Enthusiasm builds for 'Blue New Deal' after climate town hall

A fisherman asked a question at CNN’s climate town hall this past week that got Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenSanders supporters cry foul over Working Families endorsement of Warren California poll: Biden, Sanders lead Democratic field; Harris takes fifth Kamala Harris calls for new investigation into Kavanaugh allegations MORE (D-Mass.) very excited.

With all the focus on protecting land from global warming, he said, what about the other 70 percent of Earth? Do we need a “Blue New Deal” to protect the oceans?

“I like that!” Warren responded. “He’s got it exactly right, we need a Blue New Deal.”

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The name is a play on the Green New Deal proposed this year by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOcasio-Cortez endorses challenger to Democrat Lipinski in Illinois race The Hill's Morning Report - What is Trump's next move on Iran? The Memo: Times correction gives GOP lifeline in latest Kavanaugh controversy MORE (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyYoung insurgents aren't rushing to Kennedy's side in Markey fight Ocasio-Cortez endorses Markey in Senate race amid speculation over Kennedy candidacy House votes to block drilling in Arctic refuge MORE (D-Mass.), which calls for a massive revamp of the American economy, growth of social programs and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. 

“The trouble is, the Green New Deal only mentions our oceans one time,” Bren Smith, the fisherman and oyster farmer, said at the CNN town hall, asking Warren for her plan to ensure “that all of us can make a living on a living planet.”

The Green New Deal doesn’t say much about waterways, only that the government should be “ensuring that public lands, waters, and oceans are protected.”

Some environmental experts argue there needs to be a bigger emphasis on waterways.

“We’re trying to step into this void because most of the climate plans are really focused on the big manufacturing and industrial emitters and the big terrestrial sources of pollution,” said Jason Scorse, director of the Center for the Blue Economy at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies and any early crafter of the Blue New Deal approach.

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“That’s great, and they should do this, but there is this overlooked ocean component that can play a big role in any eventual climate solution.” 

The ocean, along with forests, is one of the earth’s great absorbers of carbon pollution, taking in 25 percent of carbon pollution.

"The ocean is a huge part of the climate system that people don't talk about, and it could be part of the solution because the coastal ecosystem holds more carbon," said Ayana Johnson, a marine biologist and founder of Ocean Collectiv. "It's not green versus blue, it's just that the ocean has a huge part to play in the climate system." 

But the ability to absorb carbon comes at a cost — the ocean is acidifying, harming wildlife. Meanwhile, stronger storms and sea level rise threaten those on land.

“Coasts face unbelievable change. It’s not all related to climate and carbon but those are amplifying and accelerating those changes at every level from coastal infrastructure to fishery conservation,” said Brad Warren, executive director at the National Fisheries Conservation Center.

Many of the Democratic presidential candidates have committed to including funds to preserve coastlines and protect coastal cities while rethinking flooding and natural disaster assistance. But from Scorse’s perspective, a much broader approach is needed.

In a recent article, he argued that any environmental package should include guidelines for offshore renewable energy development, efforts to reduce pollution from maritime shipping, assistance for fishing communities, investment in aquaculture research and a network of marine protected areas.

Like the framing of the Green New Deal, he sees the expense of these investments as a way to create jobs and boost coastal economies while reducing pollution and other negative impacts of climate change that so often affect poor neighborhoods and communities of color.

“As much as there are a lot of costs here in this mix we want to frame this as a tremendous opportunity,” Scorse said.

Washington Gov. Jay InsleeJay Robert InsleeThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democrats clash over future of party in heated debate 5 takeaways from fiery Democratic debate Left off debate stage, Bullock all-in on Iowa MORE (D), who dropped out of the presidential race last month, was one of the few candidates to call out pollution from ports and shipping in his climate plan. Addressing it could involve carbon pricing and increasing the efficiency of supply chains.

The Green New Deal’s call for zero-emission energy sources would likely mean an end to offshore drilling, but Scorse said the U.S. needs a plan for how to balance offshore wind development and wave energy with marine protection and fishing interests.

He also wants to see investment in aquaculture — growing underwater plants that can capture carbon and protect against storm surges — along with shellfish like oysters that help filter the water.

Under a Blue New Deal, there would likely be a massive investment in coastal infrastructure to replace roads, bridges and buildings facing damage from rising sea levels.

But not everyone sees the Green New Deal as excluding oceans.

“A Green New Deal is fundamentally a Blue New Deal,” said Leah Stokes, assistant professor of climate policy at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “If we have a Green New Deal and stop putting so much carbon into the atmosphere it will do so much for the ocean.”

Scorse said he hopes to put together a formal package of legislation to give to President TrumpDonald John TrumpBusiness, ballots and battling opioids: Why the Universal Postal Union benefits the US Sanders supporters cry foul over Working Families endorsement of Warren California poll: Biden, Sanders lead Democratic field; Harris takes fifth MORE and Democratic candidates by next spring, something he’s calling the ocean climate action plan.

Getting such a policy enacted is highly unlikely given the divided Congress.

Brad Warren said the policy is a wishlist of programs coastal communities have been wanting for a long time, but he sees two missing pieces.

“You need the revenue source, otherwise it’s condemned to more piecemeal deliveries we’ve received for far too long, and it needs to deal with carbon emissions,” he said, adding that a price on carbon could be used to fund the billions needed for infrastructure investments.

There would also be a balancing act between commercial fishermen, energy developers, coastal homeowners and conservationists.

“Development of ocean spaces is possible but the pieces really matter and including the voices of all interests and all stakeholders is really key,” said Sarah Cooley, director of ocean acidification at Ocean Conservancy.