COP21, Climate Change: And What It All Means For Surfing

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Picture courtesy of Surfers Against Sewage

There are plenty of occasions when the world comes together; the Olympics, World Cups and in times of need after natural disasters (to name a few). But never quite as important as the most recent. World leaders came together to work out how to divert the path we are on to warming our planet, changing its very own life support system which as a result will affect every form of life on our awesome planet. Governments, NGO’s, Scientists and individuals from around the world came together in Paris for the COP21 climate change talks in December this year, where 55 countries came to an agreement on a plan to limit global warming.

Interestingly, despite there being 11 climate change meetings since 1997 this is the first time the oceans have featured heavily in the discussions. Oceans were brought to the table in part by the Surfrider EU team, and really it’s amazing that it’s taken 11 meetings for them to be addressed, especially when you consider these factors:

  • Half of the worlds Oxygen comes from the ocean – that’s every second breath!
  • 90% of global warming is absorbed by the ocean
  • Ocean acidification (directly linked with climate change) is 10% higher than any point in geological history
  • Coral could be extinct in our lifetime, due to temperature rise and ocean acidification
  • And of course we all know the ice caps are melting meaning sea level rises

Here is Kevin from Sustainable Surf at the Global Wave Conference laying out climate change – the biggest challenge to our generation – in only fifteen minutes!

Kevin Whilden – CO2 emissions: Threats to waves and surfing ecosystems: Ocean acidification, ocean currents and stratification from Surfers Against Sewage on Vimeo.

But should it be up to the powers that be to turn this ship around, or is it up to us in our daily lives? And as Surfers how is climate change going to hit us first? For a start; yes it is up to us, most of us will be living in a developed country so we have a disproportionate effect on carbon emissions over individuals in, lets say a less economically developed country. So don’t underestimate the power you have, particularly on how you can influence markets through your purchasing choices. We all know what to do, only buy 100% renewable energy, share a lift, reduce travel, take a train, buy from responsible companies, tell your mates to do the same and influence your workplaces to do so too. And the more we support companies, organisations and movements that are working to towards positive influence on climate, the more momentum we will gain together and we’ll turn this ship around faster!

By 2016, here at Surfdome we will be powered by renewable energy. Saving 292 Tonnes (compared with the average UK electricity supply) which is the equivalent to removing 62 cars from the road a year, or planting 7,491 tree seedlings and letting them grow for 10 years. In previous years we have been powered by 42% renewable energy.  We also work closely with our couriers to ensure we are dealing with the most efficient fleets we can.

How does climate change affect surfing?

  • Sea levels are rising so what does that mean for your local surf break? Most waves rely on low tides so the swell can feel the contours of the sea bed and throw out performance wave shapes. If sea levels rise further those low tide levels may never again be reached or at least less frequently.
  • Ocean acidification sounds horrible and in reality it’s a long way off before sea water burns. But the oceans are dying, and acidification is stifling life, so the sea has potential to become stagnant, more toxic and harbouring nasties. Those 7 hour sessions might not seem so appealing in the future.
  • Stormier weather patterns sounds great, there’ll be more swell right? Well maybe, but with more regular storms the coastlines will erode and change and increases in rain fall will mean more land run off and pollution in the sea.
  • Disrupted weather patterns – we may well be quite used to predicting weather patterns and what that will mean for our surf breaks, but with wide scale global disruption of weather systems these patterns may alter. Which could affect frequency of surf all the way to the formation of sand banks and everything in between.
  • Coral reefs may well be extinct in our lifetime through ocean acidification and temperature rises, this could destroy numerous tropical reef breaks and passes.
  • Ocean circulation disruption without going into too much science, as the ice caps melt they affect the ocean circulation routes. Perhaps the most famous is the Gulf Stream, which makes water temperatures in northern Europe acceptable for surfing year round. If this is disrupted it’ll directly affect the temperature of these waters.
  • Worldwide disruption – as surfers we love to travel, we love to look around that next headland and over the next hill. We collect stories and friends from far-flung places. As the pressures of climate change affect local populations and infrastructure, will certain places be safe for the visiting surfer?
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Industrial smoke stacks at Hermosa Beach, California and the generation that will have to deal with our actions

Agreements were made at COP21, which in its self is a feat, but many are questioning the practical implications of that agreement and the lengths to which they go. Reinforcing that point – it really is up to you and me.

We should all care about climate change, surfers or not. If you like it or not, its going to effect you and more so our children and grandchildren. But as surfers we are ‘canaries in the mine’, we are on the front line immersed in nature. We’ll feel it first, so we should be advocates of challenging it in every aspect of our lives.

Sustainability

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