[Coral-List] Diver Distance et al

Dennis Hubbard dennis.hubbard at oberlin.edu
Thu Aug 15 13:07:12 EDT 2013


Just to set the record straight regarding my sense of human culpability, I
agree with you on all counts. As a geologist, it is virtually impossible
for me to not see adverse environmental patterns that must be tied to human
activities. It is, in fact, my geological perspective that allows me to see
analogous patterns that are operating on the scale of recent climate
change... and to see that, climate-wise, we have now probably gone beyond
late Pleistocene patterns and may be working our way up to something more
akin to the PETM.

So, I'm not in any way aligning myself with business interests or
perspectives just because I learned to understand where and how oil is
created and found. In fact, I would take an position diametrically opposed
to those in business who would argue that climate change is "too expensive
to fix" until we can be 100% sure that it "is us". I would argue that even
the the discounted costs of trying to "fix climate change when we are 100%
sure" are astronomically higher than those related to ameliorating it at
today's prices. Accordingly, I would argue that the uncertainty principle
should be applied in the opposite direction than has been suggested by
climate deniers. We must invest in preventing the decline rather than
repairing it only when "we are sure". In other words, until we are 100%
sure it is NOT us, we should lean toward amelioration - perhaps leaning
toward strategies that have collateral benefits just in case we end up
being wrong. Other than the purely economic arguments, the non-linearity of
both physical and biological systems shows us that it is much cheaper to
implement measures to head off decline than it is to reverse the damage
after the system crashes.... and because they are not linear, we will
rarely get a clear warning that Armageddon is just a few mg/l away.

So, hopefully I have convinced you that I am not arguing for inaction - nor
am I a "skeptic" advocating that we drag our feet. We have screwed up the
planet very badly. However, I also ask myself whether our rush to "fix" a
perceived problem is just another manifestation of the hubris that got up
into this mess in the first place. Climate change is real - as are myriad
other pending environmental disasters for which we are responsible. This
grew largely from our perceptions of humans as the center of the universe
and the planet being something that is there for us to exploit (after all,
isn't it "our garden"?). Daniel Boone didn't go through Cumberland Gap "to
see what was on the other side" as I was taught in grade school. He wanted
to get away from the mess humanity made on his side of the Appalachians.
The problem is that we are running our of "Cumberland Gaps". Having said
this, it would indeed be unfortunate if we just tried to make ourselves
feel better (or less responsible) by thinking we can actually "fix" what we
have broken without asking the tough questions about "how" and, more
important, why.

I agree that we can commit to personal (and communal) changes that will
make some difference. For example, we could stop flying to all those
meetings leaving a blazing trail of carbon behind us. What do we do? We
dump some small percentage of our ticket costs into a pot that goes to some
unknown entity that will "do good" via some mechanism that we haven't spent
the time to verify; this sounds too much like tithing to me (back to the
garden?). Or... we could turn our computers off and unplug all the
peripherals for the amount of time it takes us to communicate on this
listserve. We all know that these would have some measurable impact on
climate change that we perceive to be positive. But, we choose to
rationalize that the collective good that comes from these activities
outweighs the negative environmental effects - presumably that we are doing
more to save the planet by participating than these activities might do to
damage it. I have no objective way to measure whether or not this applies
in individual cases, yet I choose to continue them.

So, if we can set aside for the moment the idea that geologists are saddled
with an unrealistically big picture, I will return to my original example -
*Acropora*. I believe I just saw that its listing was denied. While I am
uneasy with this, I also have to remember the excellent work referenced on
this listserve that concluded there are huge numbers of existing colonies -
to the point that, were Snail Darters present in those densities, we would
have a huge dam near Savannah. Presumably, the opinion was that the decline
in *Acropora* does not rise to the level to support endangered status. I am
also mindful that there was a distinct change in the preservation of this
species at two times in the Holocene before anthropogenic stress levels
were sufficient to represent a reasonable cause. Whatever the cause,
something important happened. There may be important clues in this about
why the species declines and what triggers a reversal in fate. To my
knowledge, we have limited our strategy to "don't touch and cross your
fingers". So, for me, the vote is out and I am back to my original quandary
mentioned in my last post. Yes, *Acropora* is in decline. Scientists who
know more than I have decided that it is not wise to afford it advanced
protection. Yes, there are measures that could be taken that logically will
reduce stress on this temporally important species. Yes, they should be
taken. But, beyond that, the two remaining questions for me are:

1) How do we implement these? So far our discussion have focused more on
finger-pointing and "education is the answer".

2) I repeat Gene Shinn's question. How will listing *Acropora* save reefs?
I can think of a lot of ways that listing "could" save *Acropora*, but I'm
not sure that this will be the case or, if it is, that it will save reefs.

