This letter features reporting from "The Whales of Fishing Creek: Climate Lessons From the Pliocene" by Justin Cook
Dear Congressman Joe Neguse,
I am a twelve-year-old Boulder resident and I write to you concerning climate change. The Colorado we both know and love is at risk, and I want my own children to experience Colorado at its best. As a member of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, I know you are well positioned to influence future plans addressing global warming. I have recently come across a solution to help reverse climate change that you may not have heard of. According to Justin Cook’s Pulitzer Center article “The Whales of Fishing Creek: Climate Lessons From the Pliocene,” published in The Coastal Review, fossils reveal how climate change in the last 4.5 million years caused “whales to evolve into enormous ecosystem engineers essential to the Earth’s carbon cycle.” Cook explains that whales have been aggressively hunted since the 1700s, and if we were to restore populations to a healthy level, around 1.7 billion tons of carbon could be removed from the atmosphere annually.
According to Cook’s article, during the Pliocene, a similar warming period as today, the carbon levels were highest at somewhere between 380 and 420 parts per million. In May 2023, the carbon dioxide levels reached about 424 ppm. Fortunately during the Pliocene, there were whales. Whales consumed phytoplankton, storing the carbon dioxide in their bodies, and defecated at the surface. Then, the phytoplankton ate the nutritious poop and bloomed, being eaten by the whales again. This system was called the whale pump and stored massive amounts of carbon dioxide in the ocean sediment every year. However, we have hunted and continue to hunt those whales. Since there are fewer whales, their collective work does less for the climate. We have the opportunity to restore the whale population and thereby mitigate the impacts of carbon emissions.
Here in Colorado, we have been clearly affected by climate change. We have experienced flooding including in September of 2013, a result of ceaseless rain, caused by global warming. Not only have we faced floods, but droughts as well, such as in 2012, 2018, and 2020. These droughts are threat enough, but they lead to wildfires that destroy our state. Just recently, in December of 2021, the Marshall Fire burned over 6,000 acres of land and displaced 35,000 people. Lots of my friends had to start from square one to rebuild and reconstruct what they lost to global warming. The NCAR fire of March 2022 happened near me and my house could have burned. I would be in a different place if the wind had been blowing in any other direction. Instead, the fire burned the entire hill. It used to be covered in waving, rippling, yellow grass and tall, proud evergreens. Now, there are only the bare skeletons of the trees. Even today, I see the scars of climate change on the land.
One solution to the problem has been hiding in the depths of our oceans. Whales helped reverse climate change during the Pliocene, a feat they are still accomplishing today. We need to work with nature and not against it, as Cook explains, and restore the whale population. Whales are not the whole solution, but I believe they will make an important difference. One whale can do the work of thousands of trees. We need to do our part to reverse climate change on a personal, state, and ultimately global level. It will take time and energy, but I urge you, Congressman Neguse, to rescue our whales and make a change in our world.
Thank you for your consideration.
Violet Sandridge is a 7th grade student at Summit Charter Middle School in Boulder, Colorado. She believes learning is invaluable because of the possibilities it opens and the curiosities it satisfies. She particularly enjoys studying English, Math, and Computer Science, and is drawn to the power of writing and the messages it can convey. She expresses herself through her artwork, which has been recognized in Boulder Lifestyle Magazine. In her free time, she delights in reading, spending time with friends and family, and playing tennis and pickleball.