I have had three sobering yet empowering days in Boston at the first Global Conference on Oceans, Climate and Security hosted by UMass Boston. I joined colleagues from academia, government, the non-profit sector, private industry and even the military to explore human and national security implications of our changing climate and our changing oceans. While our elected officials in Washington DC continue to debate whether climate change is “real”, those on the front lines have moved beyond this debate to prepare for what is to come and indeed, what is already here.
Make no mistake about it. Our oceans are changing. Dr. Jane Lubchenco, the nation’s top ocean official, itemized these changes; sea level is rising and the oceans are getting stormier, seawater is getting warmer and holds less oxygen. None of this is debatable. The data are clear and profound. And the pace of change is increasing.
The consequences of a changing ocean extend well beyond the coast and should be of concern to all of us, whether coastal or inland residents. The frequency and severity of catastrophic weather events are increasing. Over 200 of my fellow participants sat spellbound while Dr. Jeff Masters, founder of Weather Underground, identified the top 12 potential $100 billion weather disasters in the next 30 years. That’s billion with a b, not million.
You might guess that the sober reality of the science would sap the energy to act from all in the room. Quite the contrary. Many sectors are stepping up to confront a changing ocean head on. Dr. Luchenco’s agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is leading no fewer than 8 initiatives to measure and address ocean acidification and climate change. The U.S. Navy is planning extensively for sea level rise and an ice free Arctic ocean. The aquaculture industry is changing business practices to avoid increasingly acidic waters. States like Massachusetts and Rhode Island are using smart planning to address how ocean uses are influenced by a changing ocean. Much of this activity is happening at the local level, with an emphasis on local leadership, engagement and success.
There is no question that our future ocean will be dramatically different than it is today. But with the energy and commitment evident at the UMass Boston conference, we can work together to proactively plan for that future.