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Washington Journal of Environmental Law & Policy

Abstract

The emerging problem of ocean acidification provides a clear signal that we need to think and act differently about our stewardship of the ocean, its resources, and the services it provides to society. No longer can we afford to address environmental problems in the ocean on a reductionist, case-by-case basis, because the number of problems requiring attention has grown so large that the problems now are stacked one on top of another. Moreover, many of these problems are growing rapidly; for example, the contemporary rate of ocean acidification exceeds that at any time in the past 300 million years. Nor are these environmental problems independent of each other: the problems interact via synergies and feedbacks that can amplify or dampen the problems’ effects on ocean systems. Uncertainties abound in terms of rates, interactions, and outcomes, and are magnified by the number of variables changing in concert. Clearly, we need to embrace holistic thinking about resource management in the ocean in order to sustain the properties and functions we derive from it. Systems science offers one means of thinking holistically about ocean systems and its inherent complexity, interconnectedness, and dynamism. Indeed, the existing concept of marine ecosystems is based in systems science, as is the concept of marine social-ecological systems, and systems thinking underlies much of contemporary ocean science. Systems thinking is especially appropriate to the problem of ocean acidification because of its dynamic nature, association with other stressors, and cross-scale interactions. Unlike some environmental problems in which the causative drivers are local, ocean acidification is caused by global processes that are expressed regionally and that can be exacerbated at local scales.

First Page

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