Time to save our oceans

The Prince George Citizen - - Opinion -

Over the past year, the move­ment to ban plas­tic straws has seen tremen­dous suc­cess. Ma­jor com­pa­nies in­clud­ing Star­bucks have de­cided to elim­i­nate them in their stores, and some met­ro­pol­i­tan ar­eas have passed city­wide bans. This con­sumer and en­vi­ron­men­tal trend has been an en­cour­ag­ing ex­am­ple of col­lec­tive ac­tion on an econ­omy-wide scale and has no doubt helped keep plas­tic out of our oceans and out of marine life. But ul­ti­mately, th­ese ac­tions are small steps to­ward solv­ing a mas­sive prob­lem. To truly save the ocean, we must take se­ri­ous ac­tion to halt cli­mate change on a global scale – and soon.

Our oceans are crit­i­cal to ev­ery part of our lives – they feed us, trans­port us, se­cure our bor­ders, em­ploy us, give us oxy­gen and in­spire us – but week af­ter week, head­lines re­flect gloom and doom. Co­ral reefs around the world are dy­ing; ris­ing seas are flood­ing coastal com­mu­ni­ties and threat­en­ing to over­whelm some of the world’s busiest air­ports; fish­er­men from New Eng­land to Alaska are haul­ing in empty nets; and in­ten­si­fy­ing storms threaten not just our coast­lines but in­land com­mu­ni­ties as well.

Cli­mate change is a ma­jor con­trib­u­tor to all th­ese prob­lems, and yet the ocean is far too of­ten left out of con­ver­sa­tions about cli­mate solutions.

If we want to sur­vive and thrive on a warm­ing planet, that has to change. At this week’s Global Cli­mate Ac­tion Sum­mit in Cal­i­for­nia’s Bay Area, oceans are fi­nally part of the agenda. This sum­mit pro­vides an op­por­tu­nity for non­fed­eral ac­tors to come to­gether to dis­cuss how we as a nation and world can mit­i­gate and adapt to the im­pacts of cli­mate change by lead­ing from a local level – no­tably, with­out com­mit­ments or lead­er­ship from the U.S. gov­ern­ment, which an­nounced its in­ten­tion to with­draw our coun­try from the Paris agree­ment more than a year ago.

It’s cer­tainly im­por­tant to doc­u­ment the dam­age that cli­mate change is do­ing to the ocean, but a ma­jor topic of dis­cus­sion at the sum­mit will be also be how to un­lock the ocean’s cli­mate solutions, which have many ad­di­tional ben­e­fits. Cre­at­ing and en­forc­ing marine pro­tected ar­eas means fish stocks can re­cover even amid warm­ing oceans, pro­vid­ing in­creased food se­cu­rity and ad­di­tional fish­ing jobs.

Im­prov­ing our coastal in­fra­struc­ture and mak­ing it more re­silient to sea-level rise and ex­treme weather means not only stronger com­mu­ni­ties but also in­creased trade op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Restor­ing “blue car­bon” ecosys­tems, such as sea-grass beds and man­groves, would mean the oceans can con­tinue to work hard to ab­sorb our ex­cess car­bon, clean our wa­ters and pro­tect our com­mu­ni­ties. The oceans may be un­der deep threat from cli­mate im­pacts, but they can also be the ba­sis of a new blue econ­omy.

How­ever, the hard re­al­ity is that the sub­na­tional ac­tion be­ing touted at this week’s Global Cli­mate Ac­tion Sum­mit, while thought­ful and hope­ful, is not enough on its own to cre­ate the real change we need to avert dis­as­ter. A re­cent study found that the com­mit­ments to cut emis­sions from cities, states, re­gions and com­pa­nies are sig­nif­i­cant but are “still not nearly enough to hold global tem­per­a­ture in­crease to ‘well be­low 2 de­grees C’ and work ‘to­ward lim­it­ing it to 1.5 de­grees C’” – the Paris agree­ment thresh­old for trig­ger­ing dan­ger­ous warm­ing. And at the na­tional level, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has not just been in­ac­tive – it has been on a ram­page to warm our planet and harm our oceans, such as rush­ing head­long into in­creased on­shore and off­shore drilling.

We can’t let a U.S. pres­i­dent who doesn’t be­lieve in science or care about cli­mate change stop us. As small an ac­tion as it may be, ban­ning straws shows that Amer­i­cans are pay­ing at­ten­tion. Will Amer­i­cans con­tinue to use their voices and their wal­lets to make real change for our oceans? I be­lieve that they can, and they will, and that mak­ing oceans a part of the cli­mate so­lu­tion con­ver­sa­tion – at the sub­na­tional, na­tional and global lev­els – will lead us to a more sus­tain­able fu­ture.

— John Podesta served as chief of staff to for­mer U.S. pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton and coun­sel­lor to for­mer pres­i­dent Barack Obama.

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