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Kathleen Meil of Camden is the director of policy and partnerships for Maine Conservation Voters/Maine Conservation Alliance.
From coast to coast, our nation has been rocked by disasters this year — and not just from the pandemic. Record-breaking hurricanes, unprecedented wildfires, and severe droughts have made too many Americans painfully aware of how vulnerable our health, safety, and economy are to climate change.
Mainers know those vulnerabilities well — from extreme heat to surging high tides. We know we’re facing a climate emergency here in Maine and across the globe. We must act now, and we need to use every tool at our disposal. One source of solutions has been largely overlooked, even though it covers more than 70 percent of the planet: our ocean.
Like so many Mainers, the ocean shapes my days. My coastal community teems with sailors and hardy open-water swimmers; my children have grown up clamoring on rocks and jumping off seawalls at high tide. The ocean is an ever-changing constant that provides jobs and recreation, backdrop and main course for rites of passage and random moments. The ocean matters here.
Still, you don’t have to live in a coastal community to care about the ocean — or to notice that it’s in trouble. Scientists have extensively documented the toll climate change is taking on the ocean, which has become hotter, more acidic, and less hospitable to fish and marine wildlife as we’ve pumped heat and carbon into the atmosphere. Climate and fisheries research reveals that surface temperatures in the Gulf of Maine have increased faster than 99 percent of the global ocean over the last 15 years. These changes have harmed, and will continue to harm, our coastal economies and communities.
But the ocean is not just a victim of climate change. It’s also a powerful source of solutions, with the potential to provide one-fifth of the annual cuts of greenhouse gas emissions needed to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C.
The new Ocean-Based Climate Solutions Act encourages our nation to once more be a global leader in novel and critical approaches to climate change solutions. It was introduced on Oct. 20 by Rep. Raúl Grijalva, who hails from the land-locked state of Arizona, and other members of the Natural Resources Committee. Whether the ocean feels personal or not, its health is essential to all of us.
Building on recent recommendations from the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis and the growing recognition by scientists, policy experts and ocean advocates, the bill makes the ocean an integral part of the climate solution. Specifically, it promotes coastal resiliency and adaptation to protect our coasts from the climate impacts we can’t avoid. In addition to supporting grants and research, it authorizes $3 billion to support shovel-ready coastal restoration projects with priority to projects that help stimulate the economy, provide jobs for workers affected by COVID-19, and assist communities of color, as well as low-income, tribal and rural communities. With over 3,000 miles of coastline in Maine, this kind of investment in coastal restoration and resilience is a win-win-win for our economy, our frontline communities, and our environment.
The ocean nourishes us in so many ways, and it could be restored in as little as 30 years if we mitigate major pressures like climate change. The Ocean-Based Climate Solutions Act will help us harness the ocean’s capacity to address the climate crisis while we protect and restore it. That’s something coastal and inland residents across the political spectrum can agree on.
Rep. Chellie Pingree has been a fierce advocate for our oceans, working tirelessly to protect our coastal and marine ecosystems, and just signed on to co-sponsor this important legislation. Rep. Jared Golden consistently supports climate action. The Ocean-Based Climate Solutions Act presents another opportunity for Maine’s representatives to be leaders on our nation’s efforts to advance ocean climate action now.