[Coral-List] Science and Politics

Peter Sale sale at uwindsor.ca
Wed Jun 4 15:11:28 EDT 2014

Hi Listers,
I've been reading the lengthy string of posts on science and politics and 
coral-list with interest.  Like many of you, I believe that humanity is 
currently facing an existential challenge with climate change just one of 
the many serious impacts we are having on the biosphere that sustains us 
all.  I also believe we are proving remarkably inept at coming together to 
solve this problem.  Coral reefs are central in that they remain the 
ecosystem most likely to be totally eliminated first.  Think about that 
for a minute -- we used to be content to cause extinction of species one 
at a time, now we are tackling whole ecosystems.

The politics are equally immense because there is big money tied up in a 
status quo economic system that is supposed to grow continually, and to be 
based on use of fossil fuels for energy.  Naturally, there will be 
resistance to change, and Denny Hubbard's post today reporting some of the 
goings-on in the US Congress is a perfect example.

All in all I am struck by two features of the coral-list discussion. 
Despite some scientific differences of opinion, there is general consensus 
that something needs to be done and that scientists should somehow get 
involved more than we traditionally did (I stress 'traditionally' because 
scientists are a lot more active in such small-p political debates than we 
ever used to be 20+ years ago).  Secondly, the posts have come almost 
exclusively from North America, and frequently relate to North American 
small- and large-P politics.

I do not know the details, but I do know there is a major political battle 
currently being waged in Australia regarding coal mining, coal port 
expansion, and possible damage from that to the GBR.  Australia has also 
rolled back (or is planning to roll back) its quite progressive carbon 
tax.  All these seem to stem directly from a rightward tilting governance 
following their last national election.  In fact, Australia, a fossil-fuel 
exporter, that was at least trying to do its small part re climate change, 
now seems to be learning many lessons from its new political friend 
Canada, a country I am increasingly embarrassed to call home.  In any 
event, I suspect our many Aussie colleagues are too busy waging small- and 
large-p political battles back home to take time to participate in 
discussions of same on coral-list.  On the other hand, what they learn can 
be useful in other countries too.

Coral reef scientists have the capacity, because of what is happening to 
reefs, to speak powerfully, and with authority about the environmental 
consequences of our CO2 pollution.  We can be effective in the public 
square.  And we perhaps ought to be prepared, when in the public square, 
to move outside our scientist frames to speak as humans who understand and 
can question the morality of our failure to act more effectively to stop 
messing up our planet.

Two quick heads-up that relate to this issue:
1.  I am leading a multi-author paper that will appear in Marine Pollution 
Bulletin late July, titled "Transforming Management of Tropical Coastal 
Seas to Cope with Challenges of the 21st Century"  It deals with tropical 
coasts rather than only with coral reefs, but makes the point that a) 
current efforts to manage fisheries, pollution, etc, are insufficient, b) 
climate change and population growth are going to make the problems of 
coastal ocean degradation much worse by 2050, and c) without a major 
paradigm shift we are going to fail absolutely to stop the continuing 
degradation.  More of the same, or simply trying harder, is just not good 
enough.  Watch for it.
2.  At a recent two-day symposium dealing with the relationship between 
environment and the economy, with six speakers from across North America 
including three ecologists (but no coral-reef scientists other than the 
chair who never mentioned reefs) and an economist, it became abundantly 
clear that we need a dramatically revised world economy, and enhanced 
attention to population growth, if we are going to get through this 
existential challenge without massive degradation of natural systems and 
greatly enhanced human suffering.  There ARE pathways to a good future, 
and environmental scientists, especially coral reef scientists have a role 
to play in every community to help us stumble collectively onto such 
paths.  The communique that emerged from the conference can be downloaded 
here: http://muskokasummit.org/2014-summit/communique/  It is intended to 
encourage, and to be used.

Sorry to be wordy.  Hopefully I've contributed to the discussion, and 
mentioned reefs often enough;-).
Peter Sale
University Professor Emeritus
University of Windsor

sale at uwindsor.ca                 @PeterSale3
www.uwindsor.ca/sale           www.petersalebooks.com

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