Making Waves in Congress: The Influence of Ocean Scientists on Governmental Policies

By Carson Straub — Roxbury Latin

It is nearly impossible to live one day without reading or hearing discussion about the state of our planet. Lobbyists on both sides of the climate change issue push for stronger regulation that encourage or discourage the consumption of natural resources, the motives behind each argument clear: scientific observation of our warming planet and an elevated necessity for economic stability brought by the fossil fuel industry in respective orders. However, the prevalence of these issues among politicians and lobbyists is not always the case, especially when discussing our oceans.

While the concept of anthropogenic climate and environmental change did not come about until well after the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, our unrestricted interactions with over 70% of the globe have spanned multiple millennia (Perlman, USGS Howard. “How Much Water Is There on, in, and above the Earth?”). Overfishing and pollution account for the largest problems that oceans face today, with the roots of these issues dating back before the discovery of the New World (History of the Groundfishing Industry of New England, NOAA). In stark contrast to the longevity of fishing and ocean travel as a way of life, it was not until 2000 that Congress officially laid the blueprint for the protection of international waters through the Oceans Act, which set goals for a committee of elected representatives to accomplish ranging from security concerns to “the expansion of human knowledge of the marine environment” (US Congress, The Oceans Act of 2000).

In 20th century New England, a booming fishing economy kept the concerns of scientists largely concealed (“An Ocean Blueprint for the 21st Century.” Final Report of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy). Only after the nets came up empty and fishing communities went bankrupt did the relationship shared by Americans with the ocean become apparent to government figures (History of the Groundfishing Industry of New England, NOAA). The nature of government is to handle the most current and pressing issues first, so predictions of near-cataclysmic alterations to our our future climate are often pushed aside. The fishery collapse in New England exemplifies the flaws of this method of governance (History of the Groundfishing Industry of New England, NOAA). The protection of the environment relies primarily on preparedness and an understanding of the causes of the problem in order to tackle the issue before it becomes much greater3.  In turn, scientists are tasked with observing the changes of the natural world and making accurate future predictions based on these observations. In order to garner any attention from politicians, their predictions need to contain an element of persuasion, which can lead to a biased massaging of data and even misrepresented observations. Lawmakers in power must understand that every scientific observation about the Earth’s climate carries a weight of importance, and that therefore in order to avoid the risk of catastrophes such as fishery collapse, regulation will be the key (“Economics for New England Fisheries.” Current Value of New England Groundfish Fishery).

We must meet a balance of responsible use of our oceans and the freedoms of people who rely on it for survival. The continued commitment of oceanographers, marine biologists, and other ocean scientists ensures that environmental changes do not go unnoticed. However, elected officials must decide when and how to act. And we can influence them in making that decision if we are willing to try to.

Works Cited

Perlman, USGS Howard. “How Much Water Is There on, in, and above the Earth?” How Much Water Is There on Earth, from the USGS Water Science School, USGS, water.usgs.gov/edu/earthhowmuch.html.

History of the Groundfishing Industry of New England, NOAA, www.nefsc.noaa.gov/history/stories/groundfish/grndfsh1.html.

US Congress, The Oceans Act of 2000,  http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/oceancommission/documents/oceanact.html

“An Ocean Blueprint for the 21st Century.” Final Report of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, 2004, govinfo.library.unt.edu/oceancommission/documents/pre_pub_fin_report.pdf.

History of the Groundfishing Industry of New England, NOAA, www.nefsc.noaa.gov/history/stories/groundfish/grndfsh1.html.

History of the Groundfishing Industry of New England, NOAA, www.nefsc.noaa.gov/history/stories/groundfish/grndfsh1.html.

“Economics for New England Fisheries.” Current Value of New England Groundfish Fishery, members.e2.org/ext/doc/econNEgroundfish.pdf.