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Cassie Roth Writing Sample

Fundamental Interconnectedness at the Heart of Reality: Systems Theory to Mitigate Climate Change 1. California’s Social Resilience Linked to Coastal Productivity The Southern California Bight is a unique area of high biodiversity and national significance. The mixing of warm waters from the Southern California Countercurrent and cool waters from the California Current produces one of the world’s hot spots for coastal marine life (McGinnis, 2005) (Figure 1). Historically, the great abundance of land and marine resources allowed the Chumash to prosper for tens of thousands of years alongside a healthy and balanced environment. Through careful examination of their unique environmental conditions and living within the natural limits, the Coastal Chumash maintained a sustainable relationship with the land and long-term survival of the tribe. Stability of Native American tribes depended on the distribution and reliability of natural resources. Thus, acute awareness of the cycles and connections within nature was the organizing principle of intellectual inquiry and social organization (Kidwell, 2003). A strong relationship exists between the coastal marine ecosystem and human society: Losses to coastal and marine biodiversity indicate the general condition of the larger environment. Failure to protect biodiversity means a failure to ensure the biological and ecological integrity of our own habitat, placing into question the long-term sustainability of human life itself. (Beatley, 1991)

While the Chumash prospered for thousands of years within their environment, our modern industrialized society has disrupted every naturally functioning ecosystem on Earth, including the entire biosphere and climate. Over-fishing, habitat destruction, pollution, and the introduction of invasive species have transformed a once balanced and self-sustaining system into one of disequilibrium and uncertainty. Eighty-percent of California’s population now lives within 30 miles of the shoreline (Griggs, 2005), thus the loss of coastal-marine services can have disastrous consequences. Future climate change policy and management of the coastal zone must integrate the resilience of social systems with the vitality of ecological systems of which humans depend.

2. Climate Change Threatens Vitality of Marine Species and Ecosystems Anthropogenic climate change is quickly diminishing the health of California’s coastal marine ecosystems, and altering the natural abundance and distribution of species. Recent studies document ecological changes coincident with observed climate changes for a number


of species and ecosystems in California (Barbour, 2008). In the last 100 years the atmospheric concentration of CO2 has increased more than 30 percent above pre-industrial levels (Luer et al., 2006). Carbon dioxide input into the sea leads to shifts in the carbonate system of the seawater and to a decrease in pH value, causing acidification of the ocean and many harmful physiological effects on marine organisms (Schubert et al., 2006). Ocean acidification disrupts the developmental processes of populations on many scales, and reports of disease affecting marine organisms are increasing worldwide (Harvell, 1999). Oceans are the most important net sink for carbon dioxide (Figure 2), and continued unchecked human growth and activity threatens the ocean’s ability to take up carbon out of the atmosphere. Without ocean uptake of anthropogenic CO2, the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere becomes increasingly detrimental to human health. A fundamental reorientation to our coastal environment must occur which views human species as a co-inhabitor of a much larger community of life (Beatley, 1991). Future laws and regulations must integrate human activity with Earth’s systems in order to limit the dangerous effects from climate change on human society.

3. Significance of Understanding the Complex Coastal-Marine Environment A healthy and productive coastal-marine bioregion relies on the co-existence of numerous species and habitats.

The coastal-marine bioregion includes: ecological linkages,

connections between habitats, oceanography, biology, and climate (McGinnis, 2005). Each species plays a unique role in the system of life: “conserving coastal biodiversity is in its simplest meaning the conservation of life” (Beatley, 1991). For example, the endangered southern sea otter of California’s near-shore coastal waters is a keystone species in the marine ecosystem by limiting the number of grazers and promoting the abundance of kelp forests (Figure 3). The giant kelp habitat is the most important marine habitat of the Southern California Bight, supporting thousands of organisms, maintaining biodiversity, and contributing to the primary productivity of coastal waters (McGinnis, 2005). Thus, current mortality and disease of the southern sea otter degrades the entire marine environment and is detrimental to human society. Without each part of the system, the whole cannot operate properly. Although we cannot control climate change and natural systems, we can control human behavior (McGinnis, 2009). Mitigation of climate change is crucial if additional stresses on marine ecosystems are to be limited (Schubert et al., 2006).

