A Letter to the President
2017, High School, Prose
Dear President Trump:
I do not doubt that a man such as you has much correspondence to consider in a day; yours is, after all, one of the most difficult jobs in the world, and there are many issues that people want for you to pore over and begin to resolve. You have already attempted to nullify several of those, one of them being the issue of how to respond to international concern over the state of the planet. On June 2nd, you did so by withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord. According to the Telegraph, one news outlet that you have not yet had a disagreement with, you justified the action by saying the Accord “is simply the latest example of Washington entering into an agreement that disadvantages the United States, to the exclusive benefit of other countries, leaving American workers, who I love, and taxpayers to absorb the cost in terms of lost jobs, lower wages, shuttered factories, and vastly diminished economic production” (Crilly 2). I respect your justifications. As a patriotic young woman myself, I applaud that my government does not want to be told what to do by others. This belief is part of the foundation our great nation is built upon.
But to manifest that belief through non-cooperation with the Paris Climate Accord is, as you so eloquently put it, wrong.
I write this today to implore you to re-evaluate your withdrawal from the Accord. In order to prevent this letter from becoming the longest persuasive work ever written, I would like to focus the remainder of my plea on the impact the withdrawal has on the oceans that sit just outside Mar-a-Lago and other resorts of yours. In understanding these effects, it is my hope that you take action.
The Accord customizes a greenhouse gas emission reduction policy for each signee, but you already know that. And though you have access to statistics and studies that prove our climate is changing, you are skeptical of the facts. I am not here to slander you for skepticism. I am not even here to convince you that ocean levels are, in fact, rising. No. I am here to tell you about another problem entirely: ocean acidification. Simply put, acidification comes from seawater absorption of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which in turn causes a series of reactions that lower pH. This is a natural process, and the oceans are able to counteract the pH changes when there are small amounts of carbon dioxide, staying neutral. But National Geographic reports that “oceans currently absorb about a third of human-created CO₂ emissions, roughly 22 million tons a day” and that this has helped cause “a 25-percent increase in acidity over the past two centuries” (“Ocean Acidification” 2-3). At this point, you may be thinking that to stop what I have already called a natural process does not seem like a strong argument for returning to the Accord. Yet this natural process has escalated to an unnatural breaking point that has begun to wreak havoc on our economy, and since it is for economic purposes that you removed the American signature from the Accord, I will view this problem through an economic lens.
This gradual rise in pH has directly affected U.S. aquaculture, which NOAA values at $1.2 billion each year, with 13.3 percent of that coming from the farming of mollusks like oysters and clams (“Basic Questions” 2-3). This 13.3 percent is the first sector to feel the effects of acidification because as pH decreases, the amount of carbonate ions in the water decreases as well. This is a problem as bivalve mollusks and shellfish rely on carbonate in the early stages of their life to help form their shells. Hari Sreenivasan of PBS NewsHour reports that because seed oysters, which are still in the process of forming their shells, had less carbonate to carry out the process, “Seed production in the Northwest plummeted by as much as 80 percent between 2005 and 2009” (1). He goes on to warn that if the process continues, “acidification could reduce U.S. shellfish harvests by as much as 25 percent over the next 50 years” (2). This puts these shellfish farmers at an acute risk of having their profits reduced to levels that would make their livelihoods unsustainable. While you may answer with a suggestion of taking another job, shellfish farming is a year-round process, 14 hour days a day; circumstances such as those prevent the farmer from maintaining a second job (Green 2). Without the reduction of carbon emissions to allow carbonate ion levels in the water to recover, this economic sector does not give the output that our economy needs, nor can our economy afford to lose profits as large as these. Not only would this sector suffer, but the mass death of mollusks will take place in the wild as well. The loss of oysters alone, not to mention other shellfish reliant on carbonate for shell formation, would lower the wild crab and lobster populations. Fewer lobsters would make it impossible to break Maine’s $616.5 million record for lobster fishing, but a broken record under your administration would help the reelection campaign (Anderson 1). If the United States were to comply with the Accord and lower our carbon emissions output, these industries do not have to fear losing their value to the economy. Increased job security under your Presidency guarantees a higher approval rating. Thus, I believe that to re-join the Accord to save these industries will inevitably be better than pulling out of it for the sake of the factories you claim its clauses shut down as they will consistently create large profit margins in a sustainable manner. On the other hand, other sectors affected by the accord will eventually have reduced margins due to their lack of resources and unsustainable methods of production.