I have not come to grips with this perspective easily. Every year in my
reefs class, someone asks why we should worry about coral reefs when
rainforest is being destroyed or AIDS is ravaging under-developed
folks....and .....and? Even though I've come to expect it, it pulls me up
short every time and I find myself having to admit to myself that some of
this may be because reefs are a system near and dear to my heart.


On Wed, Aug 14, 2013 at 3:38 PM, Steve Mussman <sealab at earthlink.net> wrote:

> Dennis,
> What I'm trying to grasp here is which aspects of the current coral reef
> conditions are not the direct result of human impacts? What exactly didn't
> we "break"?  Is most of what I'm seeing simply contributable to natural
> cyclical variations?
> It seems to me that what you have hit on reflects the significant fissure
> that exists between the perspectives of the organic sciences and geology as
> they relate to how we view the threats associated with climate change. If I
> am reading you correctly, you are suggesting that the use of our limited
> monetary and intellectual capital to "fix" effects which some of us are
> attributing to climate change are in fact wasteful because those efforts
> are in actuality more accurately characterized as attempts to reshape
> natural patterns that we just don't like . . . That exposes a fundamental
> difference in how we view things and also clearly illustrates the
> insurmountable nature of the divide.
> I continue to view the dynamics differently and believe there would be
> universal willingness to contribute limitless capital of all kinds if the
> potential undesirable impacts did not involve powerful economic interests
> with spirited political affiliations. It would not matter if the threat
> were "natural" or "human-induced".
> Take for instance a scenario whereby our planet is threatened by a
> potentially cataclysmic meteorite. There would likely be an immediate,
> internationally coordinated effort to disrupt its trajectory. All nations
> would work tirelessly to share their collective expertise in a frantic
> attempt to avert disaster. The US would be working hand in hand with China,
> Russia, India and even Iran. All economic and political considerations
> would be swept aside. But since climate change challenges the established
> economic and political hierarchy of all involved no such effort is
> forthcoming.
> That, and perhaps the fact that the impending impacts of climate change
> are more insidious in that there isn't a date certain for their ultimate
> consequences to take full effect.
> Regards,
>  Steve
> -----Original Message-----
> >From: Dennis Hubbard **
> >Sent: Aug 14, 2013 8:23 AM
> >To: Steve Mussman **
> >Cc: "coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov" **, Dennis Hubbard **
> >Subject: Re: diver distance et al
> >
> >Steve
> >
> >Good points. My mention of major extinctions was just a segue to my
> discussion of how we separate human vs natural impacts. In his bio, Gene
> laments that our zeal for science is being usurped by our passion to
> manage. My concern here is that we have limited capital (both fiscal and
> intellectual) and we do not need to waste it "fixing" what we didn't
> "break". We have negatively impacted way too much to need to spend time
> trying to reshape natural patterns we just "don't like". The challenge is
> to figure out how to separate the two and what to do until we get better at
> that. I remember my first ISRS meeting vividly. I was like a kid in a candy
> store. I could easily bounce from a geo session to a seagrass session to
> one on ocean chemistry. What was missing were meaningful management
> sessions; NPS had just shifted from exclusion to management and too many
> scientists spurned management. The last meeting was dominated by a HUGE
> number of mgmt talks - so much so that bio, geo, other science sessions
> were literally blocks from each other. The result was too little
> interaction.... still a great meeting but.... Neither extreme is a good
> thing and we need to move the pendulum back to the middle.
> >
> >Dennis
> >
> >Sent from my iPhone
> >
> >On Aug 13, 2013, at 4:17 PM, Steve Mussman ** wrote:
> >
> >> Dennis,
> >> Your analysis is spot on and I don’t think that anyone would argue with
> your logic. The only point I would question is the assumption that some are
> too focused on human-induced effects and that somehow makes them appear
> less concerned about previous natural impacts that have occurred over
> geological time. Major extinctions of long ago aren’t necessarily regarded
> as “OK”, it is just that their causes were not associated with human
> activity and therefore natural and unavoidable. We all question our
> omnipotence when considering the precise causes and appropriate mitigation
> strategies for the current coral reef crisis, but it appears certain that
> this time around we are directly involved. I think everyone is in agreement
> that even if present-day reef decline proves not to be a result of our
> “favorite factor” - cleaner air, water and healthier reefs are acceptable
> collateral results. Only problem is that it doesn’t look like we are
> getting any closer to implementing any meaningful mitigation strategies. We
> are too hung up arguing about the economic and esoteric costs associated
> with regulating carbon emissions and other harmful human-related behaviors.
> Perhaps it would be better if we were being threatened by a cataclysmic
> meteorite strike capable of initiating the planet’s sixth mass extinction.
> At least then we could say in retrospect that it wasn't OK, but we really
> couldn't have done much about it.
> >>
> >> Regards,
> >> Steve
> >>
> **********

Dennis Hubbard
Chair, 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*"

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