Protect our oceans from climate change — while we still can
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With each new alarming climate change headline, public demand for political action becomes harder for our colleagues in Congress to ignore. The intensity we saw last week around the world, and again this week at the United Nations, is even more remarkable when we realize that one of the biggest and most urgent climate stories of our time – the destruction of our oceans – hasn’t really broken through yet.

We aim to change that. We’re hopeful that the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate, released this morning, will raise the awareness we need to start reversing the damage. Today, to respond to the urgency this report demands, our committee will vote to approve a series of bills that protect coastal ecosystem health, improve ocean monitoring and research, and offer coastal managers the tools they need to protect us, and the world around us, from climate impacts.

As chairs of the House Committee on Natural Resources and the Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife, we’re putting ocean and coastal health at the forefront of our climate strategy. Considering how important ocean health is to human life, the general lack of awareness about how climate change is destroying our oceans is more than a curiosity – it’s dangerous. The long-term risks of the Amazon forest fires, which received weeks of coverage, pale in comparison to the risks we’re running with the health of our oceans, which absorb heat and excess carbon and produce about half of our planet’s oxygen.

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A quick review of the ocean’s centrality to life on Earth makes it impossible to ignore. Our coastlines are our best barriers against storm surges, which are crucial as hurricanes become more frequent and intense. They’re home to carbon-absorbing seagrass beds, mangrove forests, and coral reefs – some our best lines of defense against climate change when healthy.

Melting land ice, sea ice, and glaciers are causing sea levels to rise, putting coastal communities and low-lying islands at ever-increasing risk of flooding. Extreme events like the recent Hurricane Dorian – not to mention Hurricane Maria, whose two-year landfall anniversary in Puerto Rico we saw just last week – are becoming the new norm, which will kill more people even with maximum effort on our part.

The diversity and numbers of marine fish and wildlife will continue to decline due to warming waters, shrinking habitats, and increasing acidity. Without serious policy changes in the near future, it’s very likely that we’ll see Arctic summers with zero sea ice cover. Coral reefs and kelp forests could disappear altogether. The IPCC’s findings cannot be read with alarm and thrown onto the pile. These findings must spur meaningful change, or we’ll be committing species suicide with our eyes wide open to what we’re doing.

In the past two weeks alone, we’ve held a legislative hearing and two markups on bills that promote resilience and ocean-climate solutions. We’re listening to the scientists, fishermen, economists, tribal leaders, and coastal communities all sounding the alarm bells on what’s happening – and how much worse it will get if we’re complacent.

Forty-two percent of the American population lives in coastal counties responsible for nearly half of U.S. gross domestic product – counties already at elevated risk of sea level rise and severe weather. None of those Americans, or the rest of us, will be spared the impacts if current trends continue. On the East Coast, warming waters are driving lobsters away from their traditional grounds, contributing to Maine’s lobster catch decline of 20 million pounds and $99 million in 2017. On the West Coast, salmon populations that support local economies are being pushed to the brink of survival.

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In the second week of September, the House of Representatives passed a pair of bills preventing new offshore drilling along our Atlantic and Pacific coasts and in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico. Our committee held the hearings on those bills, and when they came up for a vote, we were proud to support them. More offshore drilling unnecessarily raises the risk of a devastating oil spill and does nothing to advance the low-carbon, sustainable energy economy we all know we need to build as soon as possible.

We feel strongly that we’re advancing the bills we need to reverse the alarming trends we see in our oceans. We need bipartisan support in the Republican-controlled Senate to turn these bills into law. Unfortunately, instead of working to address this global crisis, the Trump administration and its supporters in Congress still deny that it exists.

At every turn, the White House promotes policies that will only worsen ocean health, and the president and his most fervent supporters still insist the problem isn’t real. The administration has abandoned the Paris agreement, aggressively pushes plans to drill for oil off every scrap of coastline it can get its hands on, seeks to permit dangerous seismic blasting in sea mammal habitats, and even wants to shrink environmental protections in three marine national monuments.

We’re taking the opposite approach and urging everyone, in and outside Washington, to join us. We’re advancing the bills we need to reverse the alarming trends we see in our oceans, and we’re talking with our colleagues and our constituents about why oceans are a key to climate health.

We need bipartisan support in the Republican-controlled Senate to turn these bills into law. We believe it’s possible to gather that support, but only if the American people speak up about saving our oceans while we still can.

Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) is chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee. Rep. Jared HuffmanJared William HuffmanDemocrats reach cusp of impeachment Democrats gear up for high-stakes Judiciary hearing Pelosi heading to Madrid for UN climate change convention MORE (D-Calif.) chairs the Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife.