Pacific Swell | Southern California environment news and trends

Cradle to grave, port to plate: the carbon footprint of fishing

I got interested in Ecotrust's study on which I report today for a seemingly unrelated reason - a book published a ways back about the way we make things.

The authors of the book argued for human designed systems that mimic natural ones, in which the materials circulate rather than get thrown away. Cradle to Cradle described the life-cycle assessments of some objects in an effort to explain what's sustainable about them. Or, you know, not sustainable. The aims of William McDonough and Michael Braungart's book and the Swedish-Canadian-American assessment the climate impact of salmon consumption are the same, too, at the most basic level: to figure out if there's a way to live on this planet for the longest possible time without destroying it.

Billions of people have not agreed that's valuable or necessary. But, hell, let's talk about it. I have to regularly overcome in this job is my knee-jerk initial response to my editor's question, born not of good journalism practice but of law school. It's complicated. It's nice to be able to tell a complicated story on the radio. Because the thing of it is, sometimes it is, in fact, not sum-uppable in 46 seconds. I am reminded of something one of my favorite writers, Julian Barnes, told someone some time ago:

When I write a piece of journalism I want it to be completely understood at first reading as all journalism should be. In order to do that, you, of necessity, elucidate and simplify. And so the world appears more comprehensible. When I metaphorically move to the other part of my desk and write fiction, I am aware that my task is to represent complication and the fullness of the world.

I admire that distinction. Barnes goes on to say that journalism is for him about checkable facts, and fiction is about the truth of the world. I can't draw the line that clearly. I am somewhat naive, and somewhat stubborn, and I believe in - if not telling the full complicated story, then gesturing at it, and acknowledging it. So it is with something Astrid Scholtz argues - that the carbon footprint of salmon should include the carbon burden of the person shopping for it. That's far from agreed-upon gospel, and it's an interesting value, worth examining.

On a less abstract note, the global warming impact of how we catch fish for food is timely in another way. Some salmon stocks in British Columbia are under pressure; the Economist piece does a good job of summing up reasons and factors. Beyond fishing pressure, beyond health threats from fish farms, it (For more on fish farm management, also from The Economist, check this out.) One of the things I love about The Economist besides its tone is its assumption that Chilean salmon has a reputation. Like the salmon is Mara Salvatrucha or Lady GaGa or Rahm Emmanuel.