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Fritz Albert (left); Audobon Society
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Climate Change, Pirates, and a Milestone

May 17, 2023
CLARK'S REMARKS: "Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime." But what happens when global warming takes away the fish?

This June marks the 10th anniversary of Clark’s Remarks. So, for a decade now, I have been writing about the effects of climate change on our Earth and on our industry. Some of those effects, like sea level rise and increasing ocean temperatures, are obvious. Others, however, are not.

My most recent column looked at air pollution 60 years after passage of the first Clean Air Act in 1963. I noted the irony of the American Lung Association’s latest conclusion in its annual State of the Air report: “Climate change is making the job of cleaning up the air more difficult.”

Now, a recent paper published in the American Meteorological Society’s Weather, Climate and Society journal even links climate change, particularly higher ocean temperatures, to an increase in the incidence of maritime piracy. Yes, piracy.

Pirates, of course, have been around since the beginning of maritime shipping and they have long been a favorite adventure theme for Hollywood movies, from Errol Flynn's Captain Blood to Johnny Depp’s Capt. Jack Sparrow in the popular Pirates of the Caribbean series.  But a decade ago, Tom Hanks also brought Captain Phillips to the big screen, depicting the title character's harrowing, real-life ordeal when his merchant ship, the Maersk Alabama, was hijacked by Somali pirates in 2009. That story reminded us that piracy at sea has not gone away. In fact, it is still such a significant threat to maritime shipping that it has given rise to armed escorts on ships and private maritime security companies around the world.

According to experts, the most active areas of maritime piracy today are:

  1. Northwest Africa, the Gulf of Guinea and the Niger River delta;
  2. Red Sea, Somalia, Horn of Africa, Gulf of Aden, Indian Ocean;
  3. Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia (Indonesia, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Malay Strait, South China Sea, Singapore Strait);
  4. South and Central America, the Caribbean;
  5. The coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

The paper’s authors, Bo Jiang, of the University of Macau, and Gary LaFree, from the University of Maryland, studied recent acts of piracy in the waters off East Africa and the South China Sea. They analyzed more than 2,000 incidents over a 20-year period, and concluded that warmer ocean surface temperatures had severely depleted local fisheries. And, as fishing became less viable, the researchers found, many of the fishermen turned to piracy. Conversely, the paper’s authors also noted a correlation in the opposite direction. When there was an increase in fish production, there was a corresponding decrease in pirate activity.

Jiang and LaFree also included a Significance Statement. In part, it reads: “There is little evidence on the effect of climate change on criminal behavior. This study seeks to quantify the impact of a specific type of climate change—rising sea temperature—on maritime piracy, a type of crime that is linked exclusively to the ocean.”

So, now we know that climate change affects all of us, even pirates. Aargh!

A regular contributor to HPAC Engineering and a member of its editorial advisory board, the author is a principal at Sustainable Performance Solutions LLC, a south Florida-based engineering firm focusing on energy and sustainability. He can be reached at [email protected].

About the Author

Larry Clark

A member of HPAC Engineering’s Editorial Advisory Board, Lawrence (Larry) Clark, QCxP, GGP, LEED AP+, is principal of Sustainable Performance Solutions LLC, a South Florida-based engineering firm focused on energy and sustainability consulting. He has more than two dozen published articles on HVAC- and energy-related topics to his credit and frequently lectures on green-building best practices, central-energy-plant optimization, and demand-controlled ventilation.