Protecting the ocean, the heart of Earth’s climate system

The week of September 10, people from around the world are gathering in San Francisco for the Global Climate Action Summit. Convened by the State of California, the Summit brings together leaders—representing nations, states, cities, companies, investors and citizens—to celebrate climate action, and step up their ambitions to meet the targets set by the Paris Agreement. Monterey Bay Aquarium Executive Director Julie Packard reflects on the central role of the ocean, the heart of Earth’s climate system, in this historic moment.

To solve the climate crisis, humanity must address the health of the ocean—the largest ecosystem on our planet. The ocean is our first line of defense against the impacts of climate change, absorbing a significant share of the excess carbon dioxide and heat we produce by burning fossil fuels. And a healthy ocean helps protect humanity from the intensifying impacts of climate change.

Monterey Bay Aquarium Executive Director Julie Packard. Photo courtesy Motofumi Tai.

For too long, the ocean has been left out of climate conversations. That will change at the Global Climate Action Summit, where for the first time ocean stewardship is on the priority agenda.

A group of government and nongovernmental representatives, including the Monterey Bay Aquarium, are calling on all sectors of society to protect the ocean—our most powerful tool to mitigate, and adapt to, the impacts of climate change. We’ve outlined that challenge, and provided a blueprint for action, through an Ocean-Climate Action Agenda.

The attention is overdue. And the need is urgent.

Our lives depend on a healthy ocean

As land creatures, we may not be wired to think much about the ocean—how its cycles are directly linked to our own survival, and how our choices affect it.

Seafood from the ocean provides one-sixth of the protein that sustains our population. Photo courtesy NOAA.

Selfishly, we should. We depend on the ocean in so many ways. Its marine life provides one-sixth of the animal protein we eat. Its waters carry more than 90 percent of the world’s trade—moving goods and raw materials more cost-effectively than any other mode of transport. Its shores are home to nearly half of all people on Earth.

The ocean drives global weather systems. A warming ocean and atmosphere is sparking changes in stable weather systems that have allowed civilization to flourish. Photo courtesy NASA.

The ocean is the heart of Earth’s climate system; its currents and winds circulate heat and moisture around our planet. The weather patterns we associate with different regions of the world have been relatively stable throughout human history, thanks to the ocean. Continue reading Protecting the ocean, the heart of Earth’s climate system