Ocean Action at the Climate Summit
The Ocean is finally part of the Climate agenda. The Global Climate Action Summit held in San Francisco September 12-14 was unique not only in the commitments made by cities, states, corporations and others to a rapid transition to carbon neutrality but in its recognition that we can’t get there without climate action on the Ocean. No surprise for those of us who’ve been covering ocean issues since the 1970s and climate change since the ‘80s.
The ocean link could hardly be avoided among the more than 4,000 attendees as Hurricane Florence was soaking the Carolinas at the time even as Typhoon Mangkhut was battering the Philippines on its way to China.
Global Climate Action Leadership
California Governor Jerry Brown organized the summit, together with New York billionaire and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. Just before the Summit Brown signed a law that will effectively prevent the Trump administration from oil drilling off the coast and another that will see California (like Hawaii) produce 100 percent renewable energy by 2045.
“We want to be the California of the east coast,” Phil Murphy, the governor of New Jersey told Summit attendees on its first day, talking about planned wind farms in his state’s waters.
The action kicked off with a march for climate, jobs and justice by tens of thousands of activists who believe that when the people lead the leaders will follow. Signs included ‘The Ocean is Rising and So Are We,” and “We’re Not Drowning – We’re Fighting” carried by a contingent of Pacific Islanders.
There were more than 300 Side Events during the week. Blue Frontier was a community sponsor of several Green Film Fest documentaries including ‘Anote’s Ark’ about Anote Tong, the former president of the Republic of Kiribati that is being subsumed by rising seas. The Polynesian Voyaging Canoe Hikianalia arrived after a 23-day voyage from Hawaii and ‘Coal + Ice’ a viscerally moving 50,000-square-foot photo-video exhibit opened at Fort Mason co-curated by my friend, the acclaimed war photographer Susan Meiseles.
The Center for American Progress held a luncheon panel on the ‘Next Frontiers in Climate Science,’ moderated by democratic powerhouse (and email hacking victim) John Podesta and attended by 101-year-old oceanographer Walter Munk (he let Eisenhower know when the surf conditions were right for the D-Day landings). It included Dr. Margaret Leinen, director of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Along with discussion of using big data and small satellites to improve ocean observing, she highlighted three ocean climate issues needing more research.
“Ninety three percent of the heat from human warming is in the ocean and we don’t understand the consequences on Ocean Circulation that controls uptake and feedback. Second is acidification. Our understanding of where and how fast it’s happening is not data based. Third… “Overfishing,” one of the men on the panel volunteered. “Deoxygenation,” she continued with equanimity, completing her short list of existential dangers to the ocean.
Unfortunately few outside the science community understand that a warmer more acidic ocean holds less dissolved oxygen so that low and no-oxygen zones throughout the ocean are already expanding.
Ocean Climate Challenges
“The ocean is where life comes from also 51 percent of our oxygen- so if we kill off the plankton (that give us oxygen through photosynthesis) we kill ourselves. If we lose plankton we lose half our oxygen,” former Secretary of State John Kerry pointed out two days later during the Summit’s Ocean Climate Challenge event. “Every challenge is solvable, but we’re nowhere where we need to be,” he went on. “While Donald Trump may have pulled out of the Paris Accord (that Kerry signed with his granddaughter sitting on his lap) the American people have not! We should not build one more coal fired power plant in the world.”
“The ocean sustains, feeds and connects us but now it is higher, warmer, stormier, sicker, more acidic, and with less oxygen. That means it’s also more disrupted and less predictable,” former NOAA Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco next explained. “But it’s not hopeless, the ocean is also key to mitigating and adapting to climate change,” she argued, going on to highlight how highly protected MPAs (Marine Protected Areas) and fisheries reform can have a significant impact on reversing the worst aspects of climate change.
Governor Jay Inslee of Washington and Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii both talked about Ocean Acidification and the OA Alliance of 65 nations, states, companies and others they’ve formed. “We cannot grow baby oysters in the waters of Puget sound right now without adding bicarbonate of soda into the water, so we’ve started this international effort,” Inslee explained, “and we talk about investing in growing kelp to reduce the acidity locally and for food and jobs and transportation services to protect our ocean.”
“Let’s treat the ocean like it’s critical because it is. Let’s make no little plans,” Schatz added, going on to point to the 580,000 square miles of protection for Papahanaumokuakea National Marine Monument (in Northwest Hawaii) as being at the scale of solutions needed for Ocean Climate Action.
Ocean Climate Commitments
Other solutions and commitments made at the Ocean Climate Challenge and during similar sessions included:
– California Secretary of Natural Resources John Laird announcing a ‘Hope for Coast’ campaign between state agencies, local governments and The Nature Conservancy to begin protecting and adapting the state’s coastline from a projected five feet of sea level rise.
– An Ocean Climate Action group formed with 15 initial members ranging from Surfrider to the World Economic Forum at Davos. For their action agenda and implementation plans go to: www.oceanclimateaction.org
– Norway-based Revocean announcing that the Bank of Norway had just made the Ocean a top investment priority and that Revocean will launch the world’s largest research vessel in 2020 to “act as a floating think tank for ocean solutions.”
