We tend to think of the ocean as vast. Seven tenths of the planet’s surface. At its deepest, it is deeper than Mount Everest is tall. At its broadest, it crosses 13 time zones from beach to beach. Only 5 percent of the seafloor has been mapped in the level of detail of the Moon and Mars.
Of course, we used to think that about the Great Plains in North America or Western China, but the human footprint is very large and there is little that has not felt its weight.
I am very grateful that the Stockholm Resilience Centre, a Manhattan Project for the Climate Emergency, recruited the young French PhD candidate Jean-Baptiste Jouffray. Jouffrey specializes in the intertwined relationship between humans and marine ecosystems in the Anthropocene, with “the ambition to provide empirical novel approaches and analytical methods for understanding social-ecological system dynamics around the world.”
His research encompasses multiple scales and systems, ranging from the Hawaiian archipelago and indicators for effective coral management, to the seafood industry at a global scale and the role of transnational corporations and the financial sector.
His seminal contribution, published with co-authors at the end of January, is The Blue Acceleration: The Trajectory of Human Expansion into the Ocean. In that, Jouffrey strips away the blue veil and reveals what is really going on below the surface of the sea. His team looks at overfishing, oil and gas exploration, seabed mining, desalinated water, the aquarium trade, the genetic patent rush, cargo shipping, cruise ships and beach resorts, pipelines and cables, wind farms, marine heat waves, sea level rise, military activities, waste disposal, algal blooms, and geoengineering.
Geoengineering is where microbubbles come in. As we lose the arctic ice cover, the dark ocean will absorb much more heat. While this will be offset to some extent by increasing cloud cover at the tropics, one idea is to outfit ships with special propellers that leave frothy microbubbles in their wake, reflecting more light, and hence heat, back to space.
Floating Cities is one idea about what to do with the 12 of the world’s 15 megacities threatened by sea level rise. Rather than move back, lean in. Put coastal structures onto floating platforms.
Jouffray’s genius is to reframe this discussion as competing claims on a finite resource. To balance those claims equitably and sustainably, you need to bring all the stakeholders to the table. My only question is, who speaks for the whales?
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The top image of NOAH’s Ark is courtesy of NOAH ReGen. All rights are theirs.