Climate Solutions from the Generation That Will Inherit the Oceans
Everything is connected. The intersection of causes and consequences of climate change means that neither can be examined alone. How can we identify and execute solutions quickly, on a large scale; and how can we do so while factoring in new perspectives?
When it comes to climate change, there are a myriad of issues facing the ocean. Aside from the literal consequences of climate change itself, human development and interference have caused damage to the ocean in many other ways. Overfishing, seabed mining, and misplaced plastic waste pose additional threats. To combat the damage already dealt, we must explore the intersection of climate change, ocean health, and human interference.
"I founded Sustainable Ocean Alliance from my college dorm room as a 19-year-old student ... to create opportunities for my generation to help solve these critical problems..."
Ocean and climate issues are constantly discussed, but underfunded, overlooked, and too often misunderstood. Still too rigid frameworks don't allow innovation to happen at the highest levels, and certainly don't allow for a youth audience to participate in the larger conversation. As a result, future-led perspectives surrounding how we want the world to operate are not being considered and some of the most innovative ideas don't have an opportunity to accelerate.
The genesis of Sustainable Ocean Alliance (SOA) came from my observation of these very problems. I founded SOA from my college dorm room as a 19-year-old student at Georgetown University to create opportunities for my generation to help solve these critical problems and because of my passion for the ocean and natural world.
"As a key carbon sink, the ocean absorbs roughly one-third (~500 billion tons) of the CO2 produced by fossil fuels…"
With younger generations inevitably inheriting this world, I found it paramount that our voices and ideas be the ones to spearhead the work needed for a better future. Therefore, SOA has since built the world's largest network of ocean leaders, entrepreneurs, and solutionists in over 165 countries. By creating and fostering a network of ocean advocates, entrepreneurs, scientific experts, heads of state, and other key players, we can leverage one another's strengths and make a task as daunting as healing the entire planet much more actionable.
SOA: Who We Are, December 14, 2020.
To determine and act on the priorities for ocean health set by this younger generation, we formed our Youth Policy Advisory Council (YPAC). This demographic has and will continue to experience the effects of climate change most significantly, so we felt it crucial to carefully consider their climate priorities. YPAC recently launched a youth crowd-sourced ocean policy framework called the Blue New Deal to share their vision of how policy-makers can prioritize the steps towards healing the ocean. Policies span a wide range of implementation and are intended for governments on international, national, and local scales. The four pillars of the Blue New Deal are carbon neutrality, biodiversity preservation, sustainable seafood, and stakeholder engagement.
"We have the opportunity to rewrite this history, safeguard biodiversity, and embrace nature-based solutions, especially in the face of the planet’s sixth mass extinction."
UN Climate Change: Keynote at the Ocean and Climate Change Dialogue to consider how to strengthen adaptation and mitigation action, during the Climate Change Dialogue, 3rd December 2020.
Shifting industries globally to a low-carbon economy is necessary to achieve the Paris Agreement. Carbon neutrality expresses the urgency and importance of transitioning to zero carbon emissions. Today's carbon dioxide levels are the highest they have been in the past three million years. As a key carbon sink, the ocean absorbs roughly one-third (~500 billion tons) of the CO2 produced by fossil fuels resulting in dramatic changes such as acidification, temperature rise, and deoxygenation. Therefore, limiting carbon emissions and developing solutions to remove carbon from the atmosphere is of utmost importance to preserving ocean health.
"...34% of global fish stocks are declared overfished and more than 50 million tons of potential seafood is discarded every year."
Corals bleach across the world; formerly thriving ecosystems become dead zones, and kilometers of wetlands and mangroves are destroyed every day. We have the opportunity to rewrite this history, safeguard biodiversity, and embrace nature-based solutions, especially in the face of the planet's sixth mass extinction. Protecting the ecosystems left on Earth presents inherent value as they remove greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane from our atmosphere while also providing the benefits of cleaner air, cleaner water, reduced coastal erosion, climate resilience, and habitat creation.
