[Coral-List] Struggling with ocean optimism

meam at sdcarr.com meam at sdcarr.com
Thu Mar 15 14:47:22 EDT 2018

Dear Coral-Listers,

Pursuant to Bob Buddemeier's message (via Steve Mussman) about what is
going on at high latitudes, I just did a relatively pithy summary of
marine ecosystem news from the Arctic for the past year. It was
certainly an education for me as it helped me pull together a lot of
disparate information I had been reading/hearing. And it's not pretty..
You can check it out here:


So it's not directly coral-related, but I agree with Bob that we all
need to know what is going on at the high latitudes.

Best wishes,

Sarah D. Carr
Editor, Marine Ecosystems and Management
E-mail: meam at sdcarr.com
Phone: 202-302-3059
Skype: sdcarr 

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: [Coral-List] Struggling with ocean optimism
From: Steve Mussman <sealab at earthlink.net>
Date: Wed, March 14, 2018 11:04 am
To: coral list <coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa..gov>

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 

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