South Carolina's Flagship University

Climate Change and the Oceans:
Regulating the Seas to Protect the Atmosphere & Vice Versa

October 2, 2008, Columbia, South Carolina

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Speaker Biographies

William H. Rodgers, Jr., University of Washington School of Law

Professor Rodgers’ talk will address the “legal saga” of the 1989 spill of the Exxon Valdez, including the role of the Alaska Natives within it. The 1991 Natural Resource Damage settlement (between the U.S. and the State of Alaska) made $900 million available to the trustees for restoration purposes. Another $100 million became available for this purpose under the so-called “reopener clause” if demands were made (and they were) by June 1, 2006. There are legal issues ongoing.

A second phase of this conflict (involving damage claims by a class of 32,000 native and non-native fishermen) ended in a June 2008 ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court (Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker). The bottom line of this decision was to reduce a $5 billion punitive damage award (handed down in 1994 and serving a compensatory purpose) to $500 million. This 18-year trek to “justice” raises questions about the legal system.

The “multiple stressors” arrive in force with recent events that have brought climate change to the Arctic. The flooding of the villages that have not fully recovered from the oil 1989 spill have spawned another roster of legal responses. Among these are damage claims by the Village of Kivalina against major sources of CO2, including ExxonMobil. Here it is alleged that oil and coal entities conspired to falsify the scientific record on climate change, using outlets such as junkscience.com.

Dr. Wil Burns, Editor in Chief Journal of International Wildlife Law & Policy

"Ocean Acidification And Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Potential Causes of Action under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement"
While much of the focus on the potential impacts of rising anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions on ocean ecosystems has been on the implications of rising temperatures and sea level rise, the acidification of oceans as a consequence of the uptake of massive additional amounts of carbon dioxide may prove to be even more serious. This presentation assesses the potential impacts of ocean acidification on ocean species and ecosystems and discusses one potential approach to seek to induce major greenhouse gas emitting nations to address the issue: initiating actions under the dispute resolution mechanisms provided for under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement. The presentation will include a discussion of potential defendants under the respective regimes, potential legal barriers to such causes of action, including causality issues and the requisite standard of care, and an assessment of the political implications of such potential actions.

Dr. Felicia C. Coleman, FSU Biology Department

"The Ecological Effects of Climate Change on Species Interactions and Fisheries"
Climate can have a profound influence on life-history traits of marine organisms because of the influence that varying seasonal patterns of temperature, precipitation, and therefore current structure in marine systems have on food availability at a variety of spatial and temporal scales. In so doing, climate also affects the interactions among species within a given ecosystem, including their predator-prey and competitive relationships, as well as overall biodiversity.

Species compensate for environmental changes by making energetic trade-offs of finite resources among competing metabolic needs. Allocation of resources to one function diminishes the allocation available to another. The question is, do they have sufficient compensatory capacity to survive under the influence of climate change? This is a critical question faced by natural resource managers of all species, but it is particularly acute for those managing exploited species. The additional burden of climate change on already heavily fished marine species, for instance, could lead to spectacular population collapses. This presentation will focus on the physiological and behavioral trade-offs organisms make in changing environments to ensure their reproductive success, and discuss the management trade-offs we humans must make to obtain sustainable fisheries and the ecosystems that support them.