Climate change reversal requires investment and innovation—NOW!

By Ellen Prager, PhD

This April marks marine scientist and author Dr. Ellen Prager’s final month as a Safina Center Fellow. Her year with us has been filled with much excitement and achievement, including two books, research and ocean outreach! As climate change continues to degrade the environment—especially the oceans—Prager leaves us with an urgent call to action.

Many of the world’s wealthiest private citizens are now thankfully investing in exploration, technology development, the fight against insidious disease, and assisting the world’s poorest and most downtrodden. But one of the most significant problems of our time seems to have gotten the short end of the stick. Why aren’t investors clamoring to invest in viable technology to reverse the continued rise of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere?

From across the globe, reports are coming in nearly daily about the increasingly costly and devastating impacts of climate change. We’re seeing increased drought, heat waves, longer and more severe fire seasons, more severe storms, accelerated sea level rise, and disastrous flooding. Human lives, health, and regional economies are under threat. With El Niño to boot, a worldwide bleaching event has struck coral reefs and scientists now wait anxiously to see how many will survive. Conservative estimates are that coral reefs are annually worth some $375 billion dollars (Costanza et al., 1997) in the services they provide such as in tourism and recreation, fisheries, wave protection, and more. It’s an annual net worth that one would hope is too big to fail!

Coral shockingly white or bleached due to temperature stress. Credit: Coral Bleaching/NOAA Climate

Coral shockingly white or bleached due to temperature stress. Credit: Coral Bleaching/NOAA Climate

Even if we significantly reduce emissions now–and that’s a big if–the impacts of rising carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere will continue. It’s the old lag time thing, probably hundreds to possibly a thousand years or so of lag time (Romm, 2016).

That’s not to mention the positive feedbacks that are not integrated into the current climate change models, such as melting permafrost, or the less than perfect way clouds are simulated.

I’m not an alarmist, never have been. But this is truly scary. And what if the Antarctic ice sheets or Greenland glaciers melt sooner than conservative estimates predict?

Antarctic Larsen Ice Shelf. Credit: Ted Scambos, NSIDC

Antarctic Larsen Ice Shelf. Credit: Ted Scambos, NSIDC

Climate change and the consequences are happening no matter what you believe or your political ideology tells you to believe. Along with planning for resilience and adaptation, why aren’t we talking about bringing our best innovative minds together to find ways to pull carbon dioxide from the atmosphere?

If we’re lucky, emissions reductions and steps to slow deforestation and the other contributors to climate change could slow its impacts or keep them from getting catastrophic (maybe). But if we could come up with some actually viable, affordable means to suck carbon dioxide from the air (and not screw up the rest of the planet) and store it (okay, that’s another issue), we might even be able to reverse the trend.

So, hey all you wealthy philanthropists doing good, put out a hefty incentive or invest in reversing climate change. It’s not about saving the planet. The Earth is going to be just fine. It’s the people we have to worry about!

Stingray Cover_


Dr. Ellen Prager works to educate people of all ages about the ocean, marine life, and the problems impacting our precious seas. The latest book in her “Tristan Hunt and the Sea Guardians” series for young readers, Stingray City, will be released May 3.


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