Well, this is it: my first trip to Europe, and not for vacation. I’m on my way to Copenhagen, along with about 40 thousand or so other folks with a shared interest in having some sort of voice in how the world (all of it) deals with the threats of climate change and ocean acidification (together, “global change”) that are a result of our continued emissions of greenhouse gases. Realizing the myriad possibilities in place because of the commitment made in Bali, Indonesia two years ago to agree to a post-Kyoto plan, the scientific, environmental, and human rights communities have mobilized like never before. It is not lost on me that we will be flying from all around the world, emitting vast quantities of CO2 on our way to and from a meeting where we will ask the world to cut back. I, for one, fly from San Diego to Philadelphia, Philadelphia to Dublin, Dublin to Copenhagen, Copenhagen to Munich, Munich to Philadelphia, and Philadelphia to San Diego. I have not done the math, but I’m pretty sure that adds up. I better do a good job! I’m on the plane to Philly now.
Scripps Institution of Oceanography is a premier oceanographic institution and is sending some of the top climate scientists and marine chemists in the world, to offer answers to any questions that our diplomats, foreign and domestic, may have regarding the science behind global change (our delegation also includes a crown prince…). Answers to these questions are often straightforward. Through their distinguished careers, Scripps delegates and others have demonstrated how the greenhouse effect works and what the continual absorption of anthropogenic CO2 means for the world’s ocean. Of course there will be controversy in Copenhagen. There always is. Forty thousand people would be staying at home, preparing for the holidays if we were all in agreement. But, the controversy is not about the basic chemistry and physics of the atmosphere and ocean. It is not about whether or not global change is real, is happening now, and will continue to happen. It is instead about just how much change we can expect and just how much financial capital we should spend to prevent it. We are a conservative species. We do not like change. Moving cities, starting new jobs, and changing our relationship status on Facebook all cause us stress. Changes to the environment around us will be no different.
I’m the biologist. I’m also a grad student. I’m along to speak to the threats to marine and coastal biodiversity and ecosystems and to the people at the ocean’s edges. I’m along to learn. I’m along to point inquisitive members of the media and other delegates to the right people and places to get the best answers about what global change means to life in the ocean. I’m along to blog. I’m along to help interpret why the physical and chemical changes to the ocean are important to landlocked countries in Central Asia and to the Vatican, with its charge to represent Catholics all over the world. As academically interesting as the changes to the atmosphere and the ocean are, they would mean very little to most people if they didn’t threaten life, human and otherwise. So, I’m the biologist. Maybe I’m being too ambitious. The next several days will tell. The Scripps delegation is coming over in waves (get it?). Some are already there. I arrive Monday afternoon. My work starts Tuesday. I can’t wait.
–Grant Galland, Scripps graduate student