Developing ocean acidification “champions” in congress

Ocean acidification “provides a case study of a way that we can drive forward bipartisan action on an environmental issue,” says an Ocean Conservancy scientist.

Ocean acidification sometimes has been called the “evil twin” of climate change, with the increasing amount of carbon dioxide dissolved in oceans leading to more acidic seawater that is harmful to many kinds of marine life.

However, as Sarah Cooley works to encourage progress in Congress and elsewhere in understanding and dealing with ocean acidification, she tries to keep the issue away from the “partisan divide around action on carbon dioxide” and away from the visceral reaction, pro or con, that she says some people have when they hear the words “climate change.”

Cooley, director of the ocean acidification program for the Ocean Conservancy, says that she and her colleagues have seen significant progress and bipartisan support in Congress for action on ocean acidification over the past several years. She says that much of this progress has resulted from focusing on the human dimension of the impact of acidification and on place-based threats and solutions for coastal communities and their economies while staying rooted in the science and away from “climate partisanship.”

This morning, Cooley is presenting a poster at AGU’s Fall Meeting 2018 about the topic. Her poster offers insight about developing congressional ocean acidification champions: members of Congress on both sides of the political aisle who are willing to take a stance on doing something about ocean acidification.

For example, these champions could be involved by introducing or cosponsoring legislation or supporting increasing appropriation levels for research and monitoring measures, Cooley said. “It’s been really gratifying that members of Congress ‘get it,’ no matter the political spectrum they’re on, because they understand that their communities are fundamentally dependent on healthy oceans and acidification could really disrupt that.”

The Ocean Conservancy, a nonprofit based in Washington, D. C., counts more than 100 champions in the current 115th Congress. Among them are Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Oreg.) and Rep. Bill Posey (R-Fla.), who in July introduced the Coastal and Ocean Acidification Stressors and Threats Research Act (H.R. 6267), and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), who sponsored the Conserving Our Reefs and Livelihoods Act of 2016.

Members of Congress have also supported appropriations for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Ocean Acidification Program, whose budget has increased from $6 million in fiscal year (FY) 2013 to $11 million in FY 2018, and for funding the Integrated Ocean Observing System, which received a $35 million appropriation for FY 2018.
These and other investments in research and monitoring “have cracked open our understanding of the broad-brush implications of acidification,” said Cooley, a self-declared “carbon cycle nerd” who has a doctorate in chemical oceanography from the University of Georgia.

“We’re zeroing in on some of the ecosystem implications at a much more detailed level than we were able to do 10 years ago when federal funding streams really began,” she explained.

Cooley said although there is also a much better handle on how acidification is progressing in coastal and offshore regions, there is still a long way to go to understanding how the changes in the water translate into impacts on ecosystems and marine species, as well as on human communities.

Despite these challenges, she said that ocean acidification “provides a case study of a way that we can drive forward bipartisan action on an environmental issue.” She added that the ocean acidification issue could even serve as an “on-ramp” for some members of Congress to become involved with broader climate change issues.

For instance, she noted that a number of Congress members who have been involved in the acidification issue went on to become members of the House bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus.

Randy Showstack, EOS, 10 December 2018. Article.

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