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), fish consumption has risen by 122% over 30 years. As individual wealth builds, especially in developing countries, the demand for seafood increases and stocks deplete. With more fish being caught and eaten than ever before, 34% of global fish stocks are declared overfished and more than 50 million tons of potential seafood is discarded every year. Combined with climate change exacerbating already vulnerable fish populations -- we must ensure the viability of global ocean ecosystems and address how we feed future generations.
"At SOA, we have a variety of microgrant and startup projects that are actively seeking innovative means to mitigate and reverse climate change while directly addressing the climate-ocean nexus."
Effective public-private partnerships involving government officials, local communities, non-governmental organizations, companies, academia, and youth will be key to ensuring that management decisions related to marine and coastal ecosystems keep inclusion as a guiding principle for wide adoption and sustainable implementation. Youth and local communities must be included in natural ocean resource management. More than one-third of the world's population lives 100 km from a coastline; marine and coastal ecosystems provide oxygen, seafood, energy sources, genetic resources, climate regulation, carbon sequestration, moderation of extreme events, nutrient cycling, primary production, tourism, and recreational, aesthetic, and spiritual significance.
SOA: 2020 Accelerator, November 3, 2020.
At SOA, we have a variety of microgrant and startup projects that are actively seeking innovative means to mitigate and reverse climate change while directly addressing the climate-ocean nexus. These projects tackle climate change and ocean health, while also prioritizing the goals set and emphasized by YPAC.
"CalWave Power ... develops technology that converts ocean waves into reliable, affordable and sustainable electricity for coastal cities. Ocean waves are 20-60 times more energy-dense, predictable, and consistent compared to other forms of renewable energy."
One microgrant project called Carbon Ethics is a non-profit organization that serves as a blue carbon credit marketplace. Users of the platform can directly sequester carbon through the conservation and restoration of coastal habitats (mangroves, seagrass, and coral) while also enhancing the livelihood of local communities. The program has already planted over 20,000 marine and estuarine mangroves, 4,300 seagrass seedlings, 3,300 seaweed seedlings and over 1,500 coral fragments. Furthermore, the program immediately supports a community-based conservation model -- placing Indonesian coastal communities at the heart of its conservation work.
Another startup working in the ocean-climate nexus is CalWave. This company develops technology that converts ocean waves into reliable, affordable and sustainable electricity for coastal cities. Ocean waves are 20-60 times more energy-dense, predictable, and consistent compared to other forms of renewable energy. Additionally, they are available at night and during winters unlike solar power. Calwave strives to offer 20-30% of the world's future energy supply to derive from their technology.
"The more we can innovate around ocean restoration and regeneration, the better off our climate will be."
AKUA is a third startup supported by SOA. All of their products are made from ocean-farmed kelp, one of the most healing and healthy forms of food on the planet. Their farmed kelp is made into a variety of food products that act as alternatives to more conventional carbon heavy ones.
Coral Vita is a startup that uses new technology to restore damaged reefs via coral farming. Once coral fragments mature, they are installed at a restoration site -- the first of which is located in Grand Bahama.
With the impacts of the climate crisis becoming more prevalent each day, the relative importance of the ocean is coming into greater focus. The more we can innovate around ocean restoration and regeneration, the better off our climate will be. We need to reframe our view of these difficult transformations that lie ahead as an opportunity, rather than a burden. We have the opportunity to disrupt and reinvent business models so they prioritize sustainability. The challenges that lie ahead are some of the most daunting humanity has ever seen. To date, it has been easier to dismiss or deny the problem altogether. We no longer have those liberties.
Supporting the enthusiasm of future generations, especially towards ocean health, goes beyond business models or economically feasible solutions. Young people are willing to affirm their commitment to intergenerational justice and stand in solidarity with women, children, indigenous peoples, refugees, and other marginalized communities in working together to elevate the voices of the vulnerable and bring greater equity for a more just future. Through SOA, we help future leaders understand that they too can dedicate their lives and livelihoods to creating impact-driven businesses and solutions -- because when your work has a larger purpose devoted towards the greater good, you'll never really feel like you're working a day in your life.