An Ocean of Climate Solutions

“For all at last return to the sea–to Oceanus, the ocean river, like the ever-flowing stream of time, the beginning and the end.” —Rachel Carson, The Sea Around Us

Image of the oceanThe ocean is our life source – it gives us every other breath we take. The chemical make-up of our bodies traces back to our watery past, to the beginnings of life in the sea. Absorbing 90% of excess heat generated by greenhouse gasses and 25% of carbon emissions, the ocean also sits on the frontlines of the climate crisis. Since the industrial revolution, the ocean has become 30% more acidic due to excess carbon dissolving in seawater. The RCC Coasts and Ocean Program that I launched over the summer focuses on raising awareness around the wonder and plight of our seas. Within this program, I highlight environmental justice, renewable energy, sustainable fishing, marine life, and ocean pollution. Sharing and advocating for marine science and conservation through postings to the Rachel Carson Council website, monthly newsletters, blogs, and action alerts, I see these efforts as drops of information that flow into larger movements for change.

Image of coral in the oceanImage of polar bears in arctic oceanOcean-based policy connects my advocacy to climate action. Historically, we viewed the ocean as a victim of climate change. And, as the oceans acidify, Arctic ice melts, corals bleach, and marine animals’ feeding and migration patterns are disrupted under warming temperatures, it is undeniable that climate change degrades ocean ecosystems. But the ocean also presents vast, untapped potential for climate solutions.

In October 2020, the U.S. House of Representatives introduced the Ocean-Based Climate Solutions Act, the first climate change bill focused on the ocean, according to a blog by NRDC. The bill prioritizes coastal resilience, equity and justice for U.S. territories, Indigenous peoples, and communities of color. It calls for the conservation and restoration of blue carbon ecosystems, clean energy and a permanent ban on offshore drilling, strengthening marine mammal protection, and protecting 30% of the ocean by 2030 – just to name a few.

Image of wind turbines in the oceanMaking recommendations similar to the Climate Solutions Act, Our Shared Seas recently released a report on opportunities for ocean-climate action in the U.S. It is the first to quantify the climate benefits of ocean-based solutions such as offshore wind and energy development, restoration of coastal “blue carbon” ecosystems such as mangroves, salt marshes, and sea grasses that pull carbon dioxide out the air ten times faster than forested areas, decarbonizing U.S. shipping, improving fisheries and aquaculture management, and new technologies that store carbon dioxide under the sea bed.

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According to this report, investments in ocean-based climate mitigation could reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emission up to 13.7% annually by 2050. And research proves that a sustainable ocean economy benefits people and the planet. Every $1 invested in offshore wind generates $2-17 in return, and every $1 invested in mangrove conservation and restoration brings in $3 worth of ecological benefits, according to analysis by the World Resources Institute.

Image of porpoise in the oceanCollaboration among organizations is critical to maintain momentum in movements for environmental justice, conservation, and climate action. Through advocacy we may convert our energy and passion into lasting change at the regional, federal, or even international level. The Presidential Plastic Action Plan, for example, outlines eight ways in which President Biden can swiftly eliminate single-use plastics. Signed by 550 organizations, including the Rachel Carson Council, this plan illustrates the power of organizations coalescing around a common goal.

The Biden administration places hope for climate and ocean policy on the horizon. After the election in November, The Ocean Conservancy announced their plans to hold Biden accountable to his climate goals, minimize production of single-use plastics, and protect the Arctic from offshore drilling. Meanwhile, Oceana is calling for Biden to reverse Trump’s environmental rollbacks, reduce plastic production, and ban the U.S. fin trade to help shark populations.

Changes are also in store for positions that play a key role in ocean management such as the future secretary of commerce and NOAA administrator. Kathryn Sullivan, former astronaut and former head of NOAA, is on the transition team to help select candidates, as is Karen Hyun, vice president for coastal conservation at the National Audubon Society and Kris Sarri, president and CEO of the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation.

As the U.S. embarks on a new fight against climate change, we must value the ocean with all its mysteries and all its life. This month, leaders from 14 countries committed to sustainably manage 100% of oceans areas within their national waters by 2025 and support global targets for ocean protection. I hope that the U.S. will also join in commitments to sustainably managing and protecting the oceans. “The dangers that the seas face from climate change and the solutions that they offer –– are often overlooked,” Janis Searles Jones of the Ocean Conservancy wrote in a Nature article. It has never been more crucial to communicate the plight and potential of the ocean amidst a changing climate, for we cannot act on what we do not know. What gives me hope is that our political climate is changing – building a better future, on land and sea, is within reach. May our actions ripple into an ocean of change.

Kendall Jefferys – Rachel Carson Council Presidential Fellow.
Kendall Jefferys is a Rachel Carson Scholar at Duke University and a dual major in Environmental Science and English. She initiated the RCC Coasts and Ocean Program. Ms. Jefferys has been named a Rhodes Scholar for 2021. [email protected]


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