Friday, June 28, 2013

Climate Change Puts Marine Economy at Risk, Scientists Say

Courtesy of Eva M Barnes – US Embassy, Kingston, Jamaica
By Charlene Porter | Staff Writer | 27 June 2013
A man crosses a river in Govindghat, India, where high monsoon floods — possibly linked to climate change — caused deaths and property damage.
Washington — Accelerating climate change is increasing the difficulty of maritime activities at the same time it heightens the risk of natural hazards, according to a joint statement issued by a scientific organization representing 65,000 members worldwide.
The American Geophysical Union (AGU) calls on policymakers, private institutions and organizations to "forge cooperation and make bold investments" in ocean research. Building scientific understanding of the oceans and climate change will help protect economic interests by broadening knowledge of shifting marine conditions and their potential consequences.
The statement was issued June 26 at the AGU's science policy conference in Washington, a day after President Obama outlined new actions his administration will take to lower greenhouse gas emissions.
The timing of the two announcements is coincidental, according to AGU president-elect Margaret Leinen. The dual conclusions that action is necessary are dictated by the science, Leinen said at a press briefing. Both the White House and the scientific community have reviewed the research and come to similar conclusions: The planet and the oceans are getting hotter. The environmental conditions of the 21st century will not be those we remember from the 20th century.
"Protection of life, property and critical infrastructure requires objective scientific analysis," says the AGU statement, "but it also necessitates an engagement between decision makers, the public and scientists to address our vulnerabilities to rising sea level, extreme storms, floods, droughts and tsunamis."
Scientists have been trying to explain the significance of climate change and the potential magnitude of its environmental havoc using scientific models, charts and graphs for more than 30 years now. The AGU's new position statement, linking climate change consequences to the economy, Leinen said, "highlights how much risk there is in not understanding" how warmer temperatures will change the oceans and all the resources humanity draws from them.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is making plans for better protection of the city after the devastation from an October 2012 storm.
The AGU issues the new position during a period when scientists worldwide are "feeling the pinch" of government budget cuts in research, Leinen said. At the same time, scientific findings are revealing ever more information about how great the magnitude of climate change will likely become.
"Science provides the new knowledge we need," according to the statement, "to respond to rising ocean temperatures, the decline of fisheries, expansion of low oxygen zones, and changes in the chemistry of the ocean caused by increased carbon dioxide."
AGU issues the new position statement at a time in the United States when severe weather events boost public awareness about climate change theories, even though scientists can't definitively say these changes cause any single weather event.
The supersized Tropical Storm Sandy that swamped coastlines and property in the northeastern United States in October 2012 gave millions of Americans a harsh education in how powerful an ocean storm can be. The storm caused an estimate $50 billion in property damage, while taking more than 100 lives.
It was "not an accident" that the U.S. Congress authorized increased funding for greater understanding of ocean surge and flooding, Leinen said, after forecast models underestimated how Sandy's storm waters would overrun densely populated seaside neighborhoods.
The AGU president-elect says the organization intends to work more closely with the U.S. Congress to heighten awareness of global warming threats and the risks to the many economic sectors that are at stake if action is not taken to protect them. Many people might think the work scientists do is obscure, Leinen said, so the AGU is working to demonstrate how science directly affects our world.

At Georgetown University, President Obama laid out his vision for the steps mitigate the impacts of climate change and lead the global effort to fight it. Check out these follow-up articles and materials:

Eva M. Barnes
Information Resource Associate/EducationUSA Adviser
Public Affairs Section, U.S. Embassy
142 Old Hope Road, Kingston 6, JAMAICA
Tel: 876-702-6172; Fax :876-702-6348
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