Scary stuff

It’s the time of year when ghosts, ghouls, and goblins roam the fringes of reality scaring the living daylights out of kids and adults still in touch with their inner child. Scary stuff. TV channels, movie platforms, and cinemas screen their horrors of horror. Christian graveyards the world over are at their busiest as relatives make their annual pilgrimage to visit their dead. Carved pumpkins decorate doorsteps. Black and orange bunting vies with fake cobwebs, witches on broomsticks, and floating spectres as houses, pubs, bars, shops, and cafés get into the holiday spirit, pun intended.

I’m not one for costume parties. I don’t get scary films and the thrill that purportedly comes from putting the heart crossways in yourself. Hallowe’en simply doesn’t do it for me. It never has. I doubt it ever will.

Anyway, there are enough scary things going on in the world to keep my adrenaline moving.

In recent weeks, we had news from Alaska that nearly 11 billion (yes, you read that number right – 11 billion) snow crabs have disappeared from the Bering Sea in the three years from 2018 to 2021, from 11.7 billion to 940 million, respectively.

Dr Mike Litzow of the Alaska Fisheries Science Center for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was asked what happened.

In 2018, we observed the highest abundance of snow crab that we’ve ever seen. Our estimate was that there were 11.7 billion snow crab in the southeast Bering Sea—largely smaller animals that were about to grow large enough to harvest. So in 2018, things were looking better than they’ve ever looked for snow crab. In 2019, we went out and did the survey. And while it was still good, suddenly, the abundance of small animals was half as good as it had been. We were concerned but not alarmed—just sort of wondering what was going on. In 2020, of course, COVID hit, so we didn’t go out. And then 2021, we went out, and there were 10 billion fewer animals than there had been in 2018. So the abundance went from 11.7 billion in 2018 to 940 million in 2021. So there’s just a wholesale collapse in the population. And it was very sudden and was not predicted. We went out this year, in 2022, and we got results that confirm the 2021 survey—that the crab are really gone. It’s not like they moved somewhere else. It really looks like a mass mortality event.

While it’s all a bit of a mystery, it seems that global warming could be the root cause. In the three years in question, the Bering Sea has been the warmest it’s ever been. Snow crabs are arctic animals – they don’t like warm water. The diseases they catch are more rampant when they’re warm. And when they scarper from the warm water, cramming into the cold, there’s not enough food to go around and they starve. Whatever the reason, they’re dead. Millions of them. Dead. It’s frightening.

Mine is an interesting day job. I have occasion to read reports from international organisations such as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Something that clicked with me recently, perhaps because it deals with the same three years the snow crabs met their demise, is an FAO report that says:

between 2018 and 2021, the number of people experiencing crisis levels of food insecurity or worse, in which conflict was the primary factor, increased from 73 million to 139 million.

The Uppsala Conflict Data Program defines war as ‘a state-based conflict or dyad which reaches at least 1000 battle-related deaths in a specific calendar year’.  Let’s go with that definition. The World Population Review says that in 2022, 17 countries have reached the 1,000-dead threshold with three (Myanmar, Russia, and Ukraine) exceeding 10,00 deaths so far this year. That my news feed is loud on Russia and Ukraine and virtually silent on Myanmar is what I find scary.

But given the time of year that’s in it, I come not just with bad news, but also with recommendations. If you insist on going for the scary stuff, let me recommend a movie available on Netflix:

BAFTA and Sundance award-winning director Babak Anvari explores the dangers of privilege in the new mystery thriller I Came By. The film follows Toby, a world-weary graffiti artist who vandalizes the homes of London’s elite. One night, he targets the stately house of a retired London judge and discovers a dark secret that endangers him and his loved ones.

I didn’t read the blurb properly. I’d never knowingly watch a horror flick. But when I start something, I have to finish it. It sent me into a spiral. By the end of it, I was turning on lights. Everywhere.

I was reminded recently of Anthony Burgess’s The End of the World News in which the world is dealing with news that the comet Lynx is heading towards Earth. While the public hears of plans to evacuate as many people as possible in a giant spacecraft, the reality is that only 50 people, each the top expert in their field will get a seat. They’re all that’s needed to repopulate the world. Those who build the spaceship don’t realise they’re not getting a seat. Naturally, people being people, panic ensues. I’m still thinking of those snow crabs.

This is one of the book’s three storylines. Another follows Leon Trotsky on a journey to New York City shortly before the Russian Revolution of 1917. And the third covers the life and career of Sigmund Freud.

But if you do nothing else this Hallowe’en, be sure to take the time on October 29 to visit the Pumpkin Lantern Festival in Hősök tere. Magic.

First published in the Budapest Times 26 October 2022

With thanks to TB for bringing the snow crabs to my attention

2 Responses

  1. I find it curious, that as I get older, increasingly my preference is for a more boring rather than more ‘interesting’ (scary?) world.

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