Climate Change News

Scientists Say Land and Ocean Are Key to Tackling Climate Crisis

A House committee listened to experts on why ocean science is critical to understanding the changing climate and why better land use could be a major part of mitigating climate change.


Scientists laid out strong arguments for Congress to take tougher action on climate change at a hearing on Wednesday, 15 January. The panelists received general agreement from both sides of the aisle, though no significant moves forward were made.

Land Is a Major Key to Solutions

“The value of land that we have not yet changed is immense,” testified Heidi Steltzer to the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology; she emphasized the importance of protecting land that has not yet been altered and using land to mitigate climate change. Steltzer is a lead author of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) September 2019 Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate and a professor of environment and sustainability at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo.

“We can restore lands that have been transformed so that they store more carbon, hold on to more soil, and reduce the impact of extreme weather events,” she added. “We can fund both of these efforts: federal funding for lands protection and restoration, forming the foundation for communities to be resilient.”

Stetzer said that she would like to see the development of a new narrative about climate change. “Snow, plants, and soil are renewable resources. We can work to build capacity for the lands to be more vibrant and more healthy and more green and for there to be more snowfall once again, across the U.S.”

Pamela McElwee, a coauthor of the IPCC’s August 2019 Special Report on Climate Change and Land, testified that the report found that land is under growing pressure, with the increasing impacts of climate change visible in many terrestrial ecosystems. However, “there is a finite amount of land, and it’s often under intense competition. There are limits to what land can do for us in terms of mitigation without incurring sustainability trade-offs, and the land sector cannot fully make up for failing to tackle fossil fuel emissions elsewhere,” said McElwee, an associate professor of human ecology at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J.

The Blue and Green Deals

“The ocean is central to Earth’s climate and weather systems as well as our economic growth and national security and must be included in any discussion regarding legislation and policy addressing the environmental changes we see today,” said Richard Murray, deputy director and vice president for research at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Woods Hole, Mass. [Editor’s note: Richard Murray is also a member of AGU’s Board of Directors.]

He urged Congress to better fund ocean observation data collection. Murray said that this quantitative data “is essential in order to improve climate and weather predictions and our ability to make difficult decisions about how we manage the future.”

Also testifying was Michael Shellenberger, founder and president of Environmental Progress, an environmental and anti-poverty organization based in Berkeley, Calif., who urged Congress to support nuclear energy as a significant way to counter climate change. “Perhaps we should call it a green nuclear deal in recognition of its importance, not just to national security but also to the economy, the environment, and the climate,” he said.

On the Right Track

“We know the climate is changing and that global industrial activity has played a role in this phenomenon,” Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), ranking member of the committee, said at the hearing.

“Prioritizing investments in basic science and energy research will revolutionize the global energy market and dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Lucas said. “We have the tools and expertise to take on the next generation of technology challenges—including a changing climate. We have a common goal, and I’m more encouraged than ever that we are on the right track.”

—Randy Showstack (@RandyShowstack), Staff Writer

Citation: Showstack, R. (2020), Scientists say land and ocean are key to tackling climate crisis, Eos, 101, Published on 16 January 2020.
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