As part of its coverage of Climate Week (Sept. 23-29), the Gazette is running a series of stories on the issues involved, while spotlighting areas of University involvement, including research and programs designed to make a difference. For more information, visit the Tackling Climate Change site.
The pollution, acidification, and warming plaguing the world’s oceans are often seen as intractable as climate change and as important to resolve. But Jane Lubchenco, former administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), offers a new perspective, saying we should look to the seas for solutions, not problems.
“Seventy-eight percent of countries border the ocean and, despite that, the oceans for the most part are not front and center when we think of mitigating climate change,” said Lubchenco.
The administrator of the NOAA during the Obama administration and now a professor at Oregon State University spoke at a Monday afternoon panel convened to honor the career of James McCarthy, the Alexander Agassiz Professor of Biological Oceanography who has been at Harvard for 45 years, conducting research on the oceans, and adding his voice to the environmental policy debate.
Despite the litany of problems facing the oceans, Lubchenco said, we should look to the opportunities they offer to solve both marine problems and those of global climate, opportunities which could help limit warming to 1.5 degrees Centigrade by 2100, the goal pursued by signatories to the 2015 Paris Agreement.
There are opportunities, Lubchenco said, to sequester carbon in coastal habitat by restoring mangrove forests, salt marshes, and sea grass beds, which, though disappearing, have the potential to store more carbon than land-based systems per unit area. That restoration, she said, will also make the seas healthier, boosting fisheries by protecting and creating habitat used as nurseries for juveniles of many species.
Similarly, she said, there are ways to reduce emissions from shipping and fishing activities, to take advantage of the ocean’s biological pump (which moves carbon to the sea floor as biological life dies and drifts downward), get renewable energy from the ocean itself, and to shift human diets toward seafood, which is less resource-intensive and healthier than land-based meat diets.
“The ocean, then, has a key role to play in both mitigation and adaptation,” Lubchenco said. “It is time to change our narrative around the ocean.”