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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Everything is Connected

By Morag Carter

It’s my first week on the new job. I’m thrilled to join Living Oceans Society as the new Marine Planning Director. I’m really excited to learn a whole new environmental issue. But, as we say frequently in the trade—everything is connected, and today my immediate past as a climate and energy activist collided with my new role at Living Oceans.

The third National Climate Change Assessment (NCA) was released in the U.S. yesterday. The findings are stark, but predictable. Climate change is not some far off ephemeral thing that we have the luxury of planning for. According to this new report Americans are feeling the impact of climate change now with the likelihood that there is worse to come.

 Arctic ice is melting much faster than earlier predicted.

The report is a comprehensive assessment of the state of the climate in the U.S. Drawing on the work of more than 300 experts and a 60 member federal advisory committee, the report was extensively reviewed.

Not surprisingly the NCA confirms the earlier predictions for the impacts of climate change and notes that the only real surprise is that some changes, including sea-level rise and the decline in Arctic sea ice have outpaced earlier predictions.

The report looks at various regions and sectors including oceans and coastal zones.
The overall finding of the oceans analysis is that "ocean waters are becoming warmer and more acidic, broadly affecting ocean circulation, chemistry, ecosystems, and marine life. Rising sea surface temperatures have been linked with increasing levels and ranges of disease in people and marine life."

There are six key ocean and marine findings in the report;
  • The rise in ocean temperatures over the last century will persist into the future, with continued large impacts on climate, ocean circulation, chemistry and ecosystems.
  • The ocean currently absorbs about a quarter of human-caused carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere, leading to ocean acidification that will alter marine ecosystems in dramatic, yet uncertain ways. 
  • Significant habitat loss will continue to occur due to climate change for many species and areas. 
  • Rising sea surface temperatures have been linked with increasing levels and ranges of diseases in humans and marine life including corals, abalones, oysters, fishes and marine mammals. 
  • Climate changes that result in conditions substantially different than recent history may significantly increase costs to business as well as disrupt public access and enjoyment of ocean areas.
  • In response to observed and projected climate impacts, some existing oceans policies, practices and management efforts are incorporating climate change impacts. These initiatives can serve as models for other efforts and ultimately enable people and communities to adapt to changing ocean conditions. 
According to the NCA, more than 50% of Americans now live in coastal zones. Yet coastal communities are incredibly vulnerable to climate change. Again the report is clear. “Coastal lifelines, such as water and energy infrastructure, and nationally important assets, such as ports, tourism and fishing sites are increasingly vulnerable to sea level rise, storm surge, erosion, flooding and related hazards.”

When the science is this clear, it demands a response that is equally assertive. If we are to protect our oceans and coastal communities we need to reduce our carbon footprints and to support government and industry action to lower carbon emissions, and we also clearly need to build a solid adaptation framework for affected regions and sectors.

With the IPCC telling us we have 15 years to act to prevent catastrophic acceleration of climate change, the very last thing we should be doing is building 50-year infrastructure to carry oil across an already stressed ocean.