EAST BOOTHBAY — The Trump administration announced plans March 28 to stop the implementation of the Clean Power Plan, introduced in 2014 as a key part of the United States’ contribution toward global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This is the latest move to disregard or dismantle environmental science, including the proposed elimination of funding for most of the Earth observation and climate monitoring activities in the recently released federal budget outline.
These actions emerge from a political conversation that focuses on the immediate costs of environmental regulations and monitoring while neglecting the long-term economic and societal damage of climate change.
There is decisive scientific evidence of the impact of greenhouse gas emissions on our planet. Excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is a major contributor to climate change. It also naturally dissolves into the ocean, increasing the water’s acidity and making it harder for shellfish to build their shells.
There is already growing recognition – not just by scientists, but also among fishermen and aquaculturists – of the changing ocean conditions in the Gulf of Maine. Environmental changes driven by fossil fuel emissions put at risk many businesses and jobs, such as those in the state’s $533 million lobster industry.
Through this rollback of efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions, we return ourselves to a dangerous path. Through the proposed defunding of earth science, we would walk that path blindfolded.
At Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, we study the ocean and how it is changing. This work involves uncovering climate’s influence, deciphering connections between the many parts of the ocean food web and then developing solutions to the challenges we find. We are particularly interested in the algae – many of them microscopic – that support the ocean’s ecosystems and produce half of the oxygen we breathe. Microorganisms like these make the ocean, as well as the rest of the planet, what it is today. Their health is essential to our own.
Through our research around the globe, we see the same trends that other scientists do: The ocean is changing, and the Gulf of Maine is changing more rapidly than most areas. Warming waters, changing nutrients, shifting water color – these changes exert substantial influence on the gulf’s ecosystem and drive consequences for the people who depend on its resources.
Through the support of NASA and its Earth observing program, which the administration proposes to eliminate, Bigelow Laboratory scientists have already documented concerning changes in the Gulf of Maine. Barney Balch has crossed the gulf countless times during the past 18 years to gather and analyze samples. By combining his measurements with data from undersea gliders and NASA satellites, he investigates how the Gulf of Maine works and how it is being affected by long-term changes in climate.
His research revealed an astounding 80 percent drop in the productivity of the microscopic algae that form the base of the marine food web. Long-term monitoring is the only way we know these changes are happening, but the proposed budget would cut funding for these observations just when they are most needed.
Understanding these environmental changes is only the first thing science can do to help our society face the challenges ahead. Increasing ocean acidity is a particular concern for the Gulf of Maine, and Bigelow scientists are working to help Maine industries adapt. We’re investigating the impact that rising temperatures and increasing ocean acidity will have on lobster, as well as on Maine’s growing shellfish aquaculture industry.
Nichole Price is working with kelp growers, oyster and mussel farmers and other nonprofits around the state to examine the effectiveness of growing seaweed alongside shellfish to help lower the acidity of the surrounding water. Federal science programs, such as NOAA Sea Grant, provide crucial support to these collaborations. The current administration’s budget outline would also remove funding for these activities, taking tools for adaptation out of the hands of industry.
Science has long served as a stimulus for economic growth and prosperity. It is why we have cars, vaccines and the ability to predict the weather. Simply put, science works, and climate change is real. It is already creating economic challenges, and science and engineering are uniquely poised to help address them.
Now or later, we will pay for climate change, and the cost will only get higher as changes become more widespread. By moving to less harmful ways to generate power and by funding science to give us valuable insights into the changes that are occurring, we can reduce our environmental impact and help our society adapt.