Center of Concern | Wed, Jan 14, 2009
A recent report concludes simply and bleakly: “The sensitivity of the Chesapeake Bay to climate suggests that the Bay’s functioning by the end of this century will differ significantly from that observed during the last century.”
I grew up in a small town in northeastern Maryland, where the Susquehanna River comes down from Pennsylvania to flow into the Chesapeake Bay. It is still home for me, and when I need to remember what that means, there is one place that I have always gone. Down below the lighthouse, there is a small, floating dock. And I will sit there, smelling the Bay's briny smell, feeling its rocking motion, listening to the sound of water washing over stones, watching the boats, the birds, and remembering, yes, for all its faults, this is where I am from.
Sadly, my little dock is no longer there. It was destroyed when Hurricane Isabel struck in 2003. I didn't think much of it at the time, only that it was too bad, a little twinge of nostalgia. Like everyone else, I went about picking up the pieces, the fallen branches, bailing water out of the basement of my parent's home. But didn't think much of larger systems at play, or more changes to come.
But then Hurricane Katrina happened. And Al Gore released An Inconvenient Truth. And the IPCC came out with its emphatic and Nobel prize-winning report. And more and more I am realizing that climate change is not some big, scary unfathomable thing out there, happening to someone else, somewhere else. It is big, and scary, yet intensely personal challenge, affecting people and places I care profoundly about.
The Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in the U.S., is struggling for its survival. Dead zones are growing fueled by runoff from farms and rapidly expanding developments, and overfishing further taxes the Bay ecosystem. Last week, environmentalists, state and local officials, watermen and others sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for failure to uphold its obligations to protect and restore the Bay. The lawsuit contends that the EPA has failed to enforce the Clean Water Act, and that its inaction has led to a continuing decline of the Bay's water quality and environment.
But even if the six surrounding states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. EPA manage to coordinate their efforts to save the Bay, it still won't be enough. The impacts of global warming are also being felt by the Bay. The rate of sea level rise is about twice the global average, eroding shoreline, submerging islands, endangering wetlands and threatening property. Warmer water temperatures mean lower oxygen content in the Bay, leading to more dead zones, as well as increasing the likelihood of algal blooms. The species composition of the Bay will shift to those favoring warmer waters, while migratory patterns of shorebirds, of which the Chesapeake watershed has one of the largest concentrations in the western hemisphere, are harmed by loss of habitat and food sources. All of which also have negative implications for livelihoods and economy in the Bay region.
A recent report concludes simply and bleakly: "The sensitivity of the Chesapeake Bay to climate suggests that the Bay's functioning by the end of this century will differ significantly from that observed during the last century."
The same pattern is being repeated around the world. Local communities are struggling to adapt to the challenges of climate change, securing vital habitats and protecting homes and livelihoods. The work they are doing is urgent, innovative and absolutely crucial. But it won't be enough, unless action also happens at the global level to seriously and fairly address the causes and effects of climate change. The challenge is intimately local, yet at the same time about our shared global future, and there is no time left to waste.
Take action and join a growing international chorus calling on President-Elect Obama and otherworld leaders to "Cultivate a Climate for Justice!" by negotiating a fair and equitable international climate agreement.