For millions of years, Earth’s climate has been fairly stable largely due to the ocean’s role in mediating global temperature and driving our weather cycles, determining rainfall, storms, droughts and floods. Without much attention or support from humans, the ocean has been protecting every living being on this planet from the harmful effects of climate change by absorbing and redistributing heat across the planet through its currents.
Since the industrial revolution, the ocean, which covers 70% of our planet, has absorbed more than 90% of the excess heat from human-created global warming and approximately one-third of our carbon emissions. Over time, acting as this natural buffer has been increasingly detrimental to the ocean’s health — contributing directly to rising sea levels, the acidification of the ocean, mass bleaching of coral reefs and habitat loss for countless marine species.
The science is clear: We’ve pushed the ocean beyond its limits. The planet is now in crisis mode.
We still have the opportunity to help the ocean heal, but we need to act fast. Through strategic, global cooperation and investment, we can build back our planet’s resilience to the impacts of climate change. By conserving natural habitats, curbing pollution, ending our reliance on fossil fuels and accelerating the pace of progress toward more sustainable solutions, we can ensure a healthy future for the planet and generations to come.
In its first few months in office, the Biden-Harris administration has taken several important steps to address these issues, including establishing our first national conservation goal to conserve 30% of America’s lands and waters by 2030. This goal is part of an international policy goal — 30x30 — that aims to protect at least 30% of the Earth’s surface over the next decade. This science-driven target addresses our planet’s rapid biodiversity loss and gives nature the opportunity to rebound and withstand a more severe and erratic climate.
Here in the U.S., we’ve protected approximately 23% of our ocean waters — mostly in the Pacific. While investing in and strengthening the management of those protected areas, we urge the federal government to also focus on protecting ecologically rich critical habitats along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. The work to meet this target should be locally led, ensuring communities that have previously been marginalized are central stakeholders in determining how these areas should be protected and managed moving forward.
In April, the U.S. also pledged to cut our greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030. This is by far the most important thing we can do to support the ocean’s health. Cutting greenhouse gas emissions will lessen our dependency on the ocean to absorb the heat created by human activity. The U.S. needs to catch up with other countries across the globe that have fully embraced renewable energy sources such as solar power and wind. These power sources are clean, efficient and represent a rapidly growing industry that will lead to substantial infrastructure job creation.
Last month, President Joe Biden released a federal budget that prioritizes protections for the ocean and makes critical investments in climate action and the low-income communities that disproportionately bear the impacts of the climate crisis. These early steps by the Biden-Harris administration are reasons to be hopeful, but they will require legislative support to be successful. We urge Congress to support these historic investments in ocean and climate action and the many federal agencies that will implement this work.
At the National Aquarium, we wholeheartedly support nature-based climate solutions because they are wins for the triple bottom line: the planet, people and prosperity of global economies. For us, every day is a day to celebrate and advocate for our ocean. We hope you’ll join us in the fight to protect our blue planet.
Jennifer Driban is chief mission officer at the National Aquarium in Baltimore. She wrote this for the Baltimore Sun.
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