Billions of federal dollars with a message: Climate change is here

Aug 26, 2023 | Over the Bar

over the bar

By John Pappalardo

When talk about climate change and global warming started surfacing, many in the local commercial fishing fleet were skeptical.

If fishermen are nothing else, they are deeply engaged in the marine world, keen observers of their experiences offshore. Many keep detailed logbooks that record every trip, where they go, how much they land, water temperature, depth, all data points that captains connect to inform and define future effort. They trust their own observations and histories much more than surveys and assessments created by scientists on research vessels who come and go. Many times, fishermen have been proven right, which drives even more incredulity.

This distrust goes back generations, so when the climate change trumpet calls started, a fair amount of rolling eyeballs were observed:

The ocean moves through cycles beyond our understanding, rhythms and long patterns we don’t comprehend. Warmings and coolings have happened more times than we can imagine, big and small fluctuations. As one savvy fisherman mused a few years ago by way of example, “They say the Gulf of Maine is the fastest warming water body on the planet? That’s a surface, superficial statement: Drop a sensor to the bottom and check the temperature, you’ll see it’s identical to what it was 100 years ago. Has anyone highlighted or explained that fact?”

Those kinds of responses no longer carry water (no pun intended). Anyone moved by evidence, as opposed to those who still believe there is some mega-conspiracy to use climate fear to manipulate us (for nefarious reasons I still don’t understand), has now come around, albeit grudgingly:

Climate change is real. Global warming might not be the best or only way to describe it, but there is too much proof to deny. We could argue about whether all of it has been caused directly by human activity, but there is no doubt that at least most of it results from our impact.

For a long time now, the Alliance (and me personally) have been saying this, talking through the issue with fishermen who suspected otherwise, and urging our communities and government to face reality and respond. Now a major federal initiative to try to do that has emerged.

It’s called “The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law,” a phrase meant to build support and downplay “climate change,” still a lightening rod term for some. The huge bill sets aside almost $3.6 billion over multiple years to fund all kinds of projects related to coastal impacts. It’s an environmental buffet:

  • More than $1.4 billion to construct “natural infrastructure projects meant to build ‘coastal resilience,’ meaning oyster reefs and natural barriers rather than stone walls to protect coastlines.
  • More than $904 million on data and services alone, to get “critical information into the hands of decisionmakers.”
  • Almost $600 million for what’s called fisheries and protected resources, to restore habitat and encourage community economic development meant to help keep the industry afloat.
  • Around $75 million to clean up and dispose of marine debris.

A lot of the focus is on projects that might not affect our communities; $106 million to rebuild and recover salmon runs in Alaska, tens of millions to dismantle old dams in Maine that have blocked comparable runs for herring, big bucks to academics and science institutions to detail impacts and effects.

But there’s flexibility too, leeway and lots of money.

Our county, towns, non-profits like us and for-profit companies all have strong interest to bear down on this new law and get creative with it, because by definition it is opportunity — to restore habitat, reduce carbon footprint, and create good green jobs doing so.

It’s billed as created to support “infrastructure,” but that’s a bit of a smokescreen. This is the federal government’s major “bipartisan” acknowledgement that climate change is not some mirage or scheme. It’s real, hitting harder and faster than we hoped or expected.

The message is clear: It’s time to protect ourselves is right now, because we didn’t do enough yesterday.

John Pappalardo is CEO of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance


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