Crisis Management Through Science

2020-02-04T14:20:08+00:00 January 31, 2020|
(Credit: NOAA)

(Credit: NOAA)

From: Ocean News Weekly/ By: Ocean Leadership Staff 

What It Was

The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held a hearing titled, “An Update on the Climate Crisis: From Science to Solutions.”

Why It Matters

The ocean’s role in climate and our economic and national security cannot be ignored. Recent reports, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Special Report on Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate have brought the ocean to the forefront of discussions on climate change. While the ocean has stored up to 90 percent of excess heat in the climate system, we do not understand fully how the warming ocean is contributing to sea level rise nor how much more heat the ocean can absorb, so both ocean- and land-based solutions must be part of the discussion to combat climate change. The current states of energy production, food systems, transportation, and other key activities will result in continued global changes, with negative consequences on ecosystems and people around the world. Science-based polices are crucial to support decision making on adaptation and mitigation as well as stewardship of natural resources.

Key Points

Members and witnesses discussed possible solutions to the climate crisis; incentives needed and barriers to overcome for these options; and policy strategies to best drive actions combating harmful effects of climate change on human health, economic prosperity, and security. All stressed the cost of inaction and called for sustained, effective coordination of strategies. Members sought to understand what the most urgent mitigation and adaptation needs are, what investments the committee should be making, and on what scale. Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX-30) and Ranking Member Frank Lucas (OK-3) committed to constructive dialogue and continued collaboration to pass legislation. All agreed that no one solution alone would be enough and discussed several different sectors that can contribute to mitigating the crisis, including ocean observations, land management, carbon pricing policies, nuclear power.

Dr. Richard Murray (Deputy Director & Vice President for Research, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution) actively advocated for increased capacity for and modernization of sustained ocean observing systems across scientific disciplines, geographic regions, and temporal and spatial scales. He described the multitude of benefits stemming from a better understanding of the ocean, explaining its role as a key driver of much of what we experience on land, such as weather patterns; relationships between food, water, and energy; and national security. He explained the multifaceted needs of the ocean observation enterprise: beyond infrastructure in the water, such as research vessels and technology for data collection, ocean observations also rely upon improving data processing and model integration capabilities through new technologies, such as artificial intelligence, battery development, and high-performance computers. While he acknowledged that ocean observing can be expensive and time consuming, he urged Congress to better fund ocean data collection to match that on land, emphasizing the critical nature of the atmosphere-ocean linkage to improving our decision-making abilities.

Discussion also turned to cleaner energy options to close the emissions gap; the need to increase resilience of existing industries to climate change; market strategies, such as carbon pricing, that could provide economic incentives to reduce emissions; and land-based techniques that can maintain production while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. There was also much debate on the state of American nuclear power, growth of nuclear power in other countries, and policy needed to promote nuclear power as a low emission energy source. While witnesses had differing perspectives on prioritization of solutions, they agreed all will require federal investment, incentives, and regulation and named important factors to consider in implementing each option, including cost and reliability. They also agreed investment in fundamental scientific research is key for long-term solutions but disagreed on whether the United States should play a role on the international stage or focus on domestic action.


“Today, our expert witnesses will testify that time is quickly running out to prevent devastating impacts to humans and ecosystems globally. However, I hope they will also emphasize that though the situation is urgent, it is not hopeless. There is much that we can achieve with our current technologies, and other potential solutions ripe for further investment.” —Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX-30)

“America led the world in coal, oil, and gas.  Now we must lead again, and partner with industry to develop breakthrough energy technologies and make our existing energy sources cleaner and more affordable. Prioritizing investments in basic science and energy research will revolutionize the global energy market and dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” — Ranking Member Frank Lucas (OK-3)

“We live here, and it’s the only planet I know that we can live on. Rather than winning or losing a race, we should look at whether we are peacefully coexisting with the environment, since it is the environment that is truly what sustains us. If we face an environment that is changing more rapidly than we anticipated, it does not mean we will lose the race, it means we will have to take more extreme actions to adapt.” —Dr. Richard Murray, Deputy Director & Vice President for Research, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

“It’s easy to get discouraged, but that’s where the science we do has a huge objective role to play. We are collecting unimpeachable data from our ocean, documenting the changes, comparing those to documented changes from the past, and then using that knowledge to inform our predictions for the future. With your continuing support for ocean science and observations, we can help meet future challenges with the best available information.”— Dr. Richard Murray, Deputy Director & Vice President for Research, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

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