[Coral-List] Two news stories about coral reefs

Douglas Fenner douglasfennertassi at gmail.com
Tue Aug 23 17:33:29 EDT 2016

    China has done an exemplary job of reducing family size, as you point
out.  I completely agree, and applaud them.  Their family size is now well
below replacement, and below that of essentially any other developing
country that I know of, which are still all well above replacement.
     But greenhouse gas emissions and their threat to coral reefs is not
affected immediately by birth rate.  It is affected by total population
size times per capita greenhouse gas emissions.  Gas emissions have
skyrocketed in China and India with development, and total population size
continues to grow in both, though slower in China.  So total greenhouse gas
emissions, which is what threatens the reef, are not being reduced in those
countries due to lower family size, and not due to a decreasing population,
because population isn't decreasing.  Only technology change can do that
rapidly.  Technology was the third variable that Paul Erhlich had in his
equation, multiplying it times the population and consumption.  Change the
technology so that emissions per capita goes down to near zero, and total
emissions will go down to near zero.  That might be possible in 2-3 decades
to avoid killing most of the corals.  But reduction of total population
(not just reducing the birth rate) sufficiently to reduce the emissions, is
simply not possible in 2-3 decades.
     Population has enormous momentum.  The world has gone through a period
where widespread modern medicine and public health has brought death rates
way way down.  (only a small amount of medicine and public health are
required to do that)  But there was still a high birth rate and family size
left over.  As a result, in many developing countries, there are large
numbers of young people, at or before the age of having families.  Even if
the birth rate goes down below replacement, there are so many young people
that there are still a large number of children being born and the
population continues to grow.   Like an underpowered supertanker, it has
great momentum and can't be stopped quickly.  Rather like global warming,
too, which has great momentum.  We have to get our foot off the gas peddle
very quickly to see any benefits at all soon, and all we'll see initially
is a slowing of the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations.  Those
concentrations are what drives the warming, which will continue long after
we stop burning fossil fuels.  Stop burning fossil fuels very quickly, or
we're toast, and the only way to do that fast enough is to change
technology, shift to renewable energy sources.  Which is what countries are
pledging to do in the Paris accords, instead of pledging to cut their
populations or their economies in half.  That's because only technology
change is fast enough, and can be done ethically and morally.
Cheers,  Doug

On Tue, Aug 23, 2016 at 9:49 AM, Peter Sale <sale at uwindsor.ca> wrote:

> Hi Doug and listers,
> Your recent post argues that it is per capita consumption of resources,
> rather than population size that best measures human impacts on ecosystems
> such as coral reefs.  You then state that in your view it is not productive
> “to complain about population causing reef declines, since there is nothing
> that is feasible or ethical *that can be done about it soon enough to
> save the reefs*” (my italics).  I have to differ.
> First, while it is true that the impact of people on the planet depends on
> the size of our footprints, that is not a good reason to ignore population
> size entirely while complaining about per capita resource use.
> Second, and this is why I decided to chime in, it is absolutely not true
> that it would take too long to reduce human population to make it a useful
> thing to advocate if one wants to save reefs, rainforests or any other
> ecosystem.  It is difficult to get unbiased discussion of China’s
> population policy in English – most reports are either overt efforts to
> show how wrong it was to legislate fertility, or reports subtly influenced
> by such anti-China ideas.  But cutting through the anti-China bias, it is
> fact that China has wrestled its fertility rate from about 4.8 births per
> woman in 1975 down to 3.0 births per woman in 1980 when the policy was
> fully in place, and down to 1.5 to 1.6 births per woman in the years since
> 2000.  This is a very rapid reduction; it has brought China into line with
> most western European or North American countries very rapidly – we are all
> suffering the temporary pain of aging populations as population size falls
> (or is maintained by immigration from elsewhere).  By contrast, India is
> still dealing with a fertility rate of 2.5 births per woman.  Which of
> India or China would you prefer to govern right now?
> You are correct that China’s population has not yet fallen.  But in 20+
> years, China stopped growing and is on the cusp of falling.  It seems
> likely that it will take at least another 35 years to wean the world off
> fossil fuels, and it is going to take most of this century to pull
> atmospheric CO2 down to levels needed to bring temperature below a 1.5
> degree C increase from preindustrial.  That enormous challenge could be
> made easier if the giant fossil fuel corporations would join the fight to
> stop using their products, but it will also prove much easier if large
> parts of the developing world had stable or declining birth rates.  China’s
> experience proves that shift in birth rate is attainable in a couple of
> decades.
> There is value in pushing for serious efforts to reduce CO2 emissions.
> There is value in pushing for local management efforts to keep ecosystems
> sustainable.  And there is value in pushing for 1) recognition of not just
> the desirability, but the need, for reduction of the global human
> population, and 2) real actions designed to achieve significant reduction
> over the next several decades.  Then we might be able to deliver
> flourishing coral reefs to future generations.
> Peter Sale
> www.petersalebooks.com

Douglas Fenner
Contractor for NOAA NMFS, and consultant
"have regulator, will travel"
PO Box 7390
Pago Pago, American Samoa 96799  USA

phone 1 684 622-7084

Join the International Society for Reef Studies.  Membership includes a
subscription to the journal Coral Reefs, and there are discounts for pdf
subscriptions and developing countries.  Coral Reefs is the only journal
that is ALL coral reef articles, and it has amazingly LOW prices compared
to other journals.  Check it out!  www.fit.edu/isrs/

"Belief in climate change is optional, participation is not."- Jim Beever.
  "Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts."-
Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

NASA: sea ice settling into 'new normal'
Arctic sea ice has stabilized over the last 10 years or so.  But then, the
average world surface temperature hit a high in 1998 (El Nino year) and did
not break that for over 10 years.  But now surface temperatures are
breaking all time records every year and in most months.  So unless the
laws of physics and the melting temperature of water change, soon Arctic
sea ice will begin setting new lows.

Earth's hot streak continues with warmest May since at least 1880.

website:  http://independent.academia.edu/DouglasFenner

blog: http://ocean.si.edu/blog/reefs-american-samoa-story-hope

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