.
    The biggest insult to the inshore ecology there that I can remember is the Deepwater Horizon well blowout. No one will come out and tell the truth about that incident. One of the main staging areas for the cleanup crews was at the St. Tammany public boat launch off of Hwy 90, at the East Pearl River. That place was a beehive, not too much of an exaggeration, of industrial scale action. Mid sized boats of crews of shoreline cleanup crews, and boom wrangling boats would leave out before dawn, and often not return till after dusk. This kept up for months.
    Several times, we could smell the oil floating offshore. A tangy, peculiar odour, not quite like an auto graveyard, but partaking of some of the aromas therein. The smell was distinctive.
    Anyway, the upshot of it was that seafood production all along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, including the marshes to the East of New Orleans, fell off of a cliff for several years. Even today, many restaurants around here still use flash frozen shrimp from factory ships plying the Gulf of Mexico and parts South. Oyster production, I hear from anecdotal evidence, still has not fully recovered.
    The use of the Corexit spray to ‘disperse’ the oil just added a new chemical to the mix. Even when it was being used, there were serious voices raised against it’s use. Evidently, as a result of all the chemical bombardments, there is a massive ‘blob’ of oil swirling around at depth in the Gulf.
    Something on Corexit and oil:
    The more I look at what happened then, adding in Katrina, I am certain that we made the right decision in leaving the Gulf Coast littoral. As sea level rises, the amount of which is an inexact science ‘guess’ if one was to be charitable, the pollution burden on the American shoreline will grow to massive proportions. No tidal zone in the world will absorb the first molecule of carbon if the zone is biologically dead.
    I make that point to highlight the essential weakness of the “Let Markets Solve Everything” ideology. One basic rule of Markets is that ‘they’ always work to make money. Remove the profit incentive and the Market stops working. (It’s always someone elses’ problem when there is money to be lost.) Thus, the massive remediation efforts that wait just ahead for humans on this planet must, of necessity, be cooperative and socialized efforts. In other words, Government has to do it.
    Rant over. We now return control of your television set to you.

      1. jefemt

        Blowout? If I recall correctly, it was dubbed a ‘spill’ in the MSM. Think a wee bit of milk on a table-top. I think it may still be leaking, but that story is dead dead dead…

        Words matter, and I appreciate the precision used by you all in blowout

        A non-sequitur analogy in todays dither— health CARE versus health INSURANCE.
        Single Payor versus Medicare for all.
        Medicare needs to be deep-sixed, and a simple, streamlined Universal care / single payor embraced. My two pennies as we prepare and participate in discussions on this topic.

        And if anyone says clean burning natural gas in your circle of influence, set them straight about natural gas being not clean, cradle to grave.

        Back to estuaries, there was a link here a few days ago about a membrane technology and electrolytic process that could generate ‘clean’ electrons in the unique chemical mix that is estuarial waters.

        I am skeptical of the ‘energy free lunch’, and sent this off to a pal who is a biologist with FWS/ NOAA, as to his opinion on how deleterious this membrane process could be to estuaries. If/when I hear back I will let Lambert know more.

    1. xkeyscored

      One basic rule of Markets is that ‘they’ always work to make money.
      I don’t think it’s that simple. They’re currently undermining their own foundations, destroying the very resources that allow them to make money.

      1. ambrit

        Well, when we are dealing with the “Big Picture” crowd, the difference between “Vision” and “Circumspection” looms small.
        Also at play here are the timelines upon which the various parts of the economy and ecology work. Business seems to have sunk into the delusion of ‘shareholder equity’ and thus, short term thinking. Governments can afford to plan for years ahead. Their ‘return to the shareholders’ is a functioning social system. Two completely different goals.
        As for the “undermining their own foundations,” the state of the art is IBGYBG.

