[Coral-List] Deteriorating ethical norms - one more factor degrading our capacity to respond to coral bleaching

Peter Sale sale at uwindsor.ca
Tue Apr 11 11:25:14 EDT 2017

As I was about to post some comments to my blog (see http://www.petersalebooks.com/?p=2433 ) the first authoritative press release concerning the 2017 bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef was hitting the media.  That the GBR has now bleached severely in two successive years underscores the seriousness of the global environmental crisis in which we live.  It seems paradoxical that Australia, a country that has long recognized the economic and other value of its reef ecosystems, has not responded to the evidence of four serious bleachings in under 20 years by making the changes needed to rein in its own production of greenhouse gases and become a leader among nations in the fight to bring climate change under control.  This is a country with very significant intellectual and infrastructure resources when it comes to coral reef or environmental knowledge and management.  It understands the risks of losing reefs as functioning ecosystems.  It enjoys stable, reasonably democratic government and the rule of law.  And yet, far from being a leader, Australia remains a distinctly unwilling participant in the global struggle to reduce emissions.  It seems that short-term profits from exploitation of rich coal reserves outweigh any benefits perceived to be gained by saving coral reefs.

Australia is not unique in finding it difficult to make pro-environment decisions that seem so obvious to anyone who understands environmental science..  Governmental leaders simply do not see the beneficial trade-offs of acting in favor of the environment.  I certainly do not claim to have the all the answers (or even most of them), but I do think that a generally poor and declining level of performance, when it comes to ethical norms among leaders, is an important part of the problem.  While we talk about governments, or nations, as the entities that must act on greenhouse gases, those decisions are taken by people in positions of power.  If those people find it easy to put self-interest ahead of the general good, and particularly if such behavior is tolerated by the electorate, the decisions made, ostensibly by the nations, are seldom going to weigh environmental benefits appropriately..

On top of everything else, those of us concerned to build a better future world must now also confront the need to raise ethical standards.  While I don't discuss the 2017 bleaching in the post, I do review the recent Nature report on the three previous bleachings, and the bad environmental news it reveals.  I use this as one of three recently reported e4nvironmental trends.

Peter Sale
University of Windsor, Canada
sale at uwindsor.ca

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