Now that he won the election, everyone has advice for Barack Obama on how he should govern and what policies he should support and focus on. Given the importance of ocean ecosystems and coral reefs, shouldn’t we get into the act? In fact, several individuals and organizations are drafting advice on environmental policy, pressing environmental issues, etc. Dr. Steve Carpenter (a prominent limnologist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, USA), recently posted his advice for Obama on the Ecolog lister server (an international discussion board for ecologists). Ill insert his letter to Obama below, but his four main recommendations are:
Decrease America’s dependency on coal and oil and increase the supply of energy from non-polluting technologies.
Stop subsidizing agriculture that destroys land, water and health.
Have a population policy.
Invest in the education and innovation needed to create a society that could thrive in the 21st century and beyond.
Dr. Paul Erlich of Stanford University and “The Population Bomb” fame has made his own recommendations for making our society more sustainable that you can read about here. They include; One: Put births on a par with deaths and Two: Put conserving on a par with consuming.
As part of the Year of The Reef celebration, a consortium of groups put together a list of 25 things individuals can do to save coral reefs. (personally, I think most of their suggestions are silly and would be ineffectual)
And even former vice president Al Gore has contributed his two cents in a recent New York Times op ed “The Climate for Change“.
So what advice should we, as marine scientists, conservationists and advocates, give to Obama? Ill make a pitch for a few policies and issues below, but I’d really like to hear from other climate shifts authors and readers what they recommend.
1) Implement a series of no-take marine reserves. There is overwhelming scientific evidence that marine reserves work and have tangible benefits outside their boundaries for people and ecosystems. Less than 1% of the ocean is fully protected. We should be protecting closer to 30 or 40% of all marine habitats. We should also insulate the management of our fisheries from local politics as much as possible, so that managers can make more decisions based on science.
2) Radically reduce greenhouse gas emissions nationally and facilitate international reductions by heavily investing in clean technologies, smart urban and social planning, etc. Or as Al Gore argues:
We can make an immediate and large strategic investment to put people to work replacing 19th-century energy technologies that depend on dangerous and expensive carbon-based fuels with 21st-century technologies that use fuel that is free forever: the sun, the wind and the natural heat of the earth.
3) Increase the federal budget for ocean research, observing and exploration tenfold. Currently, the US space program (NASA) receives 700X more federal funding than the US government allocates for all combined ocean sciences. Given the enormous social and economic importance of the oceans and the rate at which ocean ecosystems are being degraded, this is simply crazy. Despite what you may hear from some advocates, we simply don’t have realistic solutions to many environmental problems and we won’t without a greater investment in basic ocean science. There is so much about marine ecosystems that we don’t understand and in lots of cases we don’t even have the resources to quantify and/or forecast the impacts of various human activities.
So, what do YOU recommend president-elect Obama do?
Dear President Obama,
Congratulations on your election, which has created a sense of
optimism in America that has never occurred before in my lifetime.
Yet earth’s life support systems have deteriorated more in our
lifetimes than in any other era of human history. With earth’s
population increasing, and consumption per person growing much faster
than population, humans are heating the climate, polluting air and
water, degrading landscapes and turning coastal oceans to dead zones.
America’s food supply depends on a few fragile crops, grown using
practices that degrade soil, air and water to yield foods of low
nutritional value that harm our health. The U.S. is not investing in
the education and innovation needed to create agriculture and energy
technologies that can get us through the 21st century. Details are
found in a consensus report of more than 1300 leading scientists from
more than 90 nations including the U.S. (http://www.MAweb.org). These
findings support the following priorities for your presidency.
Decrease America’s dependency on coal and oil and increase the supply
of energy from non-polluting technologies: We must decrease emission
of greenhouse gases, and the era of cheap oil is over. We must
accelerate development of clean energy technologies using wind, sun
and tides. These investments must be based on scientific information
to avoid bogus remedies, such as grain biofuels, that sound good but
do not in fact solve the problem. We must increase conservation
through better buildings, efficient transportation, and renewal of
industry. We must improve agriculture and forestry practices to
reduce energy consumption and increase carbon storage in soil.
Stop subsidizing agriculture that destroys land, water and health.
Create incentives for agriculture that maintains land and water
resources and yields healthy food: Agriculture must shift to
practices that use less energy for tillage and transport of food,
produce healthy food for local consumption, train more people in
diverse farming practices, build soil instead of degrading and
eroding it, and maintain clean water. These reforms can be
accomplished by redirecting federal subsidies.
Have a population policy: In global impact, the U.S. is the world’s
most overpopulated nation, mainly because of our high per-capita
consumption. Our population is growing rapidly. Global population
growth is a key driver of degraded land, water, air and climate.
Education of women is a powerful lever to restrain population growth.
If all the world’s women are educated to high-school level, human
impact on our life-support system will be more than 30% lower by
2050. As a father of daughters, it is especially appropriate for you
to support education for all of the world’s women.
Invest in the education and innovation needed to create a society
that could thrive in the 21st century and beyond: Even though our
universities and research centers are the envy of the world, science
education of the general population of the U.S. is weak and must be
made stronger. Education must be reformed to encourage creativity.
There are enormous opportunities for innovations in agriculture,
energy, and infrastructure that will lead to a moderate climate, rich
landscapes, and clean air and water into the future. These
technological opportunities are being seized by other nations while
the U.S. lags behind. We must restore American leadership in creating
technology that maintains our life support system while providing the
energy, food and shelter that people need.
S.A. Forbes Professor of Zoology
Center for Limnology
680 North Park Street
University of Wisconsin
Madison, Wisconsin 53706 USA