You have a worthwhile fear of losing over two and a half million jobs by 2025 (Crilly 2). I, too, would reevaluate a deal so costly. But this statistic that you got from National Economics Research Associates requires context. For instance, the source “does not take into consideration yet-to-be-developed technologies that might influence the long term cost,” nor “take into account potential benefits from avoided emissions” (Bernstein et al 6). I have already begun to tell you the economic impact of these benefits, but I have yet to explore the opportunities for innovation the Accord affords. Why not instead of investing in mining, a destructive and diminishing industry, invest in Challenge.gov incentives to reduce the negative economic effects of joining the Accord? Forbes reports that through this site, American citizens have saved government time by inventing solutions to problems like automated calls and astronaut glove design, all the while helping the economy by rewarding these citizens with spending money (Kanani 1). The money put into the organization will repay itself through spending, giving the economy a jolt that will sway voters your way in 2020. Not only this, but investing in this website will encourage innovation among the American people, increasing morale and patriotism, all of which will be attributed to you. Your administration gives $28 billion in budget authority to energy while giving just $18 billion to agriculture and $5.7 billion to the Environmental Protection Agency (“Budget of the U.S. Government” 42). I do not say redesign your entire budget, but I ask why give so much to a failing industry when you can give more to the future to help it recover and rebuild?
Oyster farming especially deserves to be saved from the effects of acidification, due to the fact that as oysters feed on organic matter and plankton, they improve water quality (“What You Should Know” 1). Because of their natural food sources, they require little outside foodstuff, making it a more accessible industry to otherwise unemployed coastal citizens. Bloomberg’s Peter Green also cites encouraging legislation and inexpensive operating cost in the growth of oyster farming (2). Though if the acidification process continues at the rate that it goes by now, “by the end of this century the surface waters of the ocean could be nearly 150 percent more acidic, resulting in a pH that the oceans haven’t experienced for more than 20 million years” and discourage individuals that would have otherwise pursued a career in oyster fishing (“What is Ocean Acidification?” 1). As coal mining in the U.S is predicted to fall by forty million tons this year, these otherwise unemployed coal miners would have been happy finding a job in the shellfish farming industry, but it is the effect of the industry they had been a part of before that, if continuously unchecked, will prevent them from being able to have a career in the future (Jamasmie 1).
Not only do shellfish farmers stand to face monetary loss, but local coastal governments stand to lose money as well. This is due to the fact that corals also rely on carbonate ions within the water to regenerate their exoskeletons, but higher pH levels have stunted coral growth (“What is Ocean Acidification?” 4). Coral reefs and shelves on coastlines prevent the continuous pounding of waves into the shore from rapidly eroding the coastline (“How Reefs Protect the Land” 1). Therefore, with less coral comes more damage along the coastline, and coastal city governments then have to spend money to make up the difference. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration writes on the financial impact of this expenditure: “To mitigate coastal erosion, the federal government spends an average of $150 million every year on beach nourishment and other shoreline erosion control measures” (“Coastal Erosion” 2). Not only is this average already high, but one study also “estimates the potential annual value of lost ecosystem services to be up to ~US $1,000 billion by 2100” (Aze et al 84). These staggering numbers are made higher by the continued loss of coral reefs and coral shelves caused in part by the decrease in global seawater alkalinity. This process can end, though, and these numbers do not have to be so high. Acting with the goals of the Paris Accord in mind to reduce carbon emissions will reduce the carbon dioxide output, thereby reducing oceanic carbon dioxide intake and lessening the pH effects that absorbance has. It is as simple as that.
Not only through natural erosion defense, but also through tourism, recreational activities, and their role in supporting commercial fisheries, coral reefs help contribute over $100 million each year to the U.S. economy (“How Do Coral Reefs Benefit the Economy?” 1). They cannot do this if they are killed by acidic waters. The loss of reefs directly eliminates ecotourism destinations, causes the closing of SCUBA businesses, and discourages tourists who would have otherwise visited a beautiful area but is now covered in dead, bleached corals. Without coral reefs, fisheries lose a vital component that helps filter their waters, causing a decrease in output similar in detriment to the loss of shellfish output. You can prevent these casualties. You can say the word and begin the process of healing and restoration, and as the most powerful man in the world, I believe it is your duty to do so.
