Sverre Alvik, Contributor
June 7, 2022
Also known as The Great Wave, the print is from the series Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji. Located in a private collection. | Location: near Kanagawa, Japan. (Photo by VCG Wilson/Corbis via Getty Images.)
Hokusai’s nineteenth century painting The Great Wave depicts three boats grappling with enormous waves in the shadow of Mount Fuji and shows how the ocean has often been able to fend off humanity’s ever-expanding thumbprint. Even if the sea retains its ferocious force, a modern-day contemporary to Hokusai would conjure up a different scene. The artisanal fishermen would be replaced by commercial trawlers that contribute to the current desperate state of fish stocks. Mount Fuji retains its majestic silhouette, but the snowline has, according to one study, moved up 30 meters in the last four decades as summer temperatures have increased by two degrees Celsius. These are more than aesthetic changes, they speak to the acute need for sustainable sources of food and energy.
Many great seafaring societies had turned the sea into a trading and cultural superhighway by the time of Hokusai’s work . Whilst the Phoenicians, Chinese and Vikings navigated the ocean with great success, the view from the top of Mount Fuji looking out onto the Pacific Ocean would have been largely the same in the 1830s as it would have been hundreds of years previously. It is only relatively recently with the mechanization of maritime transport and advent of offshore oil and gas that our oceans began to reflect the rapid industrialization happening on land. And even if the exploitation of offshore fossil fuels has brought great wealth to some economies, and impacting most others by the consequences of climate change, the physical installations are relatively small and scattered.
The seascape remains relatively unscathed, but the story is different below the waterline where man-made pressure is taking a toll. On top of unsustainable fishing, the ocean is blighted by pollution - including millions of tonnes of plastics that are dumped into the ocean on an annual basis - and acidification caused by fossil fuel emissions. All of these factors are damaging wildlife and livelihoods.
Now, we are on the cusp of another transformation for the ocean, which is maybe even more profound – and one which is visible for all to see.
The Blue Economy is currently dominated by the oil and gas industry, but a new era is unfolding as renewables challenge the rule of fossil fuels. It will be defined by wind turbines as high as skyscrapers that are clustered in their hundreds. These will stand alongside industrial scale fish farms containing millions of fish. It could be argued that this is a new round of anthropogenic pressure that our oceans do not need. I say, though, that with careful and skilful regulation, this new generation of offshore technology will alleviate some of the most negative aspects of humanity’s influence on our seas.
At DNV, we forecast offshore wind will play the central role in the ocean's future. By the middle of the century, offshore wind will provide more energy than offshore oil and account for about half of capital expenditure in the ocean. Over the same time frame, offshore oil production will half and whilst the oil and gas sector accounts for 80% of investment in the Blue Economy today, by 2050 that will have shrunk to 25%. This is in the context of the decarbonization of the energy system, which will be split equally between renewables and fossil fuels by mid-century.
Global offshore energy production as forecast in DNV's Ocean's Future to 2050 (DNV)
The new Age of Wind will bring opportunities to countries which were excluded from the Age of Fossil Fuel. Building from a relatively small base, Greater China is establishing itself as a global powerhouse of the Blue Economy, accounting for more than a quarter of capital expenditure in the Blue Economy by 2050. Europe will also be a strong player, growing its spending to 14% from 11% in the same time frame.
Greater China is transforming itself into the powerhouse of the Blue Economy. Graph showing Investments in the Blue Economy as forecast in DNV's Ocean's Future to 2050. (DNV)
If wind power will define the future seascape and Blue Economy, it is not without its challenges. Namely, a race for ocean space. When considering the proximity to the coastline, water depth and nature reserves, only a relatively small fraction is suitable for development. DNV forecasts there will be a nine-fold increase in demand for ocean space globally by the middle of the century, which roughly equates to the landmass of Italy. The need for space will be felt most acutely close to shore, in areas with water depth of 50 meters or less, where fixed bottom wind turbines will have to compete with other industries such as aquaculture, which benefits from simpler logistics by being closer to land. And will tourists want to see towering wind turbines as they eat breakfast on their balcony of their holiday house in the Florida Keys? And how will these huge wind farms interact with shipping lanes? This is why the role of government and inter-governmental organizations are so important.
Careful regulation will not only protect ecosystems, it will also promote collaboration between countries and industries. Denmark, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands are currently working together to build energy islands that will, in part, generate electricity to produce hydrogen. Similarly, offshore wind can co-locate with aquaculture projects and act as a source of renewable power if the correct policy framework is put in place.
Whilst future generations of artists will have a very different panorama to commit to canvas when looking at the sea, it can be argued the change should be even more profound and even quicker. The Blue Economy is transforming, but it must do so even faster if we are to protect life in and out of the ocean.
By Sverre Alvik, Contributor
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