Senator John Heinz

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The Heinz Awards

2010

Richard Feely

Logging more than 1,000 days at sea on over 50 scientific expeditions, Dr. Richard Feely of Seattle, a senior research scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Pacific Marine Laboratory, has played a leading role in examining the acidification of oceans and shifting public policy to address this growing issue.

In fact, ocean acidity is now considered global warming's "evil twin," thanks in large measure to Dr. Feely's seminal research on the changing ocean chemistry and its impact on marine ecosystems. He argues that with the continuation of uncontrolled "greenhouse" gas emissions, the acidity of the world's oceans will double by the end of the century.

Dr. Feely is sounding the alarm that our oceans are becoming more acidic earlier than expected, which has enormous impact on the environment. His groundbreaking research includes leading NOAA expeditions, such as one off North America's Pacific coast that discovered the startling fact that corrosive waters were at acidic levels not predicted by climate change models to occur for decades.

Richard Feely has spent his federal government career researching and understanding ocean chemistry and the effects of human-induced changes, particularly excess carbon dioxide, on the world's seas. Early on, his findings were largely ignored. However, recognizing ocean acidity as an environmental problem with potentially catastrophic economic consequences, Dr. Feely persistently and methodically applied the highest levels of scientific inquiry as the problem grew in scope and intensity. He has also leveraged media platforms to explain the problem of ocean acidification and to increase its visibility more publicly. Dr. Feely maintains that "the decisions we make now, over the next 50 years, will be felt over hundreds of thousands of years."

Note: This profile is excerpted from the commemorative brochure published at the time of the awards' presentation.

Speech

11/15/2010 - Acceptance Speech

Well, Gretchen, you're a very hard act to follow.  I really enjoyed being here this evening.  I think we're all very happy to be here this evening.   I want to thank Teresa very much for this special award. This award is especially significant to me because it honors John Heinz, who like you Teresa, clearly understood the importance of a healthy environment to the prosperity and livelihoods of our inhabitants of our planet Earth. It was John's bipartisan efforts and courage to speak out on environmental issues that lead to the passage of the Clean Air Act of 1990. I am very grateful to the Heinz Foundation for focusing attention on the essential role of science in providing the information necessary to address environmental problems like global climate change and ocean acidification.  It is indeed through your work Teresa, that we scientists are challenged every single day to live up to John's legacy and to speak out on environmental issues of concern to us all and to our nation.  

I am very pleased that this award has focused attention on the long-term role of the oceans in absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, from the burning of fossil fuels emissions for energy.  We now know that our marine ecosystems could very well pay a very stiff price for taking up the excess carbon dioxide and continue along the pathway of emission of CO2 as our primary source of energy.  We now understand very clearly, that the entire food chain from the tiniest plants that provide the oxygen we breathe, to the fish and shellfish that provide the food we need for human beings to live, are at stake.  These new research results have shown us just how much our marine ecosystems depend on the good will and the stewardship concerning the choices that we humans make about our energy needs while sustaining a clean environment.  

I am grateful to you, Teresa and to the Heinz Foundation for highlighting the importance of this environment to our humanity and to ourselves as a population.  I also want to thank our leaders at NOAA, particularly the Honorable Jane Lubchenco, Craig McLean,  Eddie Bernard, for supporting my research on the carbon cycle and ocean acidification in the oceans over the last 30 years of my career.  And in particular I would like to thank my family, Teresa, my wife; my children, Shawna, Kristofor, Matthew, Brenna, his new wife of two months.  And I want to really appreciate all that everyone has done for me and my career, for the love they have shown me and the support they have shown me over the years.

Thank you all very much.

Richard Feely
Richard Feely