Surfrider CEO on the U.S.-China climate deal and surfers

Sea level rise and ocean acidification should be at the top of mind for all surfers, says Surfrider CEO Chad Nelson; Photo by Shutterstock

Re-post from GrindTV

In a surprise announcement on Tuesday night, the United States and China, the world’s two biggest economies and greenhouse gas emitters, said they would be partnering on a package of plans to fight climate change, with a strong focus on reducing carbon pollution.

President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping met in Beijing to reach the agreement. The goal? To reduce U.S. carbon emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, with stronger restrictions on power plants and vehicles. China set a date for its emissions peak: 2030. The country is currently the planet’s largest polluter, due in part to the its dependence on coal.

“The caveat here is that nothing they did is actually binding,” says Surfrider FoundationChief Executive Chad Nelson. “They made a verbal commitment. But what’s worth noting is that the U.S. and China are two of the largest emitters of carbon, so without our participation, nothing gets done globally. There’s this ‘you go first, no you go first’ attitude, and this sends a strong signal that both countries are very serious about this issue.”

Nelson, who’s at the helm of one of the largest nonprofit grassroots organizations protecting our oceans and beaches, says the agreement may have been due directly to mounting pressure on President Obama from likeminded grassroots organizations to enact tangible plans for improving the environment.

“There’s a 100-year lag time between carbon emissions and the effects on the ocean,” says Nelson. “Even if we stopped pumping carbon into the atmosphere tomorrow, we’d still feel the effects for the next 100 years or so, no matter what.”

The effects surfers should be worried about? They include sea level rise that will alter the ways our coasts appear and the way in which waves break. There’s also looming ocean acidification, which wreaks havoc on ocean life, and more specifically, the coral reefs that influence some of the most famous waves in the world: Pipeline, Teahupoo, Cloudbreak, and thousands of others. Nelson says the faster we can create real change in our emissions, the fast that 100 year lag will start to taper off.

“We can’t change the damage that’s already been done; it’s really the next generation’s problem that we’re trying to solve,” explains Nelson. “But we can change the trajectory of that impact. That’s why this deal is such a good moment.”

Follow Surfrider’s blog for updates on the climate deal as the nonprofit prepares to meet with European Surfrider chapters for an environmental summit in the fall.