1,100 Mutilated Dolphins Have Washed Up on French Beaches Since January
A record number of dolphins have washed up dead and mutilated on French beaches, and scientists don't know exactly why.
Activists say 1,100 dolphins have washed up on France's Atlantic coast since January, but the number could be as much as 10 times higher than that, as many likely sink instead of washing ashore. Researchers at the La Rochelle marine laboratory Observatoire Pelagis said they had seen "extreme levels of mutilation" on the dolphins that did wash up, The Guardian reported.
"There's never been a number this high," La Rochelle University National Center for Scientific Research member Willy Daubin told The Associated Press. "Already in three months, we have beaten last year's record, which was up from 2017 and even that was the highest in 40 years."
Daubin said 90 percent of the deaths could be blamed on industrial fishing generally, as dolphins are accidentally caught up in nets. However, it is not known what specifically is causing the number of deaths to rise so dramatically.
"What fishing machinery or equipment is behind all these deaths?" he asked.
There is speculation that trawlers fishing for sea bass may be to blame, according to The Guardian. The dolphins injure themselves trying to escape the nets, or fisherman injure them in the process of trying to free them. Activists told The Associated Press that fisherman will also cut off dolphins' body parts once they have been suffocated by the net in order not to damage the net.
President of Sea Shepherd France Lamya Essemlali also told The Associated Press that the number of dolphin deaths began to rise three years ago, coinciding with the lifting of a ban on aggressive hake fishing.
"The spotlight has been put on the trawlers that fish for sea bass ... which is a scandal. But they were not the only ones responsible," she told The Associated Press.
Essemali estimated that the real dolphin death toll was probably around 6,500 to 10,000 a year, according to The Guardian.
"Right now it's such an alarming rate they could drive the European dolphin population to extinction," she said.
French Ecology Minister Francois de Rugy traveled to La Rochelle last week to try and find a way to stem the killings, The Associated Press reported. His proposals include doing research into acoustic repellent devices that 26 two-vessel trawlers operating in the Bay of Biscay have installed. However, Sea Shepherd said the devices were not effective, since fisherman turn them off out of fear they will scare away valuable fish.
In a video shared last month, Sea Shepherd recorded a French fishing vessel with a dead dolphin in its net. The video showed that the fisherman did not attach acoustic repellents to the net until they realized that they were being filmed.
Another dolphin drowned in commercial fishing net confirms that trawlers aren't using acoustic repellants. The fish… https://t.co/zQFG52KIIo— Sea Shepherd (@Sea Shepherd)1553532347.0
The activist organization also said that acoustic repellents were not a viable solution, since they would increase noise pollution that harms marine life.
"The government needs to take responsibility and act — especially [French President Emmanuel] Macron, who said he wanted to protect ecology," Essemlali told The Associated Press.
Macron has positioned himself as an environmental leader, launching a campaign to invite international climate scientists to France to "Make the Planet Great Again." However, his first Ecology Minister Nicolas Hulot quit in August 2018 over what he felt was insufficient action on restricting pesticides and protecting biodiversity.
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Natural gas is a versatile fossil fuel that accounts for about a third of U.S. energy use. Although it produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants than coal or oil, natural gas is a major contributor to climate change, an urgent global problem. Reducing emissions from the natural gas system is especially challenging because natural gas is used roughly equally for electricity, heating, and industrial applications.
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What RNG Is and Why it Matters<p>Most equipment that uses energy can only use a single kind of fuel, but the fuel might come from different resources. For example, you can't charge your computer with gasoline, but it can run on electricity generated from coal, natural gas or solar power.</p><p>Natural gas is almost pure methane, <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/" target="_blank">currently sourced</a> from raw, fossil natural gas produced from <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/where-our-natural-gas-comes-from.php" target="_blank">deposits deep underground</a>. But methane could come from renewable resources, too.</p><p><span></span>Two main methane sources could be used to make RNG. First is <a href="https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/inventory-us-greenhouse-gas-emissions-and-sinks" target="_blank">biogenic methane</a>, produced by bacteria that digest organic materials in manure, landfills and wastewater. Wastewater treatment plants, landfills and dairy farms have captured and used biogenic methane as an energy resource for <a href="http://emilygrubert.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/eia_860_2017_map.html" target="_blank">decades</a>, in a form usually called <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/biomass/landfill-gas-and-biogas.php" target="_blank">biogas</a>.</p><p>Some biogenic methane is generated naturally when organic materials break down without oxygen. Burning it for energy can be beneficial for the climate if doing so prevents methane from escaping to the atmosphere.</p>
Renewable Isn’t Always Sustainable<p>If RNG could be a renewable replacement for fossil natural gas, why not move ahead? Consumers have shown that they are <a href="https://www.nrel.gov/analysis/green-power.html" target="_blank">willing to buy renewable electricity</a>, so we might expect similar enthusiasm for RNG.</p><p>The key issue is that methane isn't just a fuel – it's also a <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/ghg_report/ghg_overview.php" target="_blank">potent greenhouse gas</a> that contributes to climate change. Any methane that is manufactured intentionally, whether from biogenic or other sources, will contribute to climate change if it enters the atmosphere.</p><p>And <a href="http://doi.org/10.1126/science.aar7204" target="_blank">releases</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wasman.2019.07.029" target="_blank">will happen</a>, from newly built production systems and <a href="https://theconversation.com/why-methane-emissions-matter-to-climate-change-5-questions-answered-122684" target="_blank">existing, leaky transportation and user infrastructure</a>. For example, the moment you smell gas before the pilot light on a stove lights the ring? That's methane leakage, and it contributes to climate change.</p><p>To be clear, RNG is almost certainly better for the climate than fossil natural gas because byproducts of burning RNG won't contribute to climate change. But doing somewhat better than existing systems is no longer enough to respond to the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2923" target="_blank">urgency</a> of climate change. The world's <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/" target="_blank">primary international body on climate change</a> suggests we need to decarbonize by 2030 to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.</p>
Scant Climate Benefits<p><a href="https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/ab9335/meta" target="_blank">My recent research</a> suggests that for a system large enough to displace a lot of fossil natural gas, RNG is probably not as good for the climate as <a href="https://investor.southerncompany.com/information-for-investors/latest-news/latest-news-releases/press-release-details/2020/Southern-Company-Gas-grows-leadership-team-to-focus-on-climate-action-innovation-and-renewable-natural-gas-strategy/default.aspx" target="_blank">is publicly claimed</a>. Although RNG has lower climate impact than its fossil counterpart, likely high demand and methane leakage mean that it probably will contribute to climate change. In contrast, renewable sources such as wind and solar energy do not <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/carbon/" target="_blank">emit climate pollution directly</a>.</p><p>What's more, creating a large RNG system would require building mostly new production infrastructure, since RNG comes from different sources than fossil natural gas. Such investments are both long-term commitments and opportunity costs. They would devote money, political will and infrastructure investments to RNG instead of alternatives that could achieve a zero greenhouse gas emission goal.</p><p>When climate change first <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/1988/06/24/us/global-warming-has-begun-expert-tells-senate.html" target="_blank">broke into the political conversation</a> in the late 1980s, investing in long-lived systems with low but non-zero greenhouse gas emissions was still compatible with aggressive climate goals. Now, zero greenhouse gas emissions is the target, and my research suggests that large deployments of RNG likely won't meet that goal.</p>
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