Rejoining the other signees of the Paris Climate Accord to save this industry and to counter the negative pH effects would not be allowing other states to dictate what happens in ours, but it would be an investment in a sustainable future. That reinvestment would signal support for the hundreds of independent oyster farms along the eastern and western coasts—it would not signal the abandonment of Middle American coal miners as you fear it would. To sign the Accord again is not to admit defeat, Mr. President; it is the first step in righting a wrong that all nations have contributed to at some point in their respective histories. While the damage of the past 200 years has not all happened under your governance, as President and as a citizen of this world you must accept responsibility for the state of things now. The ultimate form of accepting this would be to help counteract. Counteract for the shellfish farmers of these United States who help bring in revenue both at home and globally. Counteract for the coastal governments to reduce spending on coastline redevelopment programs because coral growth has helped keep the beaches intact. Counteract to let fisheries and coral reefs exist together in alkaline harmony. Counteract because it is within your power to counteract, and because ocean acidification is a fixable problem if the U.S. complies with the Paris Climate Accord. It is your responsibility to fix what is easily fixable. With this information in hand, it is your onus to follow through.
Jessica M. Barker
Aze, Tracy et al. “An Updated Synthesis of the Impacts of Ocean Acidification on Marine Biodiversity.” CBD Technical Series, edited by Sebastian Hennige, J. Murray Rogers, and Phillip Williamson, no. 75, Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, 2014, https://www.cbd.int/doc/publications/cbd-ts-75-en.pdf.
“Basic Questions about Aquaculture,” National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2017, http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/aquaculture/faqs/faq_aq_101.html.
Bernstein, Paul et al. “Impacts of Greenhouse Gas Regulations On the Industrial Sector.” NERA Economic Consulting, March 2017, http://www.nera.com/content/dam/nera/publications/2017/170316-NERA-ACCF-Full-Report.pdf.
“Budget of the U.S. Government: A New Foundation for American Greatness, Fiscal Year 2018.” Office of Management and Budget, 2017, https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/whitehouse.gov/files/omb/budget/fy2018/budget.pdf.
“Coastal Erosion.” National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 06 July 2016, https://toolkit.climate.gov/topics/coastal-flood-risk/coastal-erosion.
Crilly, Rob. “Donald Trump pulls US out of Paris climate accord to ‘put American workers First,’” The Telegraph, 02 June 2017, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/06/01/trump-pull-paris-accord-seek-better-deal.
Domonoske, Camila. “So What Exactly is in the Paris Climate Accord?” NPR, 1 June 2017, http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/06/01/531048986/so-what-exactly-is-in-the-paris-climate-accord.
Green, Peter S. “Small U.S. Oyster Farms Are on the Rise.” Bloomberg, 17 May 2012, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2012-05-17/small-u-dot-s-dot-oyster-farms-are-on-the-rise.
“How Reefs Protect the Land.” Stanford University, 11 April 2012, https://web.stanford.edu/group/microdocs/howreefs.html.
Jamasmie, Cecilia. “US Coal Industry to Decline Even Further in 2017—IEEFA.” Mining.com, 19 January 2017, http://www.mining.com/us-coal-industry-decline-even-2017-ieefa/.
Kanani, Rahim. “Incentivizing Innovation: How The White House Uses Challenge.gov To Solve Big Problems.” Forbes, 17 February 2014, https://www.forbes.com/sites/rahimkanani/2014/02/17/incentivizing-innovation-how-the-white-house-uses-challenge-gov-to-solve-big-problems/#349babce2752.
“Ocean Acidification.” National Geographic, 2017, http://ocean.nationalgeographic.com/ocean/explore/pristine-seas/critical-issues-ocean-acidification/.
“Ocean Acidification’s Impact on Oysters and Other Shellfish.” National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, PMEL Carbon Program, 2017, https://www.pmel.noaa.gov/co2/story/Ocean+Acidification%27s+impact+on+oysters+and+other+shellfish.
“What is Ocean Acidification?” National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, PMEL Carbon Program, 2017, https://www.pmel.noaa.gov/co2/story/What+is+Ocean+Acidification%3.
“What You Should Know About Oysters and Sustainability.” In a Half Shell, 11 August 2014, http://www.inahalfshell.com/oyster-sustainability/.