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“Thank goodness for the oceans, but they are pay- ing a tremendous price.” ~ Dawn Wright

bathymetric data to build a comprehen- sive map of the ocean floor. Public and private sector planners, researchers, businesses and nonprofits are already using this map and analysis tools to, among other things, conduct risk as- sessments and provide greater under- standing of how onshore development impacts oceans’ natural systems. Municipalities are also taking

action. New York City plans to restore natural buffers to future hurricanes, while Philadelphia and other cities are restoring watersheds, replanting trees in riparian areas, adding rain gardens, lay- ing permeable pavement and revamp- ing roofs and parking lots to reduce stormwater runoff. Investing in such “green infrastructure” is less costly than expanding “grey infrastructure” such as underground sewer systems and water purification plants. Increasingly, local authorities are

relocating communities out of flood zones to allow rivers to reclaim wetlands, an effort which also creates new rec- reation and tourism spots. Floodplains buffer against extreme flooding and drought, plus filter stormwater runoff, removing farm and lawn fertilizers and other chemicals that otherwise enter waterways, creating deoxygenated “dead zones” where aquatic life can’t survive, as exemplified by parts of Lake Erie, Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. “These solutions are unfolding

here and there,” Postel notes, while also remarking that too many locales are rebuilding levees at their peril and allowing people to return to areas that flood repeatedly. “An amount of cli- mate change is already locked in. We will have to adapt, as well as mitigate, simultaneously.” Somerville, who helped write the 2007 assessment by the Nobel Prize-winning International Panel on Climate Change, labels it “baloney” when politicians say there’s not enough time or it’s too expensive to address the problem. “It’s very doable,” he main- tains. “First, inform yourself. Second, tell politicians that you care about this.

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Then raise hell with those who don’t agree. We’ve got to get countering cli- mate change high on the priority list.” McKibben recommends that the country gets serious about putting a price on carbon emissions. Meanwhile, he’s encouraged by the people-powered regional successes in blocking frack- ing, a controversial method of extract- ing natural gas, and credits grassroots groups for holding the Keystone pipe- line project at bay. “We’re cutting it super-close” and

need to change the trajectory of climate change, according to McKibben, who says we can still have good lives pow- ered by wind and solar, but will have to learn to live more simply. “I don’t know where it will all end and won’t see it in my lifetime. But if we can stop the combustion of fossil fuels and endless consumption, then there’s some chance for the next generation to figure out what the landing is going to be.”

Christine MacDonald is a freelance journalist in Washington, D.C., who specializes in health, science and environmental issues. Learn more at

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