We are fighting a battle against climate change, and its outcome will decide whether or not we will be in more danger. The battle ensued tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) humanity released into the atmosphere since the industrial revolution. Since 1880, data from NASA shows that human-induced climate change has warmed the planet by +1 Â° C, leading to devastating climate events.
This leads us to ask ourselves: How can we reduce the impact of climate change?
Your answers may be similar to those of most Americans in a 2020 survey. They believe that reducing carbon emissions and improving the energy efficiency of transportation are some of the key weapons against climate change. . However, one of them stood out with 90% of those surveyed: planting three trillion trees. The inclination of respondents to trees may be rooted in humanity’s exposure to its foliage of blessings.
At school, we learned how plants absorb CO2 through photosynthesis, leaving indelible marks in our minds on the importance of trees. Photosynthesis also enables forests to mitigate climate change as a carbon sink or reservoirs that absorb more carbon than they release.
Appreciation of trees is also sown in ancient and modern cultures. Ancient civilizations used trees to symbolize connectivity, growth, or life itself. Filipinos consider coconut palms to be the tree of life. The tree of voices in the movie Avatar connects the Na’vi to their ancestors. And who could forget: âI am Groot?
Our exposure to trees made it easy for us to highlight forests as one of our main heroes in climate change mitigation. But are forests the only natural solution to winning the battle against climate change? Certainly not.
Let’s review how carbon moves on our planet to know the other front lines of this battle.
Carbon, like water, has its own cycle as it moves from one reservoir to another. However, unlike the water cycle, the carbon cycle covers a wider field including the biosphere (all ecosystems), the lithosphere (rocks), the hydrosphere (bodies of water) and the atmosphere. In all these spheres reside important carbon reservoirsâ – forests and soils, the atmosphere, sedimentary rocks and the ocean.
According to Environment, the science behind the stories, the atmosphere contains 750 gigatons of carbon. Forests, terrestrial plants and soil contain 2,959 gigatons. The ocean contains 38,000 gigatons, while sedimentary rocks store 80.6 million gigatons. For scale, 1 gigatonne equals 10,000 fully loaded US aircraft carriers.
All carbon on Earth, like CO2 we breathe out and fossil fuel emissions are flowing. These fluxes transfer carbon from one reservoir to another through natural processes and, recently, through human activity as well. The amount of carbon in reservoirs was relatively unchanged in human history until the Industrial Revolution. Humanity has changed the atmosphere, but it is not the only reservoir that is changing. The ocean is changing too, and this is also in the climate battlefield.
Before the climate crisis, the ocean was a net source of CO2. However, climate change has turned the ocean from a source of CO2 to a carbon sink. According to NOAA, the ocean absorbs 30% of CO2 released to the atmosphere by the water-air interaction. However, this is not the only capacity of the arsenal of the ocean to fight against climate change. Marine organisms also play a role through the biological pump.
The biological pump takes compounds containing carbon, including CO2, through biological processes from the ocean’s surface to its deep waters, where carbon can be stored for centuries. This process reduces CO2 concentration in our atmosphere. At present, the CO2 the concentration is 417 parts per million (i.e. 417 CO2 molecules for every million molecules of air), the highest in human history. The current concentration has already intensified the climate crisis. However, it could have been worse at 600+ ppm, without the biological pump.
And because the ocean commands a battalion of marine organisms, it has another troop that mitigates the impact of climate change: blue carbon sinks.
Blue carbon is the carbon absorbed by coastal ecosystems such as mangrove forests and seagrass beds. Seagrass beds efficiently capture carbon from our atmosphere up to 35 times faster than tropical forests, while an acre of mangroves absorbs up to 10 times more carbon than an acre of rainforest.
Evidence shows that the ocean is essential for tackling climate change. But why is the ocean still not a priority solution?
The representation of the ocean contrasts sharply with that of trees and forests. In Greek mythology, Poseidon is portrayed as a god with a temper as turbulent as the ocean. The unpredictability of the ocean has made it a formidable force of nature for many, even sailors. Sailors also proliferated ocean folklore, spreading fear, especially when the ocean was under-explored. The Kraken, for example, is said to have sunk ships in the Atlantic.
In modern times the Kraken has been featured in the movie Clash of the Titans, and this is not the only reference to the ocean in the modern age. In 1975, Steven Spielberg made waves with the release of Jaws, a fictional film that negatively affected the perception and conservation of sharks. In the words of film critic Jeffrey Lyons, Jaws “feeds on a fear that millions of people repress when they go to the ocean.”
Anna Oposa, executive director of Save Philippine Seas, believes humanity’s lack of exposure to the ocean has somehow misguided our perception: “It’s out of sight, out of mind. For many people, it’s just a body of water. Most people are afraid of it, are out of touch with it, so you don’t really see its potential.“
From a scientific perspective, the lack of focus on the ocean as a solution to climate change may reflect past research bias. Ethel Wagas, a coral ecologist at the University of the Philippines, noted that “most ecological principles are derived from terrestrial studies“ because it is resource intensive to observe the ocean.
Wagas said, it is also “it is easier to use trees as an example because it is something that people can see and relate to. This matches what Oposa pointed out: “It is difficult to explain to an average person that the ocean is a carbon sink. In addition, planting trees is very tangible and exploitable.
Despite these challenges, the tide is changing, and the unsung hero has slowly been gaining attention for a long time.
Recently, Hollywood has released films on ocean conservation. happy feet fight against overfishing. Aquaman amplified the mistreatment the ocean receives from humanity. Moana presented a vivid representation of the role of the ocean as our greatest ally in a global natural disaster.
More and more scientists are dedicating an enormous amount of time to ocean studies. Various organizations are working to improve climate awareness, protect blue carbon sinks, and lobby for policies that take climate change into account. However, longer progress is needed to educate those outside the conservation community about the importance of healthy oceans in climate change mitigation.
Oceans and forests have remedied a crisis we started, while protecting us from the devastating effects of the crisis. However, like forests, the ocean is undergoing a wave of attack as it marches head-on to tackle climate change.
Humanity must protect the ocean. He needs people to mobilize against those who destabilize him. It needs the same level of support that the public extends to other ecosystems. The ocean needs more people by its side as it winds its way wounded in the battle against climate change. – Rappler.com
Harvey Perello is an environmentalist who advocates for ocean health and climate change mitigation. He is also a project manager at Save Philippine Seas and responsible for the climate reality of the Climate Reality Project. He is studying environmental science and is a research scientist in oceanography at Oregon State University.