[Coral-List] Striking a balance

Steve Mussman sealab at earthlink.net
Mon Dec 17 17:57:57 EST 2012

               I'm  not  suggesting that these reactions are particularly
   insightful, but I would encourage you to do whatever you can to nurture hope
   among your students and to let them know that there is still a window of
   opportunity for effective change.
     * Reefs are not more important than other ecosystems. They just happen to
       react  as  precursors  to  the impacts  of still other broad-based
       anthropogenic planetary threats.

     * Investing our intellectual, political and physical capital in an effort
       to save them would be just one beneficial consequence of an overall
       strategy designed to address the broader issues of overpopulation,
       deforestation, continued reliance on fossil fuels, etc.  Coral reefs
       donât have to be the driver of how we deal with climate change, but they
       will certainly benefit from an effective approach if one can be enacted.

     * Some other pertinent questions to pose to your classes come from James
       Hansenâs  writings: What has been the role of special interests in
       delaying action on climate change and do scientists have an obligation
       to  involve  themselves in policy making if they believe they have
       objectively determined cause and effect?

     * How do we get the captains of industry to push aside their focus on
       short-term profits and instead redirect their energy towards playing a
       major role in developing climate change solutions and designing the
       energy infrastructure of the future?

     * Only if none of these questions has moved them from their eat, drink and
       be  merry mindset, would I suggest that they ponder a few other of
       Hansen's concepts.  Assuming we continue along our present path until we
       have consumed our planetâs remaining reserves of oil, gas and coal;
       How would they explain our failure to uphold our obligation to preserve
       the planet for future generations? And . . . How would they imagine that
       societies  will  react  when and if science determines that we are
       confronted with a Venus Syndrome scenario?