4. Current Problems With Ocean Governance The multitude of federal and state agencies that share responsibilities for land, water, and coastal resource management makes environmental protection a troublesome effort


(Figure 4). The Southern California Bight is a system of overlapping ecosystems, and natural resources often transcend the artificial and arbitrary political and administrative jurisdictions (Beatley, 2002). The present system of ocean governance remains ill-equipped for dealing with the challenges posed by climate change for three fundamental reasons: 1) jurisdictional split among levels of government, 2) sector-by-sector approach in the management of different ocean resources, and 3) complexity of the ocean system (Knecht, 1988).

Conflicts among

ocean users and government agencies of different interests are increasing significantly due to narrowly-focused and disjointed environmental management which fails to deal with interconnections, complexities, multiple perspectives, multiple uses, and the resulting crosscutting externalities (Margerum, 1995).

Successful ocean governance requires a systems

perspective that goes beyond focusing on a single project or species, but rather facilitates thinking about interactions among multiple biophysical and human drivers and the cumulative effects of incremental environmental degradation (Beatley, 1991).

The fundamental

interconnectedness of Earth’s ecosystems requires a holistic approach to management, reflecting the dynamic and uncertain tendencies of nature.

5. Ecosystem-Based Management: Science, Policy, and the Environment Due to the complexity of the coastal zone, a new integrated and science-based form of management must be utilized in addressing the threats of climate change. Scientists and policymakers agree that success in dealing with environmental changes requires improved scientific understanding and the implementation of ecological forecasting in policy and management (Clark, 2001). Because of the fluidity of coastal marine resources, a regional and ecosystembased approach to management can help with multiple-use conflicts and overlapping political jurisdictions. Ecosystem-Based Management (EBM) is generally defined as: …an integrated approach to management that considers the entire ecosystem, including humans. The goal of EBM is to maintain an ecosystem in a healthy, productive, resilient condition so that it can provide the services humans want and need. EBM differs from current approaches that usually focus on a single species, sector, activity, or concern; it considers the cumulative impacts of different sectors. (MPA News)

Key concepts associated with a place-based approach to managing marine ecosystems include marine spatial planning, ocean zoning, and a number of management tools, such as use permits, site planning, public education, and codes of practice (Young, 2007). For example, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration works with stakeholders to define 8 Regional Ecosystems on a global marine ecosystem model (Figure 5). Also, the Governors of California, Oregon, and Washington have set forth the “West Coast Governor’s Agreement on Ocean Health” which encourages regional collaboration to protect and manage the marine-


coastal resources of the entire west coast. Regional management of coastal-marine ecosystems offers a constructive means for dealing with the uncertainties associated with climate change.

6. Relating Inner-Human Qualities to the Composition of Nature Human and environmental health exists when a state of balance is reached between various forces. Just as human disease reflects an imbalance of energy, the Earth is suffering from an overload of human impacts. The carbon cycle is out of balance, resulting in global food insecurities, poor air and water quality, ecosystem instability, and human suffering. All events arise within a complex web of interrelated causes and conditions: When we come to see that everything we perceive and experience arises as a result of an indefinite series of interrelated causes and conditions, our whole perspective changes. We begin to see that the universe we inhabit can be understood in terms of a living organism where each cell works in balanced cooperation with every other cell to sustain the whole. If, then, just one of these cells is harmed, as when disease strikes, that balance is harmed and there is danger to the whole. This, in turn, suggests that our individual well-being is intimately connected both with that of all others and with the environment within which we live. It also becomes apparent that our every action, our every deed, word, and thought, no matter how slight or inconsequential it may seem, has an implication not only for ourselves but for all others, too. (Lama, 1999)

The overall health and economic prosperity of the California coastal region comes from a more complex understanding of reality where all things and events are seen to be closely interrelated. By viewing the individual as part of a larger dynamic system and recognizing the common relation of all beings, we may begin to solve the current crises in our oceans.