– The Environment Minister for the Capitol Territory (Australia) announcing their ‘Blue Carbon’ initiative to restore native habitats that will increase resilience to storm impacts, sequester carbon and protect and nurture sea life.
– A World Ports Climate Action Program launched by the ports of Hamburg, Barcelona, Antwerp, Los Angeles, Long Beach, Vancouver and Rotterdam to green ports and marine transportation for greenhouse emissions reduction through actions like de-carbonizing cargo handling facilities.
– Kirk Caldwell, the Mayor of Honolulu, announced some tough choices his city was making such as banning seawalls “We have to let the beach erode back because we’ve lost it,” and moving setbacks for buildings from 40 to 100 feet from the shoreline.
These were just six of 500 commitments to action made at the Summit including 400 investors managing $32 trillion (with a T) in assets pledging to “accelerate financial flows into climate action.” John Kerry noted that last year over $300 billion was invested in alternative energy, surpassing fossil fuel for the first time.
“After the last two storms I was not feeling hope. I almost didn’t make the plane here because a dam was threatened and we might have had to evacuate 10,000 people,” Mayor Caldwell noted. “But after being here I’m feeling hope again.”
It was personally satisfying to see so many of our past Peter Benchley Ocean Award winners including Secretary Kerry, Dr. Lubchenco, Senators Schatz and Whitehouse (also present), Daniella Fernandez and Polynesian Voyager Nainoa Thompson working on the Summit’s Ocean Climate Action agenda.
Al Gore told the Summit “Every day on the news is like a nature hike through the book of revelation. We have to connect cause and effect.” He railed at Trump’s climate-denial “How far down that rabbit hole are people going to follow? We have to wake up. We are alive in this moment. We have to take action.”
March for the Ocean in June: Vote for the Ocean in November
Ironically it was billionaire Tom Steyer who claimed that to solve the climate problem, “we have to break the corporate hold on our democracy. About two thirds of Americans want government to do more about climate change but republican legislators don’t care so we need to win elections.”
A major focus of Blue Frontier this fall is promoting Sea Party 2018! to encourage voters who care about offshore drilling, plastic pollution and the kind of climate-linked storms and flooding we’ve seen in the Carolinas this month and Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands last year, to ‘Vote the Ocean’ in 2018. Read more about Sea Party 2018! In an article I wrote for The Progressive:
The Climate Action Summit was a necessary step in recognizing the link between climate and ocean, offering up action plans and commitments from around the world and bringing together both the powerful and less powerful to confront our worsening reality.
As Al Gore said “The question is will we change in time? The poor, the powerless and discriminated against suffer first, but we’re all in the line of fire.”
If you’d like to read a more general take on the Summit, here’s an article that I wrote for The Progressive.
More M4O Videos
Here are some newly arrived March for the Ocean videos from Key Biscane Florida, Cozumel Mexico and the Grand Bahamas. I’m hopeful that next year we can have greater collaboration between the UN’s World Ocean Day (that will fall on a Saturday) and people who want to March for the Ocean again around specific issues such as Climate Ocean Action. A survey of some of the 100 March organizers around the world found a high level of participant satisfaction and a desire to continue to march in 2019.
Saving Point Molate Again
The late Peter Douglas of the California Coastal Commission said: “The Coast is Never Saved, it’s always being saved.” In 2010 the people of Richmond, California voted 58% to 42% against a mega-Casino at Point Molate, our city’s magnificent natural headlands linked to San Francisco Bay’s healthiest and most abundant eel grass beds. Blue Frontier’s ‘Citizens for a Sustainable Point Molate’ project played a pivotal role in that victory.
The Casino developer – not believing that when you gamble you lose – sued the city and kept losing in court till a judge recently asked if they couldn’t settle. Our new Mayor Tom Butt, a developer, has now cut a deal with the Casino developer Jim Levine to build at least 670 high-end homes at Point Molate as part of a plan to privatize and gentrify this natural wonder (at a cost of $100-$130 million in needed infrastructure upgrades). Their “settlement” however was pushed through a closed-door city council meeting without any public process as required under the Brown Act – a state law requiring public participation.
CFSPM has now helped form a broad and diverse Point Molate Alliance (PMA). Several PMA members sued the city under the Brown Act. We recently won a victory when the Judge got the city to drop its challenge and allowed the case to move forward. PMA is also doing a petition drive, getting fliers out, organizing educational forums, going to City Council (and Mayoral) Candidate nights and growing our alliance to defend recreation open space and nature for the youth and citizens of Richmond. Here’s a video on the conflict recently put out by Richmond Confidential – a News outlet produced by Journalism students at UC Berkeley.
Please Support the Blue Frontier
We are grateful for your continued work with and faith in Blue Frontier. Your financial support helps keep us doing what we do best – building the active bottom-up movements needed to protect our public seas and doing the organizing, networking and media production needed to make that happen. Please donate here. You can also make planned gifts, such as stock transfers, beneficiary designations and legacy gifts. Please call me to discuss.