September 24, 2014

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By Courtney Mattison

Climate Week is in full swing and started out with a spectacular series of events in New York City last weekend, many of which related to the ocean. While the ocean was not (to many conservationists’ surprise and dismay) a focal point of the UN Climate Summit with world leaders yesterday, it has received the attention it deserves for absorbing carbon dioxide (CO2) and bearing the brunt of climate change at numerous independent events.

On Saturday night, the Oceanic Preservation Society (OPS) illuminated the 30-story United Nations Headquarters with a magnificent architectural-scale public light display of inspiring imagery ranging from macro footage of undulating coral polyps to a vast landscape of the aftermath of an oil spill. The visual effects were dynamic, constantly morphing and pulsing into one another with music and creating an experience that was at times haunting and at others uplifting. Woven throughout the imagery were statistics about CO2 emissions, climate change, industrial farming, ocean acidification and other major environmental threats as well as phrases like “NOW IS THE TIME” and “MOBILIZE POLITICAL WILL.”

Projecting Change at UN Headquarters. © Courtney Mattison

Projecting Change at UN Headquarters. © Courtney Mattison

The event, called Projecting Change, doubled as a movie set for OPS Director Louie Psihoyos (The Cove), Fisher Stevens (The Cove, Mission Blue) and the OPS team to shoot a scene for their latest feature film titled Racing Extinction. Using covert ops, an incredibly tricked-out Tesla and state of the art technology, this film is sure to be a thrilling and empowering insight into the front lines of work to save species from the sixth global extinction event that is occurring at a catastrophic rate and being exacerbated by climate change. “This time we are the asteroid,” says OPS.

The People’s Climate March on Sunday marked a historic milestone in the story of climate change as 400,000 activists, students, families, researchers, celebrities and over 100 world leaders demonstrated in the streets of New York City. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Edward Norton, Jane Goodall and Al Gore were among those marching. Around the globe, 2,808 solidarity events were held in 166 countries. Largely conceived by Bill McKibben and conducted by a coalition of over 1,500 organizations, it was by far the largest climate demonstration in history and one that will ring in the ears of policy makers as the Paris UN Climate Change Conference approaches in 2015. 

Marine issues such as ocean acidification and watershed destruction were represented in the march. © Courtney Mattison

Marine issues such as ocean acidification and watershed destruction were represented in the march. © Courtney Mattison

The weekend concluded with a star-studded evening at the second annual OceanElders Summit at City Winery in SoHo, where leaders in ocean conservation gathered to celebrate and highlight new initiatives. Guests included Sir Richard Branson, Jackson Browne, Dr. Rita Colwell, Sven Lindblad, Ted Turner and Captain Don Walsh. HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco, US Undersecretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment Catherine Novelli and The Honorable Tony Burke MP of Australia addressed guests about their progress in regulating the overuse of marine resources and ecosystems. Then, acclaimed film director Robert Nixon introduced the Mission Blue movie and played a clip before bringing US Senator and ocean advocate Sheldon Whitehouse to the stage to introduce Sylvia Earle. Dr. Earle gave a riveting speech calling for continued action to protect and restore the ocean before climate change causes irreparable harm, as overfishing already has. She empowered guests with a sense of hope that by activating public, corporate and political will to solve climate change and overexploitation of the ocean we can change the course of history for the benefit of future generations.

Dr. Sylvia Earle, Sir Richard Branson and Undersecretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment Catherine Novelli attended OceanElders. © Courtney Mattison

Dr. Sylvia Earle, Sir Richard Branson and Undersecretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment Catherine Novelli at the OceanElders Summit. © Courtney Mattison

Dr. Earle then invited co-chair of the Global Oceans Commission Trevor Manuel to the stage to present UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson with a Global Ocean Commission petition to the United Nations on behalf of more than 260,000 people calling for an international agreement to protect the high seas. This display of tremendous public support for high seas protection contrasts sharply with the lack of focus on the ocean at yesterday’s UN Climate Summit, where organizers seem to have overlooked the ocean despite the fact that it covers over 70% of the planet and regulates the climate by absorbing an astounding portion of our carbon dioxide emissions – greenhouse gases that would otherwise collect in greater amounts in the atmosphere and exponentially speed up global warming. The CO2 absorbed by the ocean is in turn acidifying seawater and causing a cascade of harmful effects that scientists are just coming to understand including the erosion of coral reefs and prey detection disabilities in sharks.

“We all depend on a healthy ocean. For our continued prosperity, we must now take proper care of this vital resource. This petition is a wake up call for our global leaders.” – Sylvia Earle. Image © Courtney Mattison

“We all depend on a healthy ocean. For our continued prosperity, we must now take proper care of this vital resource. This petition is a wake up call for our global leaders.” – Sylvia Earle. Image © Courtney Mattison

Sylvia Earle and Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan then honored President of Kiribati Anote Tong and President of Palau Tommy Remengesau, Jr. with special awards for their leadership in adapting to and raising awareness about climate change and protecting vital marine regions from overfishing. Small island developing states such as Kiribati and Palau are especially vulnerable to sea level rise – another consequence of climate change – and expect to see refugees displaced by rising waters in the coming decades. As Dr. Earle says, we are in a sweet spot in time to use simple solutions to turn things around for the ocean – our “life support system” – before it’s too late.

Learn about Climate Week and find more events here: http://www.climateweeknyc.org/

Featured image (top): The People’s Climate March on Sunday September 21, 2014. © Courtney Mattison

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