NOAA Head Jane Lubchenco Speaks Her Mind on Climate Change, Stopping Overfishing, More

feet in rain photo

Lubchenco stressed that people really want to know how climate change will impact their lives. Photo: Andi Szilagyi via flickr
Yale Environment 360 just put up a good interview with NOAA head Jane Lubchenco in which she talks about two topics close to the collective TreeHugger heart: Climate change and overfishing. Taking a page out of her book, in terms of how to effectively communicate the science and solutions to the the public. Here are some relevant specific examples of Lubchenco's thoughts on these issues:Science Must Clear in Communicating What's at Stake With Climate Change
On climate change and how science can best guide policy, Lubcheco was quite politically astute and somewhat deflected interviewer Elizabeth Kolbert's question about the strengths and shortcomings of the House's American Clean Energy & Security Act. Lubchenco simply responded that the role of science, "is to be as clear as possible about what's at stake, and to inform the decisions that members of Congress are making, but also to inform the understanding of the people that they are elected to represent."

As far as how best to communicate to the seriousness of climate change and the challenges in doing so, Lubchenco responded:

I think that what most members of the public are interested in is…will it affect me? Will it affect the things I care about? Can I do something about it? And I think the report that we released last week is very helpful in beginning to address the first parts of that — the information about, for example, different parts of the country experiencing increasingly heavy downpours, but recognizing that that plays out much differently from one region to another, ranging from an increase of 9 percent in extreme heavy downpour events in the Southwest to a whopping increase of 67 percent in the Northeast. I think that information that is credible and solidly-grounded in good measurements is very useful for people to see, but I believe it also corresponds to what many people are experiencing, as well. And I sense that we are moving towards increasing recognition of the reality of climate change, and the fact that it is affecting the things that people care about. What also needs to be communicated is that something can be done about it, and that’s both something that individuals can do, but something that governments should do as well.

Ocean Acidification is Global Warming's Evil Twin
Lubchenco went out to talk about what she describes as global warming's "equally evil twin", ocean acidification. Saying that she thinks for many people the oceans remain "out of sight, out mind" and that that in general many people don't fully appreciate the importance of oceans in the context of the whole climate system, Lubchenco stressed that increasing ocean acidity is a very genuine threat to much of the life in the oceans. "We've only begun to scratch the surface in terms of really understanding the full range of the impacts of ocean acidification," she added.

Catch Shares Align Conservation & Economic Interests
On the topic of NOAA's mandate to stop overfishing Lubcheco described one method of fisheries management that deserves greater coverage and consideration, catch shares. Here's what they are and why they can work in creating sustainable fisheries:

The shares of the fishery are allocated to entities — those might be fishermen, or boats, or communities — and let’s say that fishermen have a guaranteed fraction of the catch that is their privilege to catch every year. So the total amount of fish that can be caught in any year is divided into these fractions. For example you might be allocated 10 percent of the total catch for the year, I might be allocated 5 percent of the total catch for the year. It’s like dividing up a pizza. The way most of them are done there is simply an allocation that is given based on past fishing history, but once you have that allocation, you can trade it, you can sell it. Many fishermen are concerned with the problem of consolidation, where a few people would buy up all the shares. You can structure the rules of fisheries to limit that happening... And the amount that can be caught in any one year is determined scientifically by what is sustainable for that fishery.

The reason why catch shares can be so effective is that you align economic and conservation incentives. If a fishery is declining the amount of fish you are allocated as a percentage results in a lower absolute amount of fish. Greater preservation and conservation measures that allow fish populations increase means you get a greater quantity of fish for your share of the overall catch.

Read more of Lubcheco's interview: Jane Lubchenco on Restoring Science to US Climate Policy
Global Climate Change
Worst Case IPCC Climate Change Trajectories Are Being Realized
Government Report Breaks Down How US Will be Hit by Climate Change

Global Fisheries Hit by Climate and Overfishing
Overfishing Means Marine Animals are Starving
Eco-Myth: Humans Have Only Been Overfishing the World's Oceans in Modern Times

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