Oceans of change: Making my way in a new era of solution-building

10 March 2020
Meghan Massaua

“Oceans are warming at the same rate as if five Hiroshima bombs were dropped in every second.”

My first reaction to this sensational, attention grabbing headline? This sounds both ridiculous and terrifying. But as a self-proclaimed ocean wonk, I know that this coverage belies a new—and yes, at times terrifying—reality. There may be no greater threat to the future of our oceans and coasts than climate change.

Released in September, the IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (SROCC) shares new insights on how the oceans are changing. The news is not good. The ocean has absorbed over 90% of the heat trapped by human-generated CO2, sea level rise is accelerating, extreme events are intensifying, and marine heatwaves are projected to increase. All of this is likely to have devastating impacts on ecosystems and human systems alike.

Sensational headlines can serve a purpose by jolting us into awareness. However, they can also backfire by making us feel powerless. Still, we can’t afford to give up; we all depend on healthy oceans for food, transport, health, energy, recreation, and more. And I know from my career working on oceans that there’s still hope when we come together in force to tackle big challenges.

Over the past fifteen years, I’ve been lucky to work with all kinds of ocean stakeholders (scientists, fishermen, industry, conservationists and more!) who care just as deeply as I do about the oceans and the need to proactively consider their future. As corny as it may sound, I have been in a lifelong love affair with the sea. From staring into tidepools as a kid, to braving rough seas in the name of science, to facilitating a room of impassioned people working to build consensus… it’s what makes me tick.

This passion is not unique to me; so many are drawn to working on, protecting, or exploring the ocean. Many of them come from different perspectives, but there’s just something about that big blue horizon that stirs us all. Our common bond has never been more important. It will take work—and, more importantly, working together—to urgently adapt our policies, systems, and approaches to the threat of climate change.

I am inspired by the work I get to do every day at Meridian to bring people together from across different sectors to tackle challenges and find solutions. To name just a few, we are:

  • Redesigning systems for a circular economy to keep plastic waste out of the oceans.
  • Considering how sustainable aquaculture development can play a role in the future of food.
  • Helping communities adapt their businesses to a changing environmental, social, and economic landscape.
  • Considering how oceans can play a role in changing the game on emissions by fostering innovative concepts for marine industries like shipping and offshore wind.

There’s just something about that big blue horizon that stirs us all.

The core thread running through these efforts is honest, action-oriented dialogue that reaches across perspectives to build practical, lasting solutions. Recently, my colleagues and I convened a roundtable with senior ocean leaders to discuss how US policy can address the ocean-climate nexus. The discussion energized a group of people who have been working on these issues for years. With our help, they discovered untapped potential and generated new ideas.

The discussion touched on one challenge that is especially important: how to overcome issue fatigue and energize people to build solutions. Some ideas included:

  • Creating a new narrative that defines the ocean as too big to ignore—rather than too big to fail or too big to fix.
  • Forging bipartisan solutions. The impacts of a changing climate on people’s lives aren’t blue or red, or even green. But they are very real.
  • Embracing the “art of the possible.” Change can and should be incremental, opportunistic, and transformational

As we move ahead, I’m keeping these ideas close by, for whenever I need a dose of the positive in the face of sensational headlines and challenging work. My Meridian colleagues and I will be forging ahead to help change policy, improve business practices, and protect both communities and ecosystems. When I need a reminder of why, I need look no further than that big blue horizon.

Ocean Plastics Leadership Network

Curious about what we’re up to next? Check out this article about our work with the Ocean Plastics Leadership Network.