   In a book entitled Learning from the Octopus, the ecologist/author points
   out that reform is almost always confronted with enormous institutional
   resistance. He refers to Machiavelli to explain: There is nothing more
   difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain of
   success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.
   Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the
   old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the
   new. This coolness arises partly from fear of the opponents . . .and partly
   from the incredulity of men who do not readily believe in new things until
   they have had a long experience of them.
   -----Original Message-----
   >From: Dennis Hubbard
   >Sent: Dec 16, 2012 2:17 PM
   >To: "coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa..gov"
   >Subject: [Coral-List] Striking a balance
   >Hi all:
   >Dean Jacobson asked me a couple of thoughtful questions off-line about how
   >to balance honest pessimism with enough hope so our students (and the
   >public) don't just get totally discouraged and argue that, if we can't
   >really do anything about it, we might just as well "eat, drink and be
   >merry." He draws on some of David Orr's discussions on this issue. As
   >someone who struggles with this in my classes all the time, I thought it
   >might be useful to share some ideas with the larger group (Dean - feel free
   >to jump in here if I've misrepresented your questions or points).
   >I have the benefit of some of the brightest and most inquisitive students
   >in the world...... we turned Steven Jay Gould down as an undergraduate, so
   >I feel a lot better knowing I'm teachingat a school I probably couldn't
   >have gotten into. I also have the good fortune of David Orr being in the
   >next building and having been able to play curmudgeon to his optimist on a
   >regular basis.
   >Not a class goes by that the students don't ask two questions. First, why
   >are reefs so much more important than anything else.... and how badly would
   >the world suffer from their loss relative to other systems as we have to
   >make hard decisions about where to invest our physical and intellectual
   >capital. Its been over a decade now and I still don't have a good answer
   >for them. I can cite statistics on reef tourism's percent of GDP, wax
   >eloquently on the values of biodiversity and toss out that over-used
   >comparison to rainforests that we all get nauseated by every time we see it
   >at the start of a paper. However, in the end, it comes down to I have a
   >soft spot having spent most of my adult life trying to understand reefs.
   >I'm biased.... so what? But, do I have a good and really onjective ansewer
   >- no.
   >The other one is basically, "if nobody can agree on what to fix and how to
   >fix it (yep, they've already caught on that we endlessly argue that our
   >favorite control is supreme and everyone else is a total Bozo for
   >disagreeing), what do we do? In truth, I don't think my answer has been the
   >same for any two classes. If there is a commonality, its to suggest using
   >strategies that have collateral advantages that will still be valuable if
   >we're wrong. If it turns out that our ties to climate change aren't as
   >significant as many of us think (I've been wrong before.... plus I tell my
   >students that science can't prove anything, only disprove them, so.....),
   >cutting emissions still isn't a bad thing. And, of all the things we argue
   >are contributing to temperature rise, that's the only one we have any
   >significant control over. So.... even if we are totally vindicated in 30
   >years, reduced carbon emissions will have resulted in longer-lasting
   >reserves, a lower overall footprint and a host of advantages from curbing
   >our appetites for energy-intensive activities. On other fronts, reducing
   >unnecessary fishing or targeting species that we think are more critical
   >will probably result in greater diversity - and watching the reactions of
   >reefs to higher fish abundance might help us better understand the impacts
   >of top-down issues (and the fishing boats in Key West might even bring in
   >something larger than a fresh-water catfish). Finally, if we stop dumping
   >materials like fertilizers, sediments, sewage, etc. I don't really see a
   >down side. Personally, I'm perfectly comfortable with possibly being in a
   >position down the line where I have to say, "Gee we weren't nearly as big a
   >cause as we all thought. The water and the air are cleaner and we're using
   >resources more slowly. Gosh, don't I feel stupid!!!!"
   >So, we can spend our time beating each other up and arguing among ourselves
   >while the rest of the world makes up their minds without us, or we can
   >figure out a way to make this issue seem more relevant to the public -
   >before a state-of-emergency makes it obvious and it's probably too late to
   >do anything about it.
   >There is an interesting parallel in discussions about the existence of God
   >in the 17th century. Pascal argued that the choice was binary... there
   >either was a god or there wasn't. The outcomes of each choice were likely
   >binary.... you were right or you were wrong. However, the repercussions
   >were markedly asymmetric. If you said "yes" and were correct, you gained
   >"eternal joy". If you argued no and were correct, your rewards were more
   >limited but you still had a great time while it lasted. The really big
   >issue is the cost of being wrong. If you said "yes" and God was just a
   >human construct, then you and the world suffered only from what Pascal
   >described as "an excess of morality". However, the fourth combination
   >resulted in "eternal damnation". Any bet weighs the odds against the
   >stakes, and Pascal argued that a rational betting man would vote in favor
   >of God.
   >Whether we are talking about climate change or other large-scale
   >environmental issues, this argument still seems relevant. Those who
   >offhandedly reject human impacts as they relate to our own well being and
   >argue that fixing them is too costly until we have proven a relationship
   >risk the "eternal damnation" of future generations. I would argue that the
   >"uncertainty" that is too often tossed around should be used the other
   >way..... until we are absolutely sure we have no impact, we should assume
   >that we do because the cost of fixing it will be immensely greater than
   >what it would have been to not break it in the first place. If we use the
   >concept of "discounting" as is common practice in economic circles, we
   >also have to realize that inflation will probably increase the eventual
   >cost more than interest on money not spent reducing our impacts now will
   >So, if you're a less government/more private sector guy, we'd be a lot
   >better off reducing our environmental footprint before the federal
   >government screws up the process... and we'd have greater net profits! I
   >understand that some might see the environment as just another hedge-fund
   >investment and realize that you'll be fired for the higher business costs
   >now and some other slob will reap all the rewards from lower costs later
   >on. As my daughter is fond of saying, "sucks to be you".
   >Dennis Hubbard
   >Dept of Geology-Oberlin College Oberlin OH 44074
   >(440) 775-8346
   >* "When you get on the wrong train.... every stop is the wrong stop"*
   > Benjamin Stein: "*Ludes, A Ballad of the Drug and the Dream*"
   >Coral-List mailing list
   >Coral-List at coral.aoml.noaa.gov

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