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Oceana Magazine Summer 2009: Oceans of Potential

Oceana’s newest campaign is hard at work to promote clean, ocean-based energy that could save marine life from acidification.

By Suzannah Evans

For millions of years, the oceans have regulated the planet’s  temperature. Since the Industrial Revolution, the oceans have absorbed almost 50 0 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide. Now the waters are becoming saturated with carbon dioxide and becoming more acidic – with potentially devastating impacts for marine and terrestrial life.

Coral reefs, the nurseries of the seas, could experience a mass extinction in this century due to ocean acidification, which inhibits the reefs’ ability
to grow. Other animals that make shells, like lobsters, crabs and clams, will be less able to do so in more acidic water. The oceans, in short, will be irrevocably changed.

In order to protect marine ecosystems from the dangers of carbon dioxide, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere must be drastically  reduced to levels of 350 parts per million or below. (We’re currently at about 385 ppm.) This would require the U.S. and other industrialized nations to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions by 25 to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, and by 80 to 95 percent by 2050.

In response, Oceana unfurled its new Climate and Energy campaign in 2009. The campaign aims to slow the acidification of the oceans by reducing greenhouse gas pollution and shifting our energy economy towards renewable energy sources like wind power.

“Offshore wind represents a clean, carbon-free energy source that can protect the health of the oceans by taking the place of fossil fuels in our energy economy,” said Jackie Savitz, director of the Climate and Energy campaign. “As the industry takes off, the U.S. has a chance to become a world leader and an exporter of offshore wind energy technology, which
would be good for our economy.”

Offshore wind farms have been installed along European coasts since 1991. To date, not a single farm has been installed off the U.S. coast, despite vast potential as an energy source. The U.S. Department of Energy rates large swaths of Pacific and Atlantic coastlines as “outstanding” or “superb” for offshore wind potential.

As a nascent industry, offshore wind energy faces supply-chain challenges – and opportunities. Fewer than one dozen ships in the world are currently capable of installing offshore wind platforms, but the global need for carbon-free energy will quickly drive an appetite for infrastructure and expertise.

“The United States can get in on the ground floor,” Savitz said. “We need investment tax credits and grants that will make the U.S. a great place to develop offshore wind infrastructure and, at the same time, facilitate the development of more offshore wind energy.”

Oceana’s Climate and Energy campaign not only promotes offshore wind development, but also works to protect marine ecosystems from the dangers of offshore oil and gas development, a risky and increasingly outdated source of energy. Oceana board member Ted Danson and Pacific science director Dr. Jeffrey Short have testified before the U.S. Congress on the dangers of oil drilling and the correlating lack of evidence that increased drilling will reduce the cost of energy or promote security. In addition, Oceana campaigners traveled around the country to testify at hearings hosted by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.

Lastly, Oceana pushes for emissions controls in global shipping, a significant and unregulated source of carbon dioxide emissions. In 2007, global shipping contributed over one billion metric tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. To put this in context, if shipping were a nation it would be the sixth largest emitter of carbon dioxide, falling only behind China, the U.S., Russia, India and Japan.

To learn more about Oceana’s Climate and Energy campaign, visit www.oceana.org/climate.