Why Big Oil Executives are finally concerned about Climate Change

With rising ocean temperatures, dropping oxygen levels, and carbon taxes on the horizon, will sushi still have a place twenty years from now?

Trends in fish populations

In a word, sushi. The best sushi comes fresh, caught from the wild. Climate change poses a major risk to fish populations, especially the larger and tastier species. Between warming waters, acidification, and other environmental changes; fishery populations will continue to decrease [1].

Warming waters lead to fewer fish as the increased temperature decreases oxygen solubility, as well as increasing the aerobic activities of microbes which further drains the oxygen content. Warming waters also increase ice melt which leads to stable stratified layers of water, decreasing nutrient mix and oxygen mixing. Without this mixing the “oxygen minimum zones” or areas where oxygen levels are below those required for higher level life expand dramatically[2].

Past, current, and future temperature projections.


Acidification also poses danger for our tasty morsels. Fish generally have between five to twenty times less CO2 in their blood than terrestrial animals, so smaller changes in surrounding areas are magnified in our friendly critters[4]. Additionally, “calcifiers” or animals that incorporate calcium into their bodies in the form of calcium carbonate (imagine any sea-animal with a shell or some other hard bit) do so by making that part of their body more alkaline or less acidic, hard to do as the oceans acidify[5]. Some calcifiers are direct inputs to sushi, while others play an important role in the marine food chain.

Projected Ocean Acidification


While fish are likely to impacted by climate change, the lack of fish is also likely to exacerbate climate change as well. Fish play an important role in carbon sequestration by consuming their food, i.e. carbon, at shallower depths and releasing it through death or excrement at lower depths where it is less likely to return to the atmosphere[7]. While this does not directly impact the quantity of fish available, if carbon taxes are implemented fish prices may be forced to absorb some effect of the net loss in sequestration

One restaurant wants a paradigm shift in the supply chain

The Sustainable Restaurant Group (SRG) is promoting responsible sushi consumption through their Bamboo Sushi venture. SRG focused on optimizing their operations to reduce emissions, but efficient operations can only go so far when the raw inputs account for 60-80% of the carbon emissions [8]. SRG took a harder look at its supply chains and noticed that some fish traveled on up to five plane flights which drastically increased their effective carbon emissions. Since then SRG has rethought where it sources its fish from, going so far as to not offer popular dishes during times of the year when that fish would not be available from a nearby supplier.


Involving the customer

While the supply chain management was beneficial, the restaurant was still a long way from being carbon neutral. To continue to make waves, SRG created visualizations to inform their consumer about their carbon footprint, as well as the attributions to different types of fish. They’ve combined this with an initiative to donate funds, and encourage customers to do the same, to the Seagrass Grow project to offset emissions[9].


Storms on the Horizon

So far SRG has been able to create an environmentally responsible sushi experience while engaging customers. They’ve also been able to do so relatively cheaply, estimating that it costs their consumers around 25 cents per meal to do so. It’s unclear how they’ll fair in a world of decreasing fish populations and increasing fish prices. If the fish off the coast of California get wiped out, or even just reduced to a level where any fishing depletes the fish supply, will SRG be willing to import fish from around the globe again?

Fishing for solutions

Ultimately, I believe that SRG needs to stay true to its mission of serving sushi that doesn’t exacerbate climate change. This will be difficult in a market where fresh wild-caught fish prices continue to rise but I think there may be some hope on the horizon. So far fish farming has been done in incredibly packed and inhumane conditions, but we may see possibilities for more ethically designed fish farms in the future. SRG can also join the growing coalition of organizations to put increasing pressure on governments to pass climate change laws. Finally, it would be interesting to see exploration into some sort of “lab-grown fish cells” technology, similar to how we’re starting to see lab-grown beef.

Questions for discussion

To what extent do fishing subsidies increase climate change? If these subsidies are necessary to keep food prices down, are there other food based subsidies that wouldn’t increase climate change as much?

How much additional money would consumers be willing to spend for a carbon neutral meal?

[1] Porter, J.R., L. Xie, A.J. Challinor, K. Cochrane, S.M. Howden, M.M. Iqbal, D.B. Lobell, and M.I. Travasso, 2014: Food security and food production systems. In: Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Part A: Global and Sectoral Aspects. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Field, C.B., V.R. Barros, D.J. Dokken, K.J. Mach, M.D. Mastrandrea, T.E. Bilir, M. Chatterjee, K.L. Ebi, Y.O. Estrada, R.C. Genova, B. Girma, E.S. Kissel, A.N. Levy, S. MacCracken, P.R. Mastrandrea, and L.L.White (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, pp. 485-533.

