Less than a year ago, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change communicated to policy makers that the health of the ocean was suffering from global warming. But the ocean, is not a victim, and it does not benefit humans to view it that way. Doing so makes us less empowered to correct the situation according to The High Level Panel for A Sustainable Ocean Economy (HLP), a group of science and policy experts.
The HLP concluded that the ocean is the solution to climate change, having the ability to reduce both global warming and the rise in global temperature due to the release of excess carbon compounds (greenhouse gases) that trap warm air near the Earth’s surface. The Paris Climate Agreement warned that temperatures should not increase by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, above pre-industrial (before 1850 – 1900) levels. Temperatures above this level would disrupt natural and human systems.
But how can the ocean combat this issue? Organizations, like AltaSea at the Port of Los Angeles, are the answer. The HLP highlighted five ways that people working together can harness the ocean to save the planet.
The Ocean Provides Renewable Energy
Rather than drilling for oil, a non-renewable energy source that spills deadly carbon into the environment, the ocean provides wind and tides for energy. Research and development of these resources show that they can provide energy for everything from technology to transportation. Moreover, wind and tides are not burned when they generate electricity, and don’t release carbon-based gases that raise global temperatures.
Reduce Carbon Emissions of Ocean Vessels
Ninety percent of world trade is carried by ocean-going vessels that release over 3% of global carbon emissions. The Port of Los Angeles has been described as the “busiest container port in the Western Hemisphere” providing AltaSea the opportunity to study the use of alternative fuels and the possibility of hybrid vessels with reduced carbon emissions.
Coastal and Marine Habitats Absorb Greenhouse Gases
Designing, creating, and maintaining areas of the ocean and coastal ecosystem, called Blue-carbon ecosystems, will help lower carbon emissions. Blue-carbon ecosystems absorb carbon dioxide crucial to their survival, and they absorb far greater levels of planetary carbon dioxide emissions than land-based forests (4). The biodiversity fostered by these marine protected areas will help sustain nearby fisheries and aquaculture, areas where fish and aquatic plants are grown for food.
Fisheries and Aquaculture Reduces Gas Emissions
Increasing use of ocean fisheries and aquaculture for the human food supply will tremendously lower carbon emissions for several reasons. Cows grown for beef and other ruminant livestock contribute close to 6% of global carbon emissions from human activities. Cows are high carbon animals but supplementing their diet with seaweed has shown to significantly lower these emissions, lowering their carbon footprint. While controlling climate change, fisheries and aquaculture simultaneously increase food security and, due to the metabolic benefits of a fish-based diet, lower rates of heart disease, our nation’s number one killer.
Oceans May Be Used to Store Carbon Emissions
As carbon levels exceed the ability of aquatic and terrestrial plants to store it, carbon compounds in the ocean create acidic conditions, killing important wildlife. The HLP has proposed that research and testing, combined with international participation of multiple governing bodies, must determine new ways of storing carbon so that it does not acidify the ocean.
The ability to use the ocean provides solutions. AltaSea is uniquely poised as a platform for the interplay of education, scientific research, and business development required to make that happen, thereby establishing a Blue Economy on which our local community can thrive and a mechanism by which climate change can be solved.
Nature. Climate Change. May, 2020. Retrieved June 3, 2020.
Oceana. Shipping Pollution. Retrieved June 3, 2020.
The Port of Los Angeles. Annual Facts and Figures. Retrieved June 3, 2020.
E. Lovelock,et al. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. Assessing the risk of carbon dioxide emissions from blue carbon ecosystems. 15:257-265 (2017).