Some interesting questions on climate change arise as I’m preparing a discussion on seafood sustainability with college students next week. The administration’s withdrawal from the landmark Paris climate accord have brought these questions to the fore, even if the underlying causes have been brewing for some time.
- What message are we sending high school and college students if we as a country (the largest historical contributor to climate change) step away from a global agreement on the issue?
- How do we convince students who may be on the fence about pursuing marine or climate science careers that we need more research, funding and more young brilliant minds to help us try to keep up with climate change if our government shows little willingness to believe in the need for, much less fund further research?
Throwing down a challenge
This spring I developed new high school lesson plans for seniors that focused on climate change impacts on seafood in the Gulf of Maine. The narrative begins with a broad view of the domestic and global seafood dynamic, and then focuses on why consumers should care, highlighting everything from bycatch to environmental impact and social ramifications.
Then we discuss the rapid temperature increase in the Gulf of Maine (faster than 99% of the Earth’s oceans), recent research on changes to global ocean currents and salinity and increasing ocean acidification due to higher absorption of man-made CO2. We talk about how fishermen are on the front lines of recognizing climate change impacts, and how they are struggling to interpret what the long-term ramifications are on their livelihoods. We discuss how researchers continue to improve our visibility into near- and long-term impacts of warming water, OA, and current and salinity changes.
We also discuss how despite these advances, we’re still often two steps behind climate change because we have much more research to do to figure out how myriad factors work in concert to change marine ecosystems where fish and shellfish try to thrive. A lot of the complex geophysical interactions demand more research so that we can have a more precise view of how we must adapt to, not fix, climate change impacts.
Then I challenge them to help find a solution. I urge any of them remotely interested in marine or climate sciences to commit to help us better understand these issues. Doing so would not just help from an environmental perspective, but an economic and social one as well. If our oceans rise by nearly seven feet by the end of the century (as some scientists now predict), water temperatures increase by several degrees and the ocean’s acidity increases just a little bit, seafood markets could suffer tremendously.
So when the 2nd largest polluter in the world (China is tops by far, but the US has generated more over time) pulls out of the most significant global agreement on climate change – one that it helped coordinate – what does that say to these students? At a time when we should be doing everything to encourage young people to pursue these careers, our administration is caving to an industry that is literally fueling the problem.
The irony is staggering.
I will continue proselytizing. This is not the time to let political isolationism derail global momentum toward some semblance of unified action on climate change. Stepping away now simply cedes the leadership role to other countries that may have more to gain.
Reneging on the deal may also create another hurdle to convincing students we need their help. Why would they want to spend the time and energy diving into the issues if there isn’t going to be any money to support their efforts?
Conversely, the administration’s move may have some consequences advisers may not have fully predicted ahead of time. Climate change has again become a major topic of conversation here. Individual cities and states are talking about signing on independently. Perhaps the withdrawal will, like other recent administration edicts, become a galvanizing point.
I hope so. That would make these discussions more relevant, and perhaps, more effective. I’ll have a better perspective next week after I speak with the students participating in the Sustainable Marine Fisheries Course at the Shoals Marine Laboratory hosted by N.H. Sea Grant.
Top photo credit: (NASA/NOAA/GSFC/Suomi NPP/VIIRS/Norman Kuring)