FutureView: Climate Change and Restoring the Oceans

In a previous blog post, I wrote about how watching all the TED Talks on NetFlix changed what I thought were the most important issues we, as a global community, had to deal with. This is the first in a series of blog posts I’m calling “FutureView” covering those topics in a little more detail.

Unless you’ve been hidden under a rock somewhere for the last ten years, you’ve heard all about climate change and global warming. There are still, unfortunately, portions of society who deny that this is really happening (though those portions are growing smaller). And, even more unfortunately, there are even larger portions of the society who deny that humans have been responsible for this change. The world is a big place, right? There’s no way we puny little humans could have an impact on a global scale.

To that view, I say, “Codswallop!’” I’m not going to spend any time going into the science of what we have done to this planet. The science is sound. The research has been done and all the reputable scientists agree. If you disagree at this point, you’re either defending the position because your job demands that you do, or you’re a complete nutter. Climate change is happening, and humans have caused a great deal of it. It’s time to own up to our crimes, pay the piper, and start fixing this mess. We’ve been a greedy, destructive pestilence upon the land, and if we don’t do something, and do something soon, we’re in big, big trouble,

So what do we do? Where do we start? I suggest starting locally—with your own habits. There are hundreds of thousands of ideas out there. Much can be accomplished by just changing our daily routines. Substitute re-usable or biodegradable containers for disposable plastic bags when you pack lunches. Require that the next vehicle you buy at least double the fuel mileage your last one got, or better yet, go plug-in hybrid. Put up solar panels on your roof. Encourage your company to allow for more work from home if possible to get more cars off the road. Buy organic food. Reduce your consumption of meat. Pass along other, simple, environmentally friendly tips to your friends and neighbors. Keep an open mind, and always try to do better today than yesterday.

Actions taken locally will help on the global scale. But there are more global efforts that I’d like to see really take hold. From watching the TED talks, I learned just how important our oceans are as a source of food and as a global climate management system. We’ve chewed through 90% of the large fish in the oceans—the tuna, the cod, the sharks, the whales. Our fishing methods have left thousands of square miles of previously productive ocean bottoms as nothing more than a muddy wasteland. We’ve poisoned the world’s populations of sea birds, turtles and reef fish with all the garbage we’ve dumped in the oceans. The carbon dioxide we’ve spewed from our exhaust pipes, smoke stacks and industrial farms has acidified the oceans close to a tipping point that will soon cause the remaining fish will die from lack of oxygen, and cause disruption of the major currents which redistribute warm and cool waters (and hence nutrients) around the planet. We’re this close to a complete disaster.

Yet there are things that can, and should, be done by the world community, and done immediately. Here are a few, in no particular order.

  1. Create massive ‘reserve’ areas in each ocean where no commercial fishing, no polluting (i.e. no drilling, no bilge dumping), no heavy ship traffic is allowed. We need a minimum of 25% of the oceans to be in such reserves, and they need to be in the areas where the spawning / breeding is taking place. This includes the mangrove shallows along the coasts, and critical reefs wherever they may be. Where reserves have been previously created, incredible improvements in the fish population has occurred within 5-10 years. With a worldwide, and immediate, effort to create these reserves, the fish populations could be on their way back within 15 years, and restored within 25.
  2. One of the single best commercial ideas I saw during the TED talks was the the one given by Mike Biddle on ways to completely recycle existing plastic. He’s turned this concept into a company called MBAPolymers. If this approach works, at least one of these recycling processing mills should be created in every country around the world, and near every big city. By recycling all the plastic we have already created, we could dramatically reduce the need to drill for more oil to feed our plastic monster, and clean up both our land and our seas. We need to make the recycling industry a priority in our communities. During World War II, the children of the US went door-to-door, and scoured every abandoned lot for scrap metal. Can you imagine a day where the children of the world searched for bits of plastic instead?
  3. Use the might of the navies of the world to enforce a strict “No-shark fishing” policy worldwide. Sharks are much-maligned, but critical members of the ocean ecosystems. Perhaps the most critical. Millions of sharks are killed each year for their fins to add to bowls of soup or as part of Asian remedies. This is an insane practice that is decimating the oceans, and must stop. We need a global push to vilify societies that persist in this barbaric practice, and to begin serious economic sanctions against countries who do not act.
  4. Use those same navies (and remote, autonomous aircraft launched from their decks) to patrol the oceans, hunting for ghost nets (the thousands of miles of castaway fishing nets that kill millions of fish) and large garbage gyers. If a spy satellite can read the license plate on a moving vehicle, surely those same satellites can be used to locate/track these nets and this garbage. We have spent trillions of dollars worldwide building armies and navies intent on destruction. But it seems their work is already done for them. The world is already on the brink of destruction. Why not use those people, those skills, that organizational structure, that technology, to save the world, instead of killing it? Fiscally, and environmentally, this just makes sense.
  5. The limiting of some types of fishing will undoubtedly cause hard times for those fishermen who have previously supported their families through fishing. We must give them an economic alternative to those activities. Why don’t we put them to work cleaning up the oceans? Have them scour the coastlines for garbage and bring it back for processing (perhaps at a recycling plant from #2 above). Have the bigger boats make trips out to the Pacific Garbage Gyer to begin the process of cleaning that up. Of course, the particulates there are small, and new technology must be found to make this possible, but there has to be a way. We have to find a way. Providing incentive to begin this clean up will spur this type of research. For those who say this is not economically feasible, understand that a) we already pour billions of dollars into underperforming fisheries to subsidize the livelihood of these fishermen, b) cleaning up the oceans while simultaneously cutting back even further on fishing for a few years will allow the fish stocks to recover even more quickly. This is a win-win. My concerns with this idea have only to do with the environmental economics of having fossil-fuel propelled boats out on the ocean creating more pollution than they are cleaning up, and that with this kind of money at stake, there will be those who will work the system to claim funds that don’t actually help the oceans (i.e. turning in garbage from on-land instead of spending the time at sea, truly cleaning up).

Perhaps these views are too simplistic. Maybe I’m just dreaming. But at the end of my dream, we emerge from this ecological nightmare, united as a global population to restore the planet to where it should be, so that our children, and our children’s children, can live in a clean world where their dreams are not encumbered by their parent’s legacy. My dream starts locally, with small changes I can make to make my community cleaner and better, and ends when we all live in a sustainable world.

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