Figure 1: Southern California Bight

Figure 2: Global carbon cycle

Schubert, R., et al. (2006) Figure 3: Southern Sea Otter Food Web

5 Figure 4: Mismatches in U.S. Ocean Governance

(Crowder, 2006)


Figure 5: Large Marine Ecosystem model



Works Cited Adger, Neil W. (2000) “Social and Ecological Resilience: Are They Related?”. Progress in Human Geography: 347-364. Barbour, E. and L. Kueppers. 2008. Conservation and Management of Ecological Systems in a Changing California. Public Policy Institute of California. November. Beatley, Timothy. (1991) “Protecting Biodiversity in Coastal Environments: Introduction and Overview”. Coastal Management, Vol. 19, 1-19. Beatley, Timothy, et al. (2002) Coastal Zone Management. Brander, K M (2005) ‘Assessment of Possible Impacts of Climate Change on Fisheries’. Expertise for WBGU Special Report ‘The Future Oceans – Warming Up, Rising High, Turning Sour’. WBGU website, wbgu_sg2005_ex02.pdf. Brunner, Ronald D. and Tim W. Clark. (1997) “A Practice-Based Approach to Ecosystem Management”. Conservation Biology, Vol. 11, 48-58. Clark, James, et al. (2001) "Ecological Forecasts: An Imerging Imperative". Science: 657-659. Crowder, L.B., et al. (2006) “Resolving Mismatches in U.S. Ocean Governance”. Science, Vol. 313, 617-618. Griggs, Gary. (2005) Living With the Changing California Coast. Harvell, C. D., et al. (1999) “Emerging Marine Diseases − Climate Links and Anthropogenic Factors”. Science, Volume 285, 1505-1510. Jackson, Jeremy, et al. (2001) “Historical Overfishing and the Recent Collapse of Coastal Ecosystems”. Science, Vol. 293, 629-637. Kidwell, Clara Sue. “Ethnoastronomy as the Key to Human Intellectual Development and Social Organization” 5-19. Native Voices. University Press of Kansas, 2003. Knecht, Robert, et al. (1988) “National Ocean Policy: A Window of Opportunity”. Ocean Development and International Law, Volume 19, 113-142. Lama, Dalai. (1999) Ethics for the New Millennium. Riverhead Books, New York.


Luers, Amy, et al. (2006) “Our Changing Climate: Assessing the Risks to California”. California Climate Change Center. Margerum, Richard and Stephen Born. (1995) Integrated Environmental Management: Moving from Theory to Practice”. McGinnis, Michael V. (2005) “Negotiating Ecology: Marine Bioregions and the Destruction of the Southern California Bight”. McGinnis, Michael V. (2009) UCSB: Coastal Processes and Management. MPA News. ( 2006) “Examining the Role of MPA’s in Ecosystem-Based Management”. Vol. 8, No. 4. Marine Affairs Research and Education. Norton, Bryan. (1995) “Ecological Integrity and Social Values: At What Scale?”. School of Public Policy, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia. Schubert, R., et al. (2006) “The Future Oceans – Warming Up, Rising High, Turning Sour”. German Advisory Council on Global Change. Weinstein, Michael P., et al. (2005) “Prologue: Building Sustainable Coastal Landscapes”. Restoration Ecology, Vol. 13, 152-153. Worm, Boris, et al. ( 2006) “Impacts of Biodiversity Loss on Ocean Ecosystem Services”. Science, Vol. 314, 787-790. Young, Oran R., et al. (2007) “Solving the Crisis in Ocean Governance”. Environment, Vol. 49, No. 4, 20-32. As humans continue to create undesirable equilibria for natural systems, the “trajectories of longterm change must be addressed effectively−and soon−before further declines in the quality of life become permanent and before the decline in critical living resources reaches crisis thresholds” (Weinstein, 2005).


coastal processes paper  

coastal processes

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