Even though we live far from the shore, the ocean plays a critical role in how Montana’s cherished natural landscapes experience climate change. As the Earth’s largest absorber of heat and carbon, the ocean is our best bet in the fight to stave off the worst impacts of climate change, which will have a direct effect on Montana's natural environment. We will see our snowpack diminish, shortening our skiing and other winter sports season. We will see wildfires increasing in both severity and frequency. It is essential that our state acknowledge these threats and work toward effective solutions by taking ocean climate action.
As the manager of the Montana chapter of the Inland Ocean Coalition — a network of in-landers fighting to protect ocean health — I am deeply concerned about the threats climate change poses to the earth’s lifeblood, the ocean, and how those threats will affect our way of life here in Montana.
The just-released Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change confirms that the ocean is already suffering from climate change. The report paints a stark picture of what is happening to our planet and how things will worsen if we fail to act. Melting land ice, sea ice and glaciers are causing sea levels to rise faster than ever before. Extreme events like hurricanes and storm surges will become more common and more severe. The diversity and numbers of marine fish and wildlife will decline due to warming water, shrinking habitats and dying coral reefs.
Many Montana citizens take part in recreational fishing; indeed, fly fishing is a favorite pastime and important economic engine for our state. That is why we understand the importance of caring for our water sources and the creatures that live there. We can’t let the IPCC report be just another analysis of how climate change is hurting our planet. It must be a call to action.
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The good news is that we know what to do, and we can do it now. To implement a strong ocean climate action plan, we must substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions, especially carbon dioxide, which leads to ocean warming and drives ocean acidification. This is the most important thing we can do for the ocean. Reducing the use of fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable energy is something Montana can and must do to protect our state, our oceans, and ultimately ourselves.
Next, we must protect the ocean’s natural ability to store carbon and mitigate climate change, by conserving and restoring coastal “blue carbon” ecosystems, including mangroves, seagrass beds, and salt marshes. These coastal ecosystems not only suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and safely store it at a rate of up to four times that of forests on land; but they also provide essential buffering services that can limit the impacts of erosion, flooding and storms all while providing habitat for wildlife and fishing.
Lastly, we must implement adaptation strategies to increase ocean resiliency to the unavoidable impacts of climate change. This includes strongly protecting at least 30% of the ocean in areas where marine wildlife can thrive, as well as promoting sustainable fishery management, habitat restoration and ocean planning.
Here in the beauty of the Rocky Mountains, it’s easy to dismiss ocean issues as not our problem. But climate change is affecting us now and will only get worse if we fail to act on a global scale. We must join the global movement for strong ocean climate action.