[2] Wong, P.P., I.J. Losada, J.-P. Gattuso, J. Hinkel, A. Khattabi, K.L. McInnes, Y. Saito, and A. Sallenger, 2014: Coastal systems and low-lying areas. In: Climate Change 2014: Impacts,Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Part A: Global and Sectoral Aspects. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Field, C.B., V.R. Barros, D.J. Dokken, K.J. Mach, M.D. Mastrandrea, T.E. Bilir, M. Chatterjee, K.L. Ebi, Y.O. Estrada, R.C. Genova, B. Girma, E.S. Kissel, A.N. Levy, S. MacCracken, P.R. Mastrandrea, and L.L.White (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, pp. 361-409.

[3] ibid

[4] ibid

[5] ibid

[6] ibid

[7] Harball, E. (2014, June 4). Retrieved from ScientificAmerican.com: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-fish-cool-off-global-warming/count 87

[8] Orlov, A. (2017, June 28). Retrieved from Mic.com: https://mic.com/articles/182570/should-any-piece-of-sushi-take-five-flights-a-restaurant-group-takes-on-the-future-of-fish#.8UF4CVF4u

[9] Sustainable Restaurant Group. (2017, November 14). How We’re Taking Action. Retrieved from sustainablerestaurantgroup.com: http://ourfootprint.sustainablerestaurantgroup.com/

[10] ibid

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Student comments on Why Big Oil Executives are finally concerned about Climate Change

  1. An interesting look at the front of the supply chain of one of the most contentious global commodities at present, seafood. The article shows the immediate feedback on the actual industry – climate change affects the seas which affects the produce which drives up climate change searching for fish.
    SRG’s efforts serve to highlight the lack of effort of the many larger players in a global industry that accounts for 20% of all human food consumption. Why aren’t the fishing companies taking the lead on this? Where are SRG’s competitors on this topic?

    The article highlights the current challenges in the global seafood industry facing decades of unsustainable fishing practices yet they need to take a lead on climate change given its direct impact on their business.
    Will anyone else switch their focus to Climate change or do they have bigger fish to fry?

  2. This is a very good example of organizations adapting to climate change. Avoiding supplying fishes that traveled on up to five flights could reduce their carbon emissions, but might also diminish customer’s selection of fishes. The question for most restaurants is how to maintain the level of customer experience while reducing carbon emissions. It might be interesting to explore the idea if both ends could be met at the same time. Bamboo Sushi’s philosophy of “sustainably caught, humanely raised, naturally grown. No compromises” is very powerful manifesto to its customers. Checking out the menu, I found the prices affordable and am curious what could happen if this restaurant charges a premium for such a seemingly awesome idea. [1]

    Looking at broader context, it would also be helpful to understand what other players in this industry are doing, so as to assess the overall impact restaurant’s sustainability move has on the industry, and our climate.


  3. Very interesting article !
    I don’t think that food subsidies are the problem, I think they are the solution. Without any subisidies, fishermen would use damaging techniques and would fish all around the world without any restrictions. The main goal of that is to reduce cost (from operations and from salaries). Thanks to well thought out subsidies, governments can encourage local fishing and local consumption.
    Moreover, some subisidies can be implemented to help poor fishermen to live with moderate cacth level. It would help to to loosen the pressure on the natural stock (1).
    Finally, I beleive that regulation and quotas are needed to protect not only fish but also our planet. Indeed, as they are less and less fish around the world you have to go to always more extreme regions to find some. Quotas would not only help to re-create the natural stocks but also help to re-built local fishing in order to avoid going far away.

    (1): http://www.fasebj.org/content/30/1_Supplement/894.4.short

  4. This solution can be effective for food products that can be produced across the globe. For food items produced on one side of the globe but enjoyed in another, environmental impact of food transportation cannot be done away with. In such cases, food subsidies become increasingly valuable. Subsidies can encourage food producers to use environmentally friendly techniques in farming which are usually more expensive.

  5. Steps need to be taken at all levels of the supply change, subsidies are vital upstream to ensure that fishermen use sustainable fishing solutions and there also needs to be consumer education to live in a way that adequately compensates for the environmental impact that consumer choices create. As the world reacts to the consequences of their food choices, I think there will be a willingness to pay premium for a carbon neutral meal.

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