Opinion: California legislators need to take action to address climate crisis

Ocean acidification is only getting worse and with it, so is the quality of life for many organisms off the California coast. The state needs to take swift action to reverse this worrying trend. (Kanishka Mehra/Photo editor).

The climate crisis is as urgent of an issue as ever, and California’s lack of action isn’t helping.

Over the past century, ocean surface temperatures have risen by an average of 0.13 degrees Celsius each decade. This rise in temperature is a result of increased levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere dating back to the 1970s,and 93% of this excess heat has been absorbed by the ocean, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

On top of this, ocean acidification, a process that occurs when atmospheric carbon dioxide dissolves into water, is also affecting oceans at an increasingly alarming rate.

These two effects of climate change on the ocean are interconnected and have worrying effects. A recent UCLA study found that higher water temperatures weaken reef-building corals’ resilience against the effects of ocean acidification.

Despite this research’s focus on tropical coral reefs, its findings still hit close to home in California. Ocean acidification affects many species that, like coral, rely on calcification to survive. Many of these organisms, such as coccolithophores and crustaceans, live off the coast of California.

In order to curb the global issues of rising ocean temperatures and ocean acidification, California legislators must pass concrete policies to limit carbon emissions in the atmosphere. In doing so, they will also help address many other serious issues spurred by the climate crisis.

Inaction on climate mattersis no longer an option.

There are small steps that California can take in order to slow ocean acidification. For example, California can fund efforts to limit the effects of the carbon already dissolved in its ocean waters.

One way to do this is through blue carbon sequestration, the act of transplanting more carbon-absorbing plants into the ocean to absorb dissolved carbon dioxide before it harms calcifying wildlife, said George Shenusay, a fourth-year environmental science and Japanese language student, and project lead at Bruin Home Solutions.

“In the same way that trees take carbon dioxide in and give us oxygen, things like kelp and seagrass also do that,” Shenusay said. “Underwater plants are absorbing that carbon before it’s going and degrading the shells of crabs and mussels and other shellfish.”

In order to make a lasting, preventative change, however, the state must also address the issue of ocean acidification at its source — carbon dioxide emissions. Though California remains under its 2020 carbon emissions goal limit of 431 million metric tons – likely a pandemic-influenced statistic – emissions must be cut down even further as the state rolls out its reopening initiatives.

“We have to actually reduce the CO2 that is in the atmosphere,” said Daniele Bianchi, an assistant professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences. “That will reverse the trend of ocean acidification.”

Reducing carbon dioxide emissions would not only help to correct the problems of increased temperature and ocean acidification, but also many other climate-relatednatural disasters.

Wildfires, which are all too familiar to many UCLA students and Angelenos, are just one example.

The escalating amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has exacerbated global warming, thereby elongating the warm, windy California wildfire season. And, in turn, the wildfires release ample amounts of greenhouse gases back into the atmosphere, which can lead to ocean acidification. Mitigative and preventative politics are essential to avoiding the compounding effects of climate change.

“We’re facing a big issue that needs a big solution, and we need that solution as soon as possible,” said Prabhdeep Rai, a fourth-year history student who runsCalifornia Public Interest Research Group at UCLA’s campaign for 100% renewable energy in California by 2030. “We have to transition our economy to 100% clean energy as quickly as possible.”

Research universities like UCLA can help guide state actions when implementing solutions to environmental issues. Works like UCLA’s recent study on ocean acidification provide clear outlines of environmental problems and their causes, which can be instrumental for government officials when creating environmental policy.

“You need solid science to then convince the public and convince the lawmakers that it’s an issue that needs to be solved,” Bianchi said.

It is true that rising ocean temperatures, ocean acidification and increased carbon dioxide emissions are worldwide issues in need of international solutions. That still doesn’t excuse California from doing its part to tackle climate change – and so far, it has. For example, Governor Newsom has already issued Executive Order N-79-20, calling for the sale of only zero-emission vehicles by 2035, and Executive Order N-82-20, creating the goal of conserving at least 30% of California’s coast by 2030.

But these actions alone won’t be enough to repair the effects of increased carbon dioxide.

However, California has historically been a leader of sustainable policy within the United States and can encourage other states to follow suit.

“California sets the trend for the rest of the country,” Rai said. “If we organize here and we get policies at the state level, we can change policies everywhere else and protect even more people’s futures.”

The research needed to address environmental issues like rising ocean temperatures, ocean acidification and frequent wildfires already exists.

It is up to California to listen to those findings and implement the necessary solutions to create long-lasting change.

Sophia Kloster, Daily Bruin, 9 March 2021. Article.

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