NOAA head addresses issue of climate change


People will have to adapt themselves to changes in their daily lives brought on by global warming, says the new administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

“It’s a new world we are entering, one highly modified by climate change,” said Dr. Jane Lubchenco, also a noted marine ecologist who is on leave from her post at the University of Oregon while in her NOAA job, during a roundtable discussion at La Jolla’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography last week.

Lubchenco is the ninth head of NOAA, a federal agency with about 12,800 employees created in 1970 to gather and disseminate information about the oceans and atmosphere. She was in San Diego to address the American Sportfishing Association Summit, and to talk about protecting the ocean and preventing overfishing, one of NOAA’s mandates.

“We have significant stewardship responsibilities for fisheries and for protecting marine mammals and endangered species,” Lubchenco noted, adding that it is also the lead federal agency in providing scientific data on climate and weather. “We’re responsible for producing models enabling us to understand how the climate system works to be used in forecasting. We’re actively creating a new national climate service providing ongoing information about climate change and variability.”

Lubchenco said a less piecemeal approach to ocean management needs to be undertaken.

“We manage sector by sector, species by species, and the overall state of most coastal ecosystems has suffered because of that hodgepodge,” she said, noting that there are more than 20 government departments dealing with the oceans and more than 140 federal laws applying to them.

Because there are so many conflicts between stakeholders with competing interests, the federal government has established an interagency Ocean Policy Task Force that Lubchenco sits on. She said that task force is rewriting the rules ocean users must follow, and it is doing so in a novel way.

“The idea is to minimize conflicts across competing interests and minimize the impact on the environment,” she said. “Stakeholders need to think about their interests sometimes complementing one another.”

A case in point is the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Blue Ribbon Task Force, a governor-appointed advisory group in California that is presently choosing among alternatives for designating Marine Protected Areas along the San Diego coastline striking a balance between commercial/recreational fishing and ocean conservation.

“The Marine Life Protection Act is a very open and transparent process that’s clearly grounded in good science,” Lubchenco said. “There are a lot of competing interests. But there is a process for dealing with those competing interests. This process is being keenly watched by people all over the world who are learning from it. It is a model process that gives all the different stakeholders a voice at the table.”

On the climate front, she said the Obama administration believes in the science supporting the contention that climate change is already under way and that it is “compelling enough to take serious action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

She added that the new administration believes in an open-ended approach to solving environmental problems.

Decrying climate change critics as sowing “doubt and misinformation,” Lubchenco said the way to sway more people about the reality of climate change is to “personalize” the message.

“We need to focus not just on the impacts happening down the road, but on things that have already happened — droughts, floods, rising sea levels — region by region,” she said. “People want to know, ‘How will it affect me?’ We need to document changes that are happening in people’s backyards.”

The message is gradually getting through, she added.