How Biden can undo Trump’s damage and protect our oceans
For four years, President Trump has attacked fundamental environmental protections for our oceans and proposed opening nearly all U.S. waters to fossil fuel companies for dirty and dangerous offshore drilling. We now have hope that we can reverse course to protect our oceans and environment, and as President-elect Joe Biden says, we can “build back better.”
Four years of deregulation have crippled protections for marine mammals and endangered species and undermined critical safeguards for marine habitat. Trump’s offshore drilling proposal put thriving coastal economies at risk. Leaders of coastal tourism, restaurant and ocean recreation businesses have joined forces to stop this. Together with owners of restaurants, dive shops and fishing businesses, along with many others, we will work with Biden to quickly and permanently protect our coasts.
Ocean protection is essential if we want to live in a healthier world. If we can end the expansion of offshore drilling and restore fishery abundance, U.S. waters can play an important role in the solution to climate change. By absorbing about a third of the carbon dioxide emitted globally, our oceans are doing us a great service in the climate crisis. But climate change is making our oceans sick. It is melting sea ice, driving sea level rise and increasing ocean acidification. It’s causing warming waters, more intense extreme weather and forcing species into new areas. All of this leads down to a path of ecological destruction. This is not just about marine life — climate change is already compromising our own lives as well. No matter where we live, we are all headed down this path.
While our oceans help us fight the climate crisis, they have their limits. The only way to save our oceans and ourselves from the worst impacts of climate change is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and curb other harmful greenhouse gases. Biden can begin by first leveling the playing field between clean energy and fossil fuels. It is essential that we promote clean energy and end fossil fuel subsidies to foster a transition to renewable sources. When done right, offshore wind can be part of that solution. We must electrify the automobile fleet to allow clean energy to more fully substitute for petroleum. And we must reduce the production and use of unnecessary single-use plastics, which are almost exclusively made from petroleum, and have a high carbon dioxide footprint throughout their life cycle, contributing to worsening climate change. Of course, plastics are also an extremely pervasive and destructive ocean pollutant.
Trump abandoned the climate fight and withdrew the U.S. from the Paris Agreement. Biden can help save the ocean, and all of us, from the looming climate disaster by rejoining the Paris Agreement and shifting the United States away from fossil fuels. Our nation can chart a green energy future, and our oceans can be part of the solution. We can protect coastal communities from the threat of toxic oil spills and the blight of sprawling oil infrastructure by permanently protecting U.S. waters from new offshore oil and gas drilling.
We can build back the bounty of our oceans, a vital resource in healing our planet from decades of environmental damage. The oceans are our life support system, they generate oxygen and produce nourishment. They can provide 1 billion people a healthy seafood meal every day if we can manage our fisheries sustainably. Remember, food from the oceans does not require land or fresh water for grazing and feeding. This food source contributes far less greenhouse gas emissions than other protein sources and even helps to stave off heart disease, diabetes and other diseases. Biden can also expand transparency in our seafood supply chain to ensure that consumers are getting the seafood they are paying for and to curb illegal fishing.
If we protect our oceans, our planet can heal. We can make it happen. We can make it better. We look forward to working toward a proactive, science-based approach to restoring our oceans and sustaining their abundance for generations to come.
Jacqueline Savitz is chief policy officer at Oceana, the largest international organization dedicated solely to ocean conservation. Follow the organization on Twitter @oceana.