With ever increasing changes in climate patterns, federal agencies and non-profit groups in Washington, D.C., have been looking at ways to address the issue. From the Florida Everglades to stormwater pollution in cities, climate change poses a threat to everyone.
The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife recently held a hearing, “Healthy Oceans and Healthy Economies: The State of Our Oceans in the 21st Century.”
Former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Carol Browner testified that, “We are living with more powerful hurricanes, worsening drought, melting glaciers, devastating wildfires and rising sea levels around the world,” adding that the economic impact is staggering.
“Natural disasters cost the world $155 billion last year,” she said. “From 2011-2017 extreme weather caused $675 billion in economic damages.
Failing to address the status of oceans and climate change “threatens every life on the planet,” she said. “Oceans cover nearly three quarters of the Earth’s surface. The ocean is basically the kidney of our plant – keeping systems health and productive.”
More than 40 percent of the population in the United States lives along coastal shorelines and many of these communities depend on ocean-related industries such as fisheries, tourism and shipping, said the committee’s chairman, Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA). “Businesses and jobs directly dependent on ocean and Great Lakes resources contribute $352 billion to the United States Gross Domestic Product annually and employ over 3.1 million Americans.”
In Florida alone, nearly three million residents live just a few feet from their local high-tide lines, with more residents in Miami-Dade and Broward counties living below the high-tide line that any other area in the country.
Queen Quet Marquetta L. Goodwine, chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation in St. Helena Island, S.C., also testified. The Gullah/Geechee community stretches from Jacksonville, N.C., to Jacksonville, Fla.
“It (water) is not only the place to which we are taken to literally learn how to feed our families by harvesting the fish, shrimps, clams, oysters, and crabs that so many visitors come to eat when they vacation in our area by the hundreds of thousands of people per year,” she said. “We gather sweetgrass for our traditional baskets here and used to gather the rush or, as we call it, “sedge” of the marsh to bring back to higher ground to nourish our fields once again.” The community, she added, is looking at a variety of ways to ensure that the waterways continue to serve it.
“We have replanted oyster shells in an effort to increase our viable oyster beds. We educate native Gullah/Geechees on how to keep alive our traditions and pass them on the future generations given that our traditional fishing methods have minimal impacts on the environment.”
Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA), the committee’s highest-ranking Republican and someone who has questioned climate science and the role humans play in global changes to weather patterns, told the committee he believes it is going in the wrong direction. “No one denies that our planet is warming; carbon dioxide levels are increasing, and ocean levels are rising. But before we run screaming into the night, let’s also do a quick reality check. The sky isn’t falling. Warming is nothing new: our planet has been warming on and off since the last ice age … Hurricane activity is much lower than recorded in the 18th Century,” he said.
“If temperatures are rising and we can store less winter moisture in the mountains as snow, doesn’t it make sense to build more reservoirs to save that water rather than lose it to the ocean? If oceans are rising, doesn’t it make sense to phase out flood insurance subsidies that encourage people to build in flood plains by hiding their risk?”
University of Delaware Climatology Professor David Legates, who has published observations skeptical of the human impact on climate change, testified in support of McClintock’s views, saying that coasts are already naturally hazardous areas due to the impact of rising seas, coastal storms, shifting barrier islands and flooding caused by rainfall into low-lying areas. This impacts popular areas such as Florida’s Sunny Isles, Bal Harbour and South Beach, among others.
“Global sea levels have risen naturally at a rate of about 7 to 8 inches per century for at least several hundred years,” he said. “Shifting sands on barrier islands change the local landscape and can affect life along coastal areas.”
Subcommitee members say they intend to continue to have hearings on the issue with a particular focus on oversight – such as examining more closely the consequences and impact of environmental regulations.
Alexis Woodyard is a reporter in the South Florida Media Network’s Washington, D.C., Bureau.