In the life-giving tangle of Earth systems, the ocean is an undeniable and critical force. Its absorption and distribution of thermal energy drives prevailing climate patterns, and helps to regulate temperature and weather everywhere on Earth. But while climate is an all-pervading macrocritical driver of economic health, risk, and possibility, not everything that connects the ocean to the economy is climate-related.

The ocean food supply is itself a major part of the global economy, but its management is an under explored driving economic activity for markets around the world. Where traditional fishing villages struggle to resist the decline in fish stocks, and the dangers that come from venturing further into international waters, competing with major industrial fishing operations, there is both rising threat and opportunity.

  • The threat comes from the escalating industrialization of ocean food production, which equates to worsening depletion of fisheries and marine ecosystems. This trend also puts poor fishing communities at risk of economic collapse.
  • The opportunity lies in services that would better conserve and manage marine ecosystems, fisheries both local and international, and allow for the generation of parallel industries in tourism, science and innovation.

Ocean biodiversity is also at risk, and this puts many fundamental value considerations of the human economy at risk. Biodiversity has long been seen in the popular imagination as an environmentalist’s concern, but it is really a signal issue that relates to the health and viability of natural systems on which we all depend for everything that matters to us.

The collapse in biodiversity in any place is a sign of deep ecological disruption. Ecological disruption means the environment is becoming less hospitable to the life that has come to thrive in that place. Throughout the history of the human species, we have enjoyed a long stretch of deeply entwined biodiverse ecosystems. The health and resilience of any one species, much less a vast collection of species, is a signal of whether we are in a situation conducive to our own survival and thriving.

We need to invest in learning how to read those signals, and that means investing in conservation and sustainability.

Protecting biodiversity means not only shoring up the planet’s marine ecosystems. It also means creating new opportunities for research and discovery, for better understanding the relationship between thermal fluid-dynamics and the biochemistry of life. This means more advanced and precise information about how to safeguard natural systems against collapse, how to manage our energy infrastructure and industrial production, and how to ensure our fresh water and food supplies are resilient.

Plastic is fast becoming one of the most significant environmental threats in the world. Recent reports find humanity is engaged in an uncontrolled experiment on Earth’s living systems, dumping so much plastic every day into the environment that there will soon (within 2-3 decades) be more plastic than organic life in the ocean.

The planet-wide plastic pollution crisis is one of the biggest opportunities for smart innovation the world has ever seen. Plastic has become ubiquitous because it is useful, adaptable, and empowering of human potential in many ways, but clearly, it can be managed better at almost every stage of production, and that better management is a huge new service industry opportunity.

The science of plastic production is also opening into ever more valuable new potential.

  • Biodegradable plant-based plastics are now preferable to 5th tier petroleum-refined plastics in many areas.
  • We can now envision a future in which all new plastics are biodegradable and non-biodegradable polymers are used for building, for carbon capture, and in advanced materials and devices, which will not be let loose into the environment.

The Blue Economy—a term very much in use at the first-ever UN Ocean Conference earlier this month—is emerging as a vast operational landscape of new value based on addressing these challenges effectively. Vessels are now being launched that will set out to clean the ocean of plastics, and their experience will be used to build whole fleets of plastic clean-up vessels.

The zero footprint standard for industrial production and life-cycle management will be feasible when the zero footprint standard for technological intervention in the marine environment is integral to the design of our science, business, and stewardship practices.

Pioneers are now hard at work building this smarter, cleaner, more resilient ocean future, and the vast economic opportunities that come with it. Resilience-focused finance will be motivating an accelerated pace of innovation to achieve this planetary life priority goal. Every coastal community, every ocean nation, should be building long-term blueprints for capturing as much of the Blue Economy opportunity as possible.

A healthy ocean future is a healthy human future.

[ The Note for June 2017 ]

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Written by Joseph Robertson

Joseph is Global Strategy Director for the non-partisan non-profit Citizens' Climate Lobby. He coordinates the building of CCL's citizen engagement groups on 5 continents, leads the Citizens' Climate Engagement Network and represents CCL in the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition, UNFCCC negotiations, and other UN processes. He is a member of the Executive Board of the UN-linked NGO Committee on Sustainable Development-NY and of the Policy and Strategy Group for the World We Want. He is also the founder of Geoversiv.net and the Geoversiv Foundation and the lead strategist supporting the high-level climate dialogue series Accelerating Progress, Advancing Innovation.

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