[Coral-List] Struggling with ocean optimism

Dennis Hubbard dennis.hubbard at oberlin.edu
Thu Mar 15 14:16:13 EDT 2018

Thanks Steve - and Bob. I guess I'll (re?) state the obvious. On the one
hand, we have two realities. On one end, things are changing rapidly and
most of it is bad news. With nothing but Gloom and Doom, people might get
so discouraged that they think "I can't do anything, so why try?", a twist
on Calvinism. At the other extreme is the optimism that we can do something
significant and soon enough to not end up with a field experiment of the
ideas raised in "The World Without Us" by Alan Weisman (don't read it if
you want to think about us as anything approaching the "center of things").

The ultimate quandry is where to most effectively place ourselves along
this spectrum. I've settled at some unidentified spot in the middle where I
can accept that A) we're never going back to "the good old days", B) we'll
always have some sort of "natural beauty" but it's going to be very
different than what I've come to cherish no matter what I foresee us being
able to accomplish as informed citizens, and C) for better or worse, *Homo
stupidus* will not be with us forever either. As much as I'd like to have
more faith in my fellow hominids, I doubt we're going to have much more
impact on inevitable environmental decline than the dinosaurs had with
turning that meteor around. We can be clever about ways to expand our
population beyond the logical carrying capacity of the planet. But, isn't
our cleverness what's gotten us into this mess initially?

So, I'll do my best to understand what's going on, to slow the pace of
degradation that I cause and try not to use my growing pessimism/realism as
an excuse to not try and do things that my moral upbringing have taught me
are "good". But, I'm also aware that Daniel Boone didn't go over the
Appalachians to "see what's on the other side" as much as he  did because
"he didn't like what was on the side where he was". I fear that we're out
of mountains to cross, so I'll spend my remaining time trying to do a
better job myself before trying to tell everyone else what I think they
ought to be up to. I'll leave that to folks younger and smarter than I am.


On Wed, Mar 14, 2018 at 11:04 AM, Steve Mussman <sealab at earthlink.net>

> Dear Coral-Listers,
> I received the following message off list, but thought it might provide
> stimulus for further discussion. Many of us want to embrace ocean optimism,
> but are questioning whether or not this is the best strategy to apply in
> reaching our common goal of providing the best chance for a bright future
> for the world’s coral reefs. I have the author’s permission to post his
> thoughts on the subject. What do you think?
> > Dear Steve
> >
> > I've been watching the coral-list exchanges prompted by your post, and
> finally decided to write and offer you what I can only call "discouraging
> encouragement."
> >
> > I did quite a bit of coral reef research in the 70s and 80s, and in the
> 90s was on the steering committee of the Land-Ocean Interactions in the
> Coastal Zone project of the IGBP.  Throughout, I've been involved with
> climate and climate change issues.
> >
> > Recently, in retirement, I've been asked to do some educational
> presentations, and have been catching up with recent developments.  The
> experience has greatly intensified my generally pessimistic view of the
> world -- I am now among those who are confident that changing climate will
> drastically alter the world economic, political, and social order, and not
> in ways that most of us would consider good.  Rather than by the
> comfortingly distant year 2100, I expect these changes to be well under way
> within the next few decades.  And, given that we really don't know if we
> have passed the tipping point for runaway change driven by positive
> feedbacks, I have to at least consider the potential for Homo sapiens to be
> included in the developing Great Extinction.
> >
> > Coral people are understandably focused on low latitudes, and if the
> problems seen there were all we had to worry about, then protection and
> restoration and  bio- and genetic engineering might have rosier prospects
> for success..  In my opinion, it is the high latitudes that are
> horrifying.  The Antarctic has recently shifted from net ice accumulation
> to rapid and massive loss of the ice sheets that are inhibiting the
> tendencies for glaciers to topple into the ocean.  In the arctic, sea ice,
> glaciers, and permafrost have all been thawing at rates much faster than
> was originally predicted when climate change started to be taken seriously
> 30+ years ago.  Positive feedbacks abound -- increased solar energy
> absorption, increased erosion, increased oceanic heat release, and
> especially increased methane release to the atmosphere, plus the effects of
> jet stream, ocean current and wind/wave energy alteration..
> >
> > This is all with the existing climate and atmospheric CO2 load, but we
> will have further committed warming due to CO2 already released, and even
> if there is a near-miraculous transition to carbon-free energy, there are
> many gigatons of CO2 still to be emitted during the transition period..
> And then there is methane, the release of which we know is increasing both
> from natural sources and from anthropogenic sources as "clean methane"
> (with a greenhouse effect much greater than that of CO2) replaces "dirty
> coal" (which ironically produced atmospheric particulates with a net
> cooling effect).  Even if we're not already in runaway mode, I'm certainly
> not alone in seeing no hope for achieving the 2 degree warming
> stabilization target.  Things will get much much worse.
> >
> > So, what about optimism?  Not justified, but I can see reasons for not
> completely discouraging it.  The experience, if not the outcome, of
> activism and attempts at environmental salvation can make people more
> effective if and when they give up bandaging hangnails and recognize that
> arterial bleeding is the problem.  We can't regrow the permafrost, but
> there is some hope that limits might be placed on further melting by
> attacking the root causes.  However, we are considering a group of people
> that has been trying to motivate the general population by publicizing how
> important and endangered coral reefs are for nearly half a century.  I
> don't remember the author, but somebody said that insanity is doing the
> same thing over and over and expecting a different result each time.
> >
> > What I want to do is to encourage you to keep looking at, and talking
> about, and working on, the big picture.  As you've discovered, there aren't
> nearly enough people who are able and willing to take that perspective.
> Even at low latitudes there's more to the problem than bleaching resistance
> -- if people fold in oxygen loss and acidification and pollution and
> overfishing with temperature, maybe they'll start to get a grip on the
> system level.
> >
> > Good luck (for all of us)
> >
> > Bob
> >
> > Robert W. Buddemeier
> >
> > PS  a year-old article, but it nails the sociology:
> https://amp.theguardian.com/environment/2017/may/05/the-
> great-climate-silence-we-are-on-the-edge-of-the-abyss-but-we-ignore-it
> Sent from my iPad
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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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