Eating more seafood could help us slow the planet’s warming — part of a handful of climate solutions the ocean offers
- Warming ocean water and unprecedented melting of the Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets could cause sea levels to rise by more than 3 feet by the end of the century, according to new report from the United Nations.
- These rising waters could displace hundreds of millions of people who live on small islands and in coastal regions.
- But oceans also offer some ways to cut greenhouse-gas emissions and therefore mitigate climate change.
- One of those solutions is for people consuming more seafood for protein and less meat. Ramping up off-shore wind energy production could help, too.
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Sea levels could rise more than 3 feet within 80 years. Most warm-water coral reefs are expected to die. The oceans are heating up twice as fast as they were in the early ’90s.
These are just some of the worrisome findings detailed in a new report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
But two other new reports point out important ways the oceans can help us address the climate crisis.
That research suggests that ocean-based activities have the potential to reduce global carbon-dioxide emissions by nearly 11 billion tons — that’s 21% of the reductions needed to keep the planet’s temperature from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (the target set in the Paris climate agreement).
The data comes from the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy (HLP) — a group of world leaders and scientists — as well as an accompanying paper in the journal Science.
“We outline a ‘no-regrets to-do list’ of ocean-based climate actions that could be set in motion today,” the authors of the study wrote.
One of those actions has to do with our diet: Getting more protein from seafood and less from meat.
The case for eating more seafood
The IPCC assessment, compiled by more than 100 authors from 36 countries, focused on the state of the world’s oceans and its cryosphere — the frozen parts of the planet. The findings revise projections for sea-level rise upwards: If Earth’s temperature increases by more than 3 degrees Celsius, the authors found, water levels would be an average of 3 feet higher by the year 2100.
The report “paints a gloomy picture of the impacts of climate change on the ocean, ocean ecosystems and people, and an even more dismal portrayal of what is in store unless we get serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions rapidly,” Jane Lubchenco, a co-author of the Science study and an HLP advisor, said in a press release.
The solutions Lubchenco and her colleagues highlight fall into five broad categories: producing more ocean-based renewable energy, making the shipping and transport industries carbon-neutral, protecting and restoring ecosystems that sequester carbon dioxide, storing carbon under the seabed, and shifting diets to include more seafood.
“Earth’s oceans are not simply a passive victim of climate change, but instead provide a previously unappreciated opportunity to provide solutions towards reducing global greenhouse-gas emissions,” the HLP authors said in a press release.
The reason to eat more seafood, according to the report, is that sources of protein from the ocean (like seafood, seaweed, and kelp) can have a substantially lower carbon footprint than meat from land animals. As two of the HLP members — Erna Solberg, the prime minister of Norway, and Tommy Remengesau Jr., the president of Palau — wrote in a CNN opinion piece, consuming more of those can both help make your diet more healthy and sustainable while easing emissions.
Approximately 3 billion people in the world already rely on wild-caught and farmed seafood as their primary source of protein, according to the World Wildlife Organization.
The fishing and aquaculture industries are not wholly carbon-neutral; however, cow, sheep, and poultry farming accounts for 18% of human-produced greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, according to The Conversation. That’s a larger chunk of emissions than those from ships, planes, trucks, and cars put together.
A study published last month calculated that if every American replaced all beef, chicken, and pork in their diet with a vegetarian option, that would save the equivalent of 280 million metric tons of carbon dioxide every year. That’s roughly the same as taking about 60 million cars off the road.
The potential of ocean-based renewable energy
Even more impactful than dietary changes, however, is harnessing the power of the wind and waves via tidal-energy systems and offshore wind farms, the HLP group said.
Lubchenco and her colleagues say more investment is needed for research and development efforts to increase the number of floating offshore wind farms that could be built farther from shore. They also suggest that countries set clear targets for increasing the use of ocean-based renewable energy by the years 2030 and 2050.
Solberg and Remengesau Jr. told CNN that increasing ocean-based renewable energy could cut nearly 6 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions every year by 2050. That’s the equivalent of taking over 1 billion cars off the road for a year.
“To win the fight against climate change, we need all hands on deck — on land and sea,” they wrote.