The time to protect our ocean and Great Lakes is now - are you in?

Earlier this month, Gov. Pritzker signed the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act at Shedd Aquarium, on the shore of Lake Michigan. It is a comprehensive, equitable climate and energy bill and provides a blueprint for other Great Lakes states to take urgent action to address the growing climate crisis.

The United Nation's most recent scientific report from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirms that climate change is the largest threat to our planet today and indicates that humans are the root cause of earth's warming - we are shifting our climate. The report is a cry for immediate action, but all is not lost. If we act fast and follow science, we can help build back a healthier economy and more resilient ocean and Great Lakes - which we all rely upon, even though you may not realize it.

The ocean and Great Lakes drive our local economies, support jobs, expand tourism and recreation and are an essential source of food. The ocean makes up 70% of our planet's surface and though it might seem far away, the ocean is said to supply every second breath you take, thanks to oxygen-producing plankton.

Similarly, here on America's "third coast," the Great Lakes contain 20% of the world's surface fresh water supply and provide drinking water to more than 40 million people. As the largest freshwater system in the world, the Great Lakes are also home to 3,500 species of plants and animals, including more than 170 species of fish.

To preserve these resources and our economy, we must continue the work carried out this month. We can start by urging Congress to invest in climate solutions that match the urgent needs our communities face.

Specifically, Congress must ensure the budget reconciliation package currently under consideration includes $10 billion for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to advance a comprehensive coastal restoration and resilience initiative that will help revitalize our coastal communities and create local conservation jobs, while protecting aquatic wildlife in the face of climate change. The need for nature-based solutions such as these is growing with each passing season.

We are seeing that now, as our coastal communities are being battered by the devastating impacts of extreme weather. Investing in restoration projects and improved natural infrastructure will save lives now and money in the future. For example, one study found that during Hurricane Sandy, natural coastal wetlands prevented more than $625 million in damage by reducing flooding.

Closer to home, an analysis released this July notes that coastal damage from climate change will cost at least $2 billion over the next five years in the Great Lakes alone, illustrating the scope and magnitude of climate impacts on the region. When we make these same investments here in the Great Lakes, we will reduce the harm of increasingly frequent extreme weather events, such as heavy rain, severe storms, tornadoes and flooding.

Gov. Pritzker's newly signed Climate and Equitable Jobs Act is a great example of investing in solutions that propel us forward while smartly addressing the very real threats that the climate crisis presents.

These types of strategic investments will build our economies back stronger while restoring the health of our ocean and coasts. They will also help build the next generation of conservationists and put people to work in their home communities restoring these ecosystems through programs such as the Civilian Climate Corp. Further, when we ensure equitable access to these federal resources, our nation can advance environmental justice, prioritize tribes and front-line communities and reduce unnecessary barriers to climate action for small cities and towns.

It's time for us to be better - better neighbors to local waterways, better stewards of the natural spaces and better advocates for the waterbodies we all need and rely upon.

Without delay, we must address the enormity of America's needs in clean energy infrastructure and resilience as we face the climate crisis. Fortunately, the budget reconciliation provides another opportunity to tackle this. Congress can start today by making a once-in-a-generation investment to rebuild and restore our ocean and Great Lakes. We urge the Great Lakes' congressional delegations to work together in investing in critically needed, locally driven and equity-centered climate solutions.

The IPCC's report on climate change is a clear call from our world's scientists, urging us all to focus our collective efforts, innovation and resources to protect our ocean and Great Lakes. By advocating and acting together, we can turn the tide on climate change, save species and protect the blue planet we all share.

• Andrea Densham is the senior director of government affairs and conservation policy at Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.

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