The Sea and Climate Change

The Sea and Climate Change

During all mass extinctions, including those initially caused by comets, the sea has played a key role. The major cycles and processes in the ocean take place so slowly that by the time problems arise, it’s too late to do anything.

Morten A. Strøksnes, Shark Drunk, Penguin Random House, 2017

The Earth’s climate is undeniably changing, but if it wasn’t for the seas and oceans, that capture around a quarter of all the carbon dioxide released into the air, the effects of climate change could already be much worse. As well as giving us food and resources, the oceans are our main ally against global warming, and the first to feel its effects.

This capacity to absorb carbon dioxide and excess heat are not without consequences, as the acidification of the oceans and global sea level rise demonstrate.


In the last 40 years, the ocean has absorbed 93.4% of excess heat, acting like a buffer against global warming. A further 2.3% goes into the atmosphere, while 2.1% is absorbed by the soil. The rest is soaked up by the polar ice caps and glaciers.

The absorption of this heat causes water molecules to expand and contributes to sea level rise. Since 1900 sea levels have risen by 20 centimeters and according to our best estimates they’ll continue to rise by an average of 3 millimeters a year.


While richer countries like the Netherlands are investing in new forms of coastal barriers, the lives and homes of people in some of the poorest countries are at risk, in the regions most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

In Bangladesh, for example, sea level rise is more than double the global average, at eight millimeters a year. Every year, between 30% and 50% of the land is flooded with seawater, and millions of people risk becoming climate refugees in the near future.


We’re often led to believe that some problems are bigger than us, and that there’s nothing we can do about them, or that they’re not ours to solve. None of this is true: we’re all connected, and what happens at sea has largely terrestrial origins.

There’s a lot of virtuous behaviors we can adopt to mitigate the effects of climate change, starting with our eating habit.

  • Eat less meat, and of better quality. Remember that fish too may be farmed intensively, in highly polluted environments: avoid tropical shrimp, salmon, and catfish.
  • Look for food which is fresh, local and seasonal: the less miles it’s traveled to get to your table, the better!
  • Try to vary your purchases: biodiversity is a friend of the climate.
  • The fight against climate change shouldn’t be a burden for companies, but an opportunity for technological innovation geared towards sustainability.
  • Governments and institutions must work to implement specific measures, policies and strategies to combat climate change.
  • Initiatives originating in civil society are fundamental. For example, Slow Food approved a motion at its International Congress 2017 to activate awareness-raising campaigns that promote all forms of agriculture practiced in harmony with the environment, preserving biodiversity and natural resources. Numerous such initiatives have been undertaken by multiple actors at the international level.

Come to Slow Fish and discover positive fishing stories at the Slow Fish Arena. Fishers, conscious consumers, companies and organizations will show you what they’re doing to promote a climate-friendly future, and what you can do to help.


Fao, 2018
Impacts of climate change on fisheries and aquaculture – Syntesis of current knowledge, adptation and mitigation option

Heinrich Boll Stiftung e Schleswig-Holstein, 2017
Ocean Atlas – Facts and Figures on the Threats to Our Marine Ecosistems