We need to discuss climate change

Yolanda Waters is an environmental social scientist and PhD candidate at the Institute for Future Environments, Australia. She is a certified PADI dive instructor, environmental educator and an ocean advocate.

Words by Yolanda Waters
Photograph by Luigi Cristofori

Dear fellow ocean advocates, we need to discuss climate action. Now.

A few months ago, I set out on a frustrating journey to speak with diving organisations about the need to include climate action when advocating the protection of our beloved ocean. Four months, several email exchanges and zero meaningful replies later, I am still where I started. No one wants to talk climate.

The most devastating part of this is that I’m not surprised. The avoidance of climate conversations in the marine space is not unusual. Let’s face it, climate change doesn’t fit the “vibe”. But why is this so? What is so scary about promoting climate action for the sake our ocean?

Firstly, why promote climate action for the ocean? The answer is simple: climate change poses the largest threat to our ocean. Not only does it heat and acidify waters around the globe, but it exacerbates the effects of other marine threats and makes them harder to address. For example, how can we address over-fishing if the coral reefs that support 25% of all marine life no longer exist? How can we fight plastic pollution if fossil fuel-based production companies are not held accountable for their endless and wasteful production? We simply cannot.

For ocean conservation to be effective, climate action is critical. Without it, many of our efforts to protect the ocean will be futile. Yes, we must continue promoting sustainable fishing, minimising plastic use, and protecting marine species, but we also need to be fighting for a low-carbon future. Climate change cannot be an afterthought in the fight for a healthy ocean.

However, while organisations and campaigns that push for climate action in the marine space do exist, a quick glimpse into the ocean conservation movement will tell you that these are not the norm. Despite the significant threat posed by climate change, many businesses, organisations and individuals advocating for the ocean tend to favour the promotion of other marine- friendly behaviours, with some avoiding climate action entirely. We need to understand why this is the case and what should be done about it, because avoidance is clearly not an option.

Something I read recently has really stuck with me – we are an ocean illiterate society who value and care for the ocean. Research shows that public knowledge about ocean-related issues is generally low. On the other hand, concern and passion for the ocean is high. It is possible that somewhere in this gap between knowledge and concern, we let climate action slip by.

It’s hard to find someone who isn’t eager to help protect the ocean. But, with an overwhelming amount of information out there, eagerness can be a dangerous thing. For example, what happens when this information makes little mention of climate change and no one questions why? When the choice to fight other battles such as plastic pollution is continuously accepted without challenge? We become a concerned society racing in another direction – following each other on a climate-less path. But as ocean advocates, we simply cannot allow this to continue. We need to start making the link between climate action and ocean conservation loud and clear.

The marine conservation space is full of tempting distractions – “buy a Keep Cup, save a turtle, adopt a coral!”. Simple lifestyle swaps and hands-on experiences offer attractive promises for ocean protection. This is tough competition for a complex, abstract problem such as climate change.

But why call these distractions if they too contribute to a healthier ocean? Environmental psychology tells us to be weary of actions that are well-intended, but do not require any radical, systemic change. These actions can distract us from doing more and demanding the deep- rooted change necessary. For example, throughout the past decade, the use of plastic alternatives has become synonymous with saving our seas but, we must question what progress has really been made as a result.

While plastic pollution is the main culprit of such distraction, others are on the rise. And while many involved in such projects agree that they should not detract from the need to mitigate climate change, this is easier said than done – we are easily distracted.

Then there is the fear of “getting political”. There is no way around it: climate action is political. Mitigating climate change will require significant changes in politics and society. This seems to be one of climate actions biggest deterrents. With phrases like ‘climate change’ and ‘global warming’ being so politically divisive, the idea of being involved in such a discussion can be unpopular, especially for those striving to remain politically neutral.

Taking a stand for the ocean and its people shouldn’t be divisive, it should be uniting. We are all fighting for a healthier, cleaner ocean and at some point, we have to get political. I acknowledge that some organisations can’t go as far as endorsing political candidates, but there are ways that we can all support policies that enable a renewable future and fight against those that do not.

And we must do so urgently, because we are running out of time.

Photograph by Luigi Cristofori
Issue Sixteen
Supported by WEBSITE_sponsorlogos_princess

This feature appears in ISSUE 16: Bio-logging blue sharks of Oceanographic Magazine

Issue Sixteen
Supported by WEBSITE_sponsorlogos_princess
Supported by WEBSITE_sponsorlogos_princess

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