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Wave Heights Will Wane From Climate Change

“Surf’s up!”

These two words have sparked countless scenes of surfers worldwide frantically gathering boards, leashes and friends in excited rushes to the ocean in the hopes of catching a few big waves. However, a recent study published in the journal Nature Climate Change, "Projected changes in wave climate from a multi-model ensemble", indicates that climate change may threaten the frequency of such scenes.

Researchers’ findings project that while only 7.1 percent of the world’s ocean area will experience an increase in average wave heights, almost 26 percent will actually experience a decrease in the size of surf.

Of course, the world of surfing won’t stop spinning if average wave heights decrease. While big-wave chargers may lament the prospect of a decrease in opportunities to chase big swells, many surfers are content to enjoy smaller waves. Beyond the world of surfing, this study brings to mind two points that are important to remember when considering climate change: the varied nature of its effects and the importance of personal impact in motivating efforts to fight it.

Climate change has a connotation of doom and destruction in popular culture, bringing to mind images of blazing wildfires, torrential rains and surging tsunamis—but not all the effects of climate change will fit the apocalyptic narrative. As the title suggests, it will lead to changes rather than strictly increases in weather patterns. This is important to remember when observing its effects. This report indicates that climate change may be lapping at our shores rather than surging over our beaches and into our streets.

As yet, the effects of climate change are, on a day-to-day basis, largely invisible to the average person. Without active monitoring, the gradual effects may continue unnoticed until they reach a boiling point. The scientific community has agreed that even if we introduce immediate and significant reductions in the emission of greenhouse gases, the global temperature will continue to rise by at least another two degrees Fahrenheit.

Connecting the effects of climate change to people’s daily activities would work wonders in attracting them to the movement to slow it. People are more likely to address an issue that they experience in some manner. While wanting to ride bigger waves may be a less noble reason for fighting climate change than, say, preserving the Earth for future generations, it may strike a chord with some surfers that more abstract, long-term notions do not.

About the Earthjustice Blog

unEARTHED is a forum for the voices and stories of the people behind Earthjustice's work. The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the opinion or position of Earthjustice or its board, clients, or funders. Learn more about Earthjustice.