Oceanographer, scientist Jackson challenges students to care about oceans

By Samantha Greenfield, Staff Writer||

This week’s Common Hour speaker, Jeremy Jackson, is a senior scientist emeritus at the Smithsonian Institute and a professor of oceanography emeritus at the Scripps
Institution of Oceanography.

Jackson began by telling the audience that this talk would be somewhat of a “reality check.” He says the effects of humanity can be fixed, but people need to pay attention to reality instead of ignoring what is going on around them.

“Our record for actually changing things is incredibly bad,” Jackson said. “At the very best, we are slowing down the rate of degradation of the planet.”

Jackson explored the most consequential human impacts on the ocean and the results if changes are not made.

Humans are wrecking the ocean by overfishing, creating pollution, and contributing to climate change. Overfishing is a huge problem because there are few fish left. Jackson put up two maps showing fish population from 1990 and today. The map from 1990 showed huge areas heavily populated by fish indicated by the color red. The map from today had no red zones
whatsoever. This change ruins the ecological system of the ocean.

An example that Jackson presents is the overfishing of cod. Cod was so important that there were three wars over them in the 1700s. Now the cod are so much smaller and scarce that they no longer serve their ecological purpose. In response to that, there are explosions in populations of sea creatures that are not good for the ocean. Jackson called these species the “rats and
roaches” of the ocean.

Near the end of the talk, Jackson pointed out that the ocean’s ecological system is like “humpty dumpty”. He said this in relation to when an egg is broken and very difficult to put back together. The restoration of the ocean, similarly, is extremely challenging. Jackson also pointed out, however, that there are ways to fix the ocean.

Sea level rise is happening, and so is acidification of the ocean. There is nothing speculative about this, and now scientists know the implications. So the only question is “how fast and how much,” not “if.”

Jackson showed maps of New Orleans, New York City, and Miami if the sea level were to rise a few feet. New York city is the least affected; but JFK and LaGuardia airports would be under water. New Orleans would be completely underwater, and so would Miami Beach.

Environmental change is happening a lot faster than the public would like to think. Temperature and sea level rise are both increasing much faster than was previously predicted. By 2100, the sea will have risen close to a meter. There is a five percent chance that it will have risen two meters by 2100 without even considering the melting of Iceland and Greenland.

There is this total disconnect between the way people think about their safety in the immediate and the way they think about the reality of the future.

“What can we do as just one person?”a student asked.

“Vote for those politicians that will do something about these issues, Democrat or Republican,” Jackson said. “Both parties have politicians that have this
objective.”

Senior Samantha Greenfield is a staff writer. Her email is sgreenfield@fandm.edu. 

print

Leave a Reply