[Coral-List] Reefs in Trouble - The Real Root Cause

Stephen Jameson sjameson at coralseas.com
Mon Sep 8 01:31:47 EDT 2008

Dear Friends,

The following Guest Editorial just came out in the September issue of the
Marine Pollution Bulletin.

Jameson SC (2008) Guest editorial: Reefs in trouble ­ the real root cause.
Marine Pollution Bulletin 56(9):1513-1514

I wrote it in response to the International Year of the Reef /Science
Magazine issue "Reefs in Trouble" (14 Dec 2007) that, in my opinion, missed
a golden opportunity to address the "real" root cause of "Reefs in Trouble".

It is also my International Year of the Reef contribution.

I am attaching it below, as I thought it would be an interesting discussion
topic for the coral-list.  I would very much appreciate your thoughtful

Best regards,

Dr. Stephen C. Jameson, Chairman
Coral Seas Inc. - Integrated Coastal Zone Management
4254 Hungry Run Road, The Plains, VA  20198-1715  USA
Office:  703-618-2775
Email:  sjameson at coralseas.com
Web Site:  http://www.coralseas.com


Reefs in Trouble - The Real Root Cause
In this ³International Year of the Reef² it is paramount that we truly
understand the root cause of coral reef decline around the world and take
swift action to remedy the situation if there is to be any hope for our
children to enjoy the benefits of these valuable natural resources.  This
exigency is great because we consider coral reefs a leading indicator of
global ecological degradation and we are on a fast track to potentially lose
this entire ecosystem from the face of the earth - a dubious global human
environmental distinction.
The real root cause of coral reef decline is not carbon dioxide emissions,
rising sea surface temperatures, ocean acidification, coral disease, over
fishing, destructive fishing techniques, eutrophication, sedimentation,
sewage, herbicides, pesticides, African dust, increasing human populations
or any of the other individual or synergistic combinations of stressors
affecting coral reefs locally, regionally or globally - these are only
symptoms of much bigger and more profound problem.
At its core, the real root cause of coral reef decline, when objectively
looking at the evidence, seems to be attributable to innate human species
behavior characteristics determined by how we are genetically hard-wired.
It raises two key questions.
(1) Does the human species, when operating in very large groups such as a
nations, have the genetic capability to live sustainably with its
(2) Does the human species have the genetic ability to create and maintain
systems of national governance that makes sustainable environmental
stewardship possible?
The answers to these two questions have important ramifications for the
future of not only coral reefs, but for ourselves and our children, and the
other species that inhabit this planet.
With respect to question (1): We are able to make conservation and
sustainability progress on small scales and when working with small numbers
of people (Birkeland 2007).
But when operating as a large group, such as a nation, the behavioral
characteristics of the human species take on different characteristics,
especially when decision-making is driven by competing national political
and economic interests.

While no one has any real quantitative data, one can just look around and
see that the forces of environmental degradation and destruction in the
world are many orders of magnitude greater than our conservation successes
and, as a result, our best collective global environmental stewardship
efforts fall short of global sustainable living (Speth 2008).
In regard to question (2): Our every day experience in the United States
(and in many other countries) informs us that the state of our governance,
where wealthy business and special interests use campaign financing,
lobbying, and media control to manipulate government policy and public
perceptions is not a viable system for conserving coral reefs or for
sustainable living because it is predicated on the fact that; ³He who owns
the political trump card wins² (i.e., gets the corporate tax break, the
favorable legislation, the permit to pollute, or the favorable ³blind eye²).
It is a great system for creating corporate profit and socializing expense
at global cost, but it does not produce clean air and water in natural
environments or enhance biodiversity.  Growing marine dead zones at the
mouths of our major rivers are just one big indication of the failure of
³the best system of government money can buy² under which we operate in the
United States.
To save our coral reefs, and ourselves, we must truly understand what we are
as a human species.  Are we, as history indicates, just like any other
animal that outstrips its carrying capacity and suffers a dramatic
population decline?  Or do we really have the capability, when operating as
a very large group such as a nation or group of nations, to govern ourselves
effectively and live sustainably with our environment?
If it is the latter, and we all hope it is, we must change the policies
under which we operate and the perceptions that guide them!  The age-old
practice of social groups moving upstream of their neighbors to ³give rather
than receive² polluted water - the perception of eco-winners and losers -
has morphed into the situation where the ³stream² is entirely circular. Like
Ouroboros, the mystical serpent eating its tail, there is no fountainhead -
the world is source-less.  The concept of ³others² rooted in every language
on the planet is obsolete within a global perspective.  We must design and
maintain a system of human governance that balances human population growth
and consumption with carrying capacity and that accurately values ecosystem
services in the economic equation ­ and do it fast (Jameson 2006)!
{Insert Graphic of Ouroboros}
Our children will soon find the true answers to these questions because the
climate change challenge is not only a big chemistry experiment, it is also
an unprecedented biological and social experiment that will determine if we
are really different than other animal species.  Can society evolve from
community to global consciousness?  The results of this seminal experiment
in living will be ³the defining moment² for the human species that not only
sheds important light onto who we really are with respect to our innate
genetic characteristics and capabilities - but will also define the human
legacy in history.
Stephen C. Jameson, PhD.
Chairman, Coral Seas Inc­Integrated Coastal Zone Management
sjameson at coralseas.com
Birkeland C (2007) Pacific islanders' awareness of responsibility. Reef
Encounter 34: 34-35
Jameson SC (2006) How protected are coral reefs? Science 314(5800):757-760
Speth JG (2008) The bridge at the end of the world: capitalism, the
environment, and crossing from crisis to sustainability. Yale Univ Press,
New Haven and London

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