[Coral-List] Science and Politics

Bradley, Patricia Bradley.Patricia at epa.gov
Thu Jun 5 07:20:21 EDT 2014

Hi -it seems like the coral reef scientists need to break into major media - perhaps the late night talk shows first.  Jon Stewart's show seems the perfect venue.  And his shows are always on YouTube and have a wide audience.  The greater challenge is the conservative media, like Fox News.  

-----Original Message-----
From: coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov [mailto:coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov] On Behalf Of Peter Sale
Sent: Wednesday, June 04, 2014 3:11 PM
To: coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
Subject: Re: [Coral-List] Science and Politics

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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