    2. Susan the Other

      Thanks Ambrit, I was gonna mention Deep Water Horizon. I’d forgotten about the Corexit flap. A harbinger of the future and it coincided with Fukushima. I’m still depressed. And I recently read something (sorry can’t cite as usual) about the massive oil field deep under the gulf and in connection with Venezuela’s claimed “biggest oil field in the world”. The blame went to BP for being sloppy, but now I’m rethinking it all and wondering if if Deep Water wasn’t a consortium project funded at least partly by the US gov. Since the failed attempt to tap this resource we have gone seriously aggressive for Venezuela’s oil and in this little hiatus over should Maduro stay or should he go, we just happened to discover a patch of oil right next to Venezuela in Guiana’s waters. (British Guiana or French?) How convenient. I think we were after the mother lode in 2011 when our half-baked experimental drilling blew up. Dear god, I hope they learned a good lesson. This news from you about a blob of oil partially emulsified by the very toxic Corexit floating halfway down in the Gulf is nauseating. Did Corexit get sued into bankruptcy, or sued at all? Is it possible?

      1. ambrit

        Actually Susan the Other, the method used by BP on the Deepwater Horizon rig would have worked out fine if some a—-hole had not pushed the schedule a bit and ‘encouraged’ the mudloggers to utilize inferior methodology. That’s what went south. If the drilling supervisor had been a bit more patient and waited a few days longer, nothing bad would have happened. That sub-Gulf field is still exploitable. The hold-up on the further exploitation of the field is cost. The price of oil does not preclude pumping from that field, but the profit is not ‘big’ enough for the bean counters in the Corporate Tower.
        Also, when the supervisors are incentified to ‘speed things along’ through completion bonuses, you end up with disasters. It’s almost a statistical certainty.
        I echo Lambert here. The well head on the sea floor has not been fully “capped.” Some oil is steadily seeping out around the drill stem. Forever.

  7. Oguk

    This is a really helpful corrective to read re NGOs, building on the thinking on wrongkindofgreen. I’ve been volunteering at a low level, family care schedule permitting, with local environmental NGO-led efforts, growing steadily dissatisfied with the in-the-box thinking and low level of participation, which reinforce each other, i.e. no one believes this s*t is changing anything, fast enough or at all.

  8. xkeyscored

    “Should sea levels continue to rise as projected, blue carbon wetlands are expected to play a growing role in global carbon calculations.”
    At last, a tiny ray of hope in all the predictions: a process essentially outside our control that will draw down carbon whatever we do or don’t do! (And we seem to be doing nothing, overall, other than making matters worse with every year.)

    1. ambrit

      Unless massive remediation efforts are started soon, those new “blue carbon wetlands” are going to be polluted wastestuaries. All the infrastructure in those soon to be inundated zones containing pollutants and other nastiness will have to be either ‘capped,’ a fools errand at the best of times, or physically removed.

      1. xkeyscored

        I did say a tiny ray of hope! One of the few negative feedback processes I’ve read about recently, compared to the weekly glut of potential positive feedbacks.

  9. Oregoncharles

    Just some semi-local perspective on the first picture: Yaquina Bay is due west of here, our closest access to the ocean. I suspect that picture is from the head of the bay; you’re looking at the outskirts of Toledo, Oregon, where the railroad ends and the bay begins. Huge paper mill at Toledo, and the end of the railroad. Forest products are always a big deal in Oregon, but that mill also uses great quantities of recycled cardboard.

    At the mouth of the bay is the much larger town of Newport, where the main industries are tourism and fishing. OSU’s marine science lab is there, and a nice public aquarium. So it’s Newport that has the big stake in the estuary – which looked fairly healthy in that picture. Not sure how much impact the mill has. Note: the Yaquina is a smallish Coast Range River. The area is mostly very quiet and rural.

    Of course, the big estuary is the Columbia’s, at Astoria. We have family there, go even more often than Newport. Astoria’s a lot like Newport, only bigger and prettier – the “San Francisco of the north coast”. We lived out there when the canneries were shutting down, 40 years ago, so fishing is now much less important than tourism, which has made the town pretty glitzy – and expensive. There is no proper estuary of the Columbia, because it’s a bay. The Youngs River estuary, at Astoria, is more typical. Lots of mud flats, though.

    I’m not as familiar with preservation efforts at either place as I should be. There is a state-led effort to save salmon habitat that would affect both. Logging and fishing are always live issues, and generally in conflict.

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