06/08/2012 02:44 pm ET Updated Aug 08, 2012

World Oceans Day: Now Is the Time to Return the Favor

They say the oceans gave us life and that it's time to return the favor. That could be this year's World Oceans Day theme. But it's well past time to return the favor. We should have begun to do this in 1992 at the first Rio Summit. Sadly, we didn't take the necessary steps and there is still much to be done.

So the theme of this year's World Oceans Day seems unfortunate: "Youth: the Next Wave for Change." Doesn't that seem like a dangerous passing of the buck?

Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, Nobel Prize winner and Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the most esteemed scientific body considering the Earth's climate crisis, said: "This is the defining moment." That was five years ago, back in 2007. He added that "if there is no action by 2012, it's too late."

So here we are in 2012. We were the youth at the time of the first Rio Summit and now we are the leaders as another Earth Summit unfolds. Global carbon dioxide emissions continue to increase even faster than predicted. So what do we have to say for ourselves? That the youth are the next wave for change?

Don't get me wrong, I agree that we must preserve our oceans for future generations, but we have to be the ones that create the change. We can't afford or tolerate more procrastination. We know what needs to be done and there is no longer any excuse for failing to set targets, establish limits and devise a plan to meet them.

We can already see what carbon dioxide has in store for our oceans. They are now 30 percent more acidic than just 200 years ago. Fish populations are starting to shift towards the poles setting off potential ecological upheaval and leaving some fishermen without food or livelihoods. Sea level is rising, and causing whole nations to consider relocating. And all of this raises such serious threats to national security that even military leaders are expressing concern.

There is only one way to stop the runaway consequences for our oceans and ourselves and it's common sense. We need to fundamentally change our energy strategy by shifting away from fossil fuels and toward a clean energy economy. No, it won't happen overnight, but it won't happen at all if we don't actively define the path forward. It seems our current energy strategy is to wait and see what the private sector wants to develop, rather than demanding the fuels we need and shaping energy policy accordingly.

We can't keep letting oil and coal companies design our fate any more than we can afford to wait for today's youth to become tomorrow's leaders. To be meaningful, this year's World Oceans Day must mark a turning point where we demand that our leaders set clean energy goals and devise a transition plan to achieve them. If we ever hope to return the favor to our oceans, we simply cannot settle for anything less.