A new “front” opened yesterday in the fight to ensure that the world’s ocean resources are used sustainably, with the launch of the Stephenson Ocean Security Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).  The Project’s web site explains its objective — to raise awareness about the ways that competition for marine resources contributes to instability and geopolitical risk for the United States. CSIS will propose potential domestic and global policy solutions promoting effective ocean governance in order to increase the resilience of both ocean ecosystems and coastal states against the increasingly destabilizing forces of change, particularly ocean warming.

The fact that a thought leader like CSIS is willing to enter what had up until now been primarily and battle by conservation groups for greater ocean environmental protections is a recognition that food security is a growing cause of instability in key regions of the globe.

  • Competition for ocean resources is increasing rapidly as coastal nations expand their economies and the global population continues its growth towards eleven billion people by the end of the century.
  • More than three billion people already depend on fish for a critical portion of their daily protein intake.
  • This number is expected to grow in the years to come, even as 90 percent of global fish stocks are already fished at or above sustainable levels. 

Not surprisingly, in addition to fisheries conflicts, there is ongoing competition for access to oil and gas resources on the Arctic outer continental shelf and in disputed waters in the South China Sea that also have the potential to exacerbate existing political tensions.  And, on the high seas, there is a key global debate brewing over the management of deep sea bed mining, conserving biodiversity, and human rights issues of fishers enslaved on fishing vessels that remain at sea for long periods of time.

Why This Matters:  Full disclosure — I (Monica) have had a long standing interest in the issue of ocean resources and national security, and have been working to help CSIS get the ball rolling on the project.  I believe that if you substituted the word “oil” for “fish” in the paragraphs above, no one would even blink at the national security implications and environmental significance of this work. Fish in my view could be even more important than oil to a larger segment of the public globally — those in the developing world who don’t have cars but do eat fish. The resources available at the Department of Defense (both technical and financial) could be a game changer for efforts to ensure ocean sustainability into the future.  

To Go Deeper:  Watch the full launch program here.

And one other thing:  At the launch, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse gave a keynote address in which he excoriated the fossil fuel industry for “buying” undue influence in Washington, putting the entire planet as well as U.S. democracy at grave risk.  It’s a “hot take” on big oil being to blame for climate change and for stopping government’s efforts to get greenhouse gas emissions under control, and it’s worthy of your time.  To see his remarks, advance the video to 2 hours and 22 minutes into the program.

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