In the climate crisis, power of our ocean is too great to ignore
Our ocean sustains life on Earth.
The ocean produces the air we breathe, is linked to much of the water we drink, and is home to more than half of all life on the planet. The ocean drives our economy, feeds, employs and transports us. Our ocean inspires us. We travel to be near it and to learn from and be inspired by its vast and undiscovered wilderness, immense power, and diverse ecosystems. But today our ocean is threatened more than ever before.
Pollution is causing the ocean to warm and become more acidic, and pushing species to the brink of extinction. Without significant efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions, the effects are anticipated to become more destructive.
We cannot meaningfully address the challenges facing our ocean until we address the dismissal of climate science. As a member of Congress fighting for the health of our ocean and marine ecologist who served as administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in President Obama’s administration, we have come together on World Oceans Day to lift up the voices of scientists in the policy debate about how to protect our planet.
Scientific research has shown that the persistent threat of ocean warming jeopardizes the survival of coral reefs, and alters food webs, fisheries and larger ecosystems. Ocean acidification makes it difficult for shellfish and other marine organisms to build their shells and skeletal structures, and finfish struggle to survive. The changes in ocean chemistry are already depleting oceans resources, affecting the fishers and shellfish farmers who depend on them to support their businesses and families, and the Tribes that have rights and deep cultural and historical connections to diminishing species like salmon.
Yet our ocean is also resilient and holds tremendous promise. We urgently need adaptation strategies and science-based policy responses to climate change that keep our ocean at the forefront. This year in Congress, we have seen bipartisan action to mitigate the effects and improve our understanding of ocean acidification. Now we need bold and tangible steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to safeguard the natural systems that sustain us.
As we move forward, the ocean must be a central part of the climate solution. Congress should enact policies to put our nation on a path to achieve net-zero emissions no later than mid-century. Maintaining our commitments under the Paris Climate Agreement is an important step, but multiple additional actions are needed. Managing fisheries well can help avert the worst impacts of climate change on seafood supply and fishing jobs. Creating highly and fully protected areas not only helps protect habitats and wildlife, but will enhance the resilience of ocean ecosystems to climate change. We must invest in these and other scalable solutions and embrace the tremendous opportunity of our ocean.
More federal funding for ocean-centric solutions will allow us to tap into this natural resource and protect the integrity of our marine environments. We can strengthen federal research on mitigation and adaptation strategies to improve the resiliency of the ocean and the species that reside therein. We can recognize the sequestration potential of our ocean in reducing carbon emissions. We can invest in green infrastructure to restore and preserve our coastal ecosystems, including wetlands, coastal dunes, and marine protected areas. And we can expand clean energy by harnessing the power of waves, tides, and currents.
Our professions as a scientist and policymaker are linked – we are charged with offering solutions to our greatest challenges, including the climate crisis. We must look to our ocean to develop and implement the science-based strategies we need to protect our planet for future generations. The power – and importance – of our ocean are simply too great to ignore.
Bonamici is co-chair of the House Oceans Caucus and a member of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. Dr. Lubchenco is a Distinguished University Professor at Oregon State University, former administrator of NOAA (2009-2013) and first U.S. Science Envoy for the Ocean (U.S. State Department; 2014-2016).
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