NASA’s observations of Earth’s surface temperature indicate rapid increases to the Earth’s climate. Because these increases are driven primarily by human activity, it is our responsibility to combat climate change through mitigation strategies. With this in mind, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres states “the climate emergency is a race we are losing, but it is a race we can win.” How does one come back from a losing race on a global scale? Some point to the sea. Studies show that oceanic import and export mandates, aquatic ecosystems, and offshore renewable energy sources can offset the impact of climate change and provide an estimated 20% of emission reduction. With over 100,000 miles of coastline under U.S. jurisdiction, Biden can make a real impact towards this climate crisis and just may be the person to give us an edge in this losing race.
The Blue Carbon is a climate change mitigation strategy through carbon sequestration in coastal and marine ecosystems. Coastal wetlands are among the top most effective carbon sinks and scrubbers, including but not limited to salt marshes, seagrass meadows, and mangrove forests. Located where the land meets the sea, these coastal wetlands are also effective in mitigating flooding and storm surges for nearby communities. Although they take up less than 2 percent of the ocean area, they account for more than half of the total carbon buried in ocean sediments. This results from plant decomposition, where the carbon produced from this can be sequestered in viable coastal wetlands for centuries.
Seagrasses provide the necessary aquatic conditions for 1/5 of the world’s largest fisheries. Some of these fisheries include cod, herring, pollock, salmon and more. Per acre, seagrass is also able to sequester more than 1200 pounds of carbon per year. Seagrass accounts for around 10 percent of all observed carbon in the ocean. Salt marshes provide over ¾’s of U.S. fisheries’ subsistence, habitat, and fertility grounds including shrimp and blue crabs. Salt marshes save U.S. taxpayers money in the billions of dollars when accounting for reduced pollutants and natural sewage systems. Mangroves help protect over 200 million people worldwide from reduced risk to storm by providing increased coastal resilience.
Import and export mandates on alternative fuels and fleet redesigns, along with government mandated consulting to improve infrastructure at ports and ships can lead to zero-carbon shipping by 2050. Currently, maritime shipping expunges more CO2 than all combined flight emissions. Liquified natural gas (LNG) is a relatively sufficient and sulfur-free substitute for current fuels in use by maritime ships. Sulfur-free emissions lead to better air quality and within the coming years, carbon capture technologies combined with LNG could lead to a strong alternative energy source. Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG) comes at a close second to LNG due to lacking infrastructure, but with improved support LPG, a mixture of liquified propane and butane, can lead to a 16% reduction in carbon emissions from shipping vessels. Methanol and Hydrogen are also growing alternative energy sources. Methanal has the lowest carbon content of any fuel and can be stored at atmospheric pressures. Hydrogen is a non-toxic gas and produces zero CO2 emissions when used in fuel cells to convert energy.
Improvements in infrastructure, on and off shore, can lead to major reductions in seafarers’ carbon emissions. Better coordination among anchorage and in port operations, cargo loading and unloading, speed and route planning, and proper use of auto-pilot settings can reduce fuel usage by as much as 20 percent. Increased monitoring of all machinery through routine inspection and active checks on propeller slips, ship generators, boiler and steam loads, exhaust gas economizer, or even simpler on board electricity usage such as laundry machine inspections, smart light use, or energy conservation in kitchens, is also essential.
Aside from alternative energy sources onboard, U.S. coastal lines could host offshore renewable energy such as wind, hydropower, solar or even biomass. Wind and hydropower are passive sources of energy, meaning they require zero energy input to collect energy and can operate purely on the mechanical energy of naturally occurring phenomena of wind and water movements. Wind and water energy can both be located on coastal lines as high speeds and large tides are located usually across coastal lines in hot spots which tend to stray away from urban development spots. Solar energy can also be harnessed offshore especially without conflict of urban or agricultural development that usually arise from land allocation.
Although there is potential for the development of offshore renewable energy, currently, the cost of construction, technology efficiency, and price per watt do not incentivize investors or commodity markets to switch over to offshore renewable energy. Although if more investments were made into renewable offshore energy, development in these areas would increase and reduce the severity of current issues involved in climate change. Because renewable energy sources currently cannot achieve this on their own, federal support from President Biden is crucial.
President Biden can address the consequences of undeveloped technologies and incentivize renewable energy by providing tax incentives to organizations and individuals willing to invest in renewable energy, which will then boost development in these technologies. With the price per watt of electricity being compensated for, technologies are able to develop at an increased rate until they are able to match the price per watt or overall cost benefit of competing nonrenewable energy. These tax incentives would only have to be implemented until renewable energy is able to price match competing energy sources, but the more that is incentivized, the faster these technologies are to develop. This means the more tax incentives or other bonuses that Biden is willing to allocate towards investors, the less time they have to be available.
Import and export mandates on improving inefficiencies and restricting types of shipping from U.S. maritime ships can also be combined with restrictions on shipping in general from certain countries until contemporary political struggles. Although presented with different intentions, the means of which President Biden becomes ‘L'Homme révolté can also have direct environmental impacts. The most environmentally friendly maritime shipping is no maritime shipping, which, along with other forms of political rebellion that can coincide with sustainability can have considerable impacts in the meantime as we work towards sustainable development goals. This, along with private consultant or government mandated improvements of routine checks and infrastructure can also contribute to correcting unsustainable practices, especially when working towards zero-carbon shipping.
Of the three prongs presented, coastal wetlands might need to be considered a priority for their ability to not only store, but release carbon. Coastal environmental protection and rebuilding programs can be encouraged through government sanctioned public service to clean and conserve coastal areas, along with tax incentives or grants allocated to NGOs working towards coastal conservation.
Without marine protection, ocean acidification, which results from carbon dioxide directly entering the water, causing an increase in PH level, will continue to worsen. This leads to uninhabitable aquatic ecosystems while also decreasing the biological abilities of marine organisms, causing birth defects in shells and skeletons for their possibly nonviable offspring. This acidification of oceans affects the vast majority of organisms in the ocean,especially towards the coast. Reduced oxygen levels as a result of warmer ocean surface temperatures suffocate many marine organisms in deeper water levels causing relocation which leads to imbalances in ecosystems or the extinction of species unable to adapt. Marine heatwaves have a similar effect in a short period of time, causing sudden rises of heat in underwater environments leading to types of ‘heat strokes’ in aquatic ecosystems giving them virtually zero time to adapt or respond. If these trends continue, oceans’ ecosystems and biotic structures will dwindle and eventually collapse, leading to prematurely released carbon reserves, effectively increasing carbon emissions and therefore rises in temperature, which will dwindle ocean ecosystems even further and therefore release more carbon. A detrimental positive feedback effect that could lead to both on land and in water extinction.
Biden hopes to take ‘swift’ action in tackling the climate crisis, with plans to mobilize government efforts to reduce carbon emissions and climate pollution in every economic sector, along with creating resilience to climate impacts. In this hope, the Biden administration has passed the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act, which has allocated a total of $369 billion towards energy security and climate change in pursuits of lowering the cost of energy, increasing the production of clean energy. This investment is anticipated to lower carbon emissions by an estimated 40% by 2030. This act also contributes to offshore wind directly, with multiple provisions that are meant to provide tax credits towards offshore wind development (revenue) transmission planning to stabilize energy markets (revenue) and increase leasing of shorelines (and therefore revenue). Along with this, the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) will receive $3.3 billion to assist coastal states in climate change mitigation through NGOs and higher education, provide R&D for coastal infrastructure, and administer research grants for changing ocean conditions, coastal resilience, and sea level rise. “It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be exact. Then when luck comes you are ready.” (Hemingway).