Ecologically catastrophic. Or is it?
Now, in a conundrum not seen since medieval scholastics debated how many angels could fit on the head of a pin, we have What Would Greta Thunberg Do? An reductio ad absurdum so thickly layered, so powerfully fraught that the most intelligent minds of our day will be driven utterly mad.
To wit, researchers in Newcastle, England just discovered a biofuel cleaner, better, more cost-effective, powerful and theoretically more renewable than old french fry grease. The holy grail? Shangri-la? Let us go ourselves to that Jolly Pendulum and learn.
A new paper by a team of researchers from Newcastle University in England describes a cheaper, if controversial, alternative source for biodiesel: shark livers.
Livers can make up to 30 percent of a shark’s body mass and sharks are a large fraction of by-catch in many fisheries. Since livers are often a waste product of fisheries—and are sometimes even dumped at sea because of their low value—they have potential as an inexpensive source material for biodiesel. As well, extracting the oil is relatively simple. When placed in the sun, the livers melt, releasing the fatty oil that can be mixed with a catalyst and alcohol to make a commercial grade of biodiesel.
While it sounds like a plausible way to use an often-discarded waste product, there are potential problems with the idea. Of primary concern is the difficulty determining the source species for the oil and whether the livers were a byproduct of a legal fishery or the target of an illegal one.
“I would hate to incentivize killing sharks for fuel,” says Adam Harvey, a coauthor of the paper, adding that “if the sharks are already dead, it’s best to get as much a value out of them as possible.”
From an economic standpoint, if a market develops for another use of shark livers, it could contribute to collapsing shark populations, making the potential shark liver biodiesel industry short-lived, cautions Simpfendorfer. From an ecological standpoint, it would be catastrophic. He adds, “the next step is to make sure we don’t dive into this without thinking very critically about it.”
Now, back to dear Greta. I don’t know that she has any great love for sharks and might well sacrifice them for a cooler climate but… if the shark’s decimation could contribute to a catastrophic ecology then I can’t imagine she’d be pleased.
Word of caution, Elon Musk has already been driven utterly mad pondering this enigma.