From Nov. 30-Dec. 11, leaders from more than 190 nations will gather in Paris for the 2015 United Nations Conference on Climate Change, or COP21. The conference aims to achieve a binding international agreement to slow the pace of climate change. If we as a global community take bold and meaningful action in Paris, we can change course and leave our heirs a better world. In advance of COP21, Monterey Bay Aquarium is working to raise public awareness about the serious ways our carbon emissions affect ocean health, including ocean acidification, warming sea waters and other impacts on marine life. Today’s guest blogger is Karen Sack, Managing Director of Ocean Unite, a nonprofit collaboration to unite and amplify impactful voices for a healthy and vital ocean.
If you could make one investment for the environment, what would it be?
This question has crossed my mind a lot recently because of the upcoming COP21 climate conference in Paris, when the global community will come together to take a hard look at what’s at stake.
I just returned from travels in the Pacific Ocean on the beautiful National Geographic/Lindblad Explorer vessel Orion with legendary explorer and marine scientist Sylvia Earle, along with a host of other ocean champions. What we saw was both stunning and worrisome.
We saw vast expanses of ocean, beautiful shades of blue, and beneath the waves, a multitude of corals and reef fishes. But we also saw algae smothering some of the reefs; bleached corals that were beautiful skeletons of their former selves; and very few big fish. On the beaches, flip-flops and water bottles lay discarded by the waves, even in remote places uninhabited by humans.
Cultures on the Brink
Soon after returning home, a young documentarian named Josh Burstein invited me to a screening of the premier episode of Last Glimpse. He characterizes the show as an Anthony Bourdain-esque adventure into global communities on the brink of climate-induced upheaval. Rather than depicting another tale of gloom, it celebrates the cultures, traditions and people most affected by climate change.
The first episode is set in the Indian Ocean archipelago of the Maldives.
As I watched, the interconnections between the health of the ocean and that of our planet became even clearer.
Coral bleaching has been linked with ocean acidification, which is caused by rampant carbon levels.
The ocean provides oxygen for every breath we take. It covers 70% of the Earth’s surface, is home to a myriad of species and drives the weather. Its great currents bring sustenance, feeding billions of people around the world.
Today, it is in trouble. A combination of irresponsible fishing practices, pollution, weak governance, warming waters and ocean acidification threaten our critical life support system.
So, if I could make one investment for the environment, it would be in the health of the ocean. We may be able to conduct trade and travel over a dead ocean, but we need a living ocean to drive that trade—to provide food, employment, water, air, tourism and inspiration.
A Good ROI
The World Wildlife Fund estimates the cost of protecting 30 percent of our global ocean at up to $228 billion. The financial returns for doing so are estimated at up to $920 billion by 2050. That’s a pretty good return on investment, and one world leaders should be willing to make.
A survey conducted in 2013 by the Global Ocean Commission showed the majority of citizens believe governments must account for the needs of future generations when setting ocean policy. So how about it?
The interconnectedness of a healthy ocean and a stable climate is critical to the vitality of our living planet. World leaders should accept the challenge presented in Paris, and invest in significantly reducing our carbon emissions to keep global warming in check.
Squid fishing in Monterey Bay is one example of the value of a healthy ocean.
It’s not just up to politicians to make this leap. We all play a role. Take some time out of your day to watch Last Glimpse and meet the amazing young people who are taking action on the front lines of climate change.
Then, get up off the couch and make sure it isn’t a last glimpse of what we stand to lose, but a first peek into a new and vibrant future. Let’s make protecting the climate and our living ocean a priority for citizens, business leaders and political decision makers, wherever in the world they might be.