We all know the old axiom: “Those who don’t remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” In the context of a rapidly changing climate, however, it appears that ignoring the future may be just as dangerous. Perhaps the new axiom will be: “Those who ignore the future are doomed to be surprised by it.”

In a recent global study, scientists from our lab highlighted the increasing frequency of ocean heat waves, which are highly disruptive to coastal ecosystems and economies. Here in the Gulf of Maine, we’re experiencing a rate of ocean warming that outpaces the rest of the global ocean.

The takeaway from the scientists who have led this research is clear. Rapid warming means the past is unreliable for predicting the future. We must make a paradigm shift in how we make decisions.

Climate change presents multiple challenges that we’re facing here at home, across New England and around the world. Everywhere, people are asking: “What can I do?” Of course, we can each take steps to decrease carbon dioxide emissions in our own lives. Ultimately, we need federal policies that support a large-scale transition away from fossil fuels.

Unfortunately, one of our most important challenges is often overlooked: We need to change the way we think. Our communities will be resilient to climate change only to the extent that we can change our decision-making process from looking backward to looking forward – by considering the scenarios produced by scientific models, paying attention to trends and making decisions that will benefit our children and grandchildren.

This concept of forward-looking decision-making is central to the work of the Gulf of Maine Research Institute. To shift our collective attention to the future, we’re co-hosting a first-of-its-kind conference: the Gulf of Maine 2050 Symposium. The conference is taking place this week. We’re bringing together environmental, economic, social and institutional perspectives on climate resilience from around the Gulf of Maine. Participants are discussing how the Gulf of Maine is expected to change in the next 30 years, building a shared vision for regional resilience and activating new partnerships for action.

On the table for this group of fishermen, scientists, policymakers and other ocean leaders will be important conversations centered on three drivers of change:

Sea-level rise: What level of sea-level rise should we expect? How should coastal communities prepare?

Ocean acidification: Where and when will ocean acidification begin to challenge marine life here? How can our growing aquaculture industry can be “climate ready”?

• Ecosystem changes: How will warming change our ecosystems? How will those ecosystem changes affect a variety of marine industries?

These are among the most important questions of our time, and I’m excited to see hundreds of ocean leaders joining us to address them.

No single conference solves a challenge as big as climate change, but we hope this gathering will help define a path toward a resilient coast. By using the best available science to predict ocean change, we’ll support the Gulf of Maine and the many hardworking people who depend on it. Let’s look forward – not back – as we all work together to ensure our marine economy and coastal communities continue to thrive in a warmer future.


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