When climate talks broke down in Congress earlier this month, Americans were quick to lay all of the blame on Sen. Joe Manchin.

Spartan Sea Farms owners Owen Heil and Ken Sparta tend to their scallop crop in the waters off the South Freeport town wharf. Burgeoning greenhouse-gas emissions present challenges to Maine aquaculture operations like Spartan Sea Farms and threaten local jobs. Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer, File

By leveraging the future of our entire planet as a bargaining chip to negotiate his pet projects and to line his own pockets, the West Virginia senator is certainly at fault. But Manchin is hardly the only culprit. Equal responsibility falls to our 50 Republican senators, all of whom have refused to consider the common-sense provisions on the table. Instead, they have chosen to treat climate change not like the existential threat that it is, but as a petty partisan issue. Unless our elected representatives can put our nation’s and our world’s future above party politics, we risk catastrophic environmental challenges, mass extinction and unimaginable suffering.

Shellfish farms like mine are already at war with runaway greenhouse-gas emissions. To combat ocean acidification, we now buffer the seawater for larval cultures in our hatchery. To counter more intense storms and higher tides, we must overhaul mooring systems that hold millions of oysters in floating cages on our leases. To protect consumers from runoff-related bacterial pollution, we isolate harvested oysters in a land-based facility before big rainfall events. And to ensure consumer safety from Vibrio bacteria, which thrive in warm waters, we now harvest our oysters and move them to mechanical refrigeration within two hours.

All of these countermeasures cost money – a lot of money. And we aren’t alone. Other shellfish farms across America are being hammered with these same problems, along with extreme heat waves and influxes of freshwater that prove deadly for their crops. Slower-moving, stronger hurricanes are not only killing crops, but are also wiping out wharves, gear and shoreside facilities.

This crisis will only get worse. Within the next three decades, Maine is expected to experience days of extreme heat up to four times more frequently and see up to 1.8 feet of sea level rise. By 2050, Maine’s lobster population could fall by up to 50 percent, Other shellfish species will likely experience similar declines.

Even if you’ve never eaten shellfish, these impacts should concern you. The millions of pounds of oysters, clams and mussels we grow every year bolster local economies, create jobs and feed our communities, while also improving the health of our marine ecosystems by filtering the water and providing a habitat for hundreds of other species. As shellfish aquaculture is jeopardized by climate change, so are its social, environmental and economic benefits.


The difficulties we’re confronting come as no surprise; they have all been predicted (with amazing accuracy) by climate scientists for decades. But rather than heed their warnings, our leaders have kicked the can down the road for some future generation to deal with.

There is no more road left. At the current 1.1 degrees Celsius of warming, the consequences are already devastating, and every fraction of a degree of additional warming will make the impacts much more costly and deadly. But we have the tools we need to secure a livable future – and just barely enough time to implement them.

That’s why shellfish growers from across the country are demanding that our legislators put politics aside and meet this crisis with urgency and unity. Any lawmaker – Republican or Democratic – who blocks bold climate action, or supports only half measures, shares culpability for the climate crisis with the oil companies who, like tobacco companies, have long been aware of the harm they are causing but have prioritized their short-term profits over the greater good.

By developing a comprehensive plan to rapidly transition to clean energy, support sustainable food production, protect natural ecosystems and invest in resilience, Congress can take the first step toward ensuring that our family-owned businesses – and the communities, ecosystems and food systems that depend on them – can survive and thrive.

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