[Coral-List] Robert W. Buddemeier on Reef Optimism

Scott Wooldridge swooldri23 at gmail.com
Thu Mar 15 20:48:11 EDT 2018

Dear Coral-Listers,

I have had the great pleasure of many constructive arguments with Bob -
always having being left the wiser for having done so. He is one of a small
few i have met in the Coral Reef community who can see the forest from the

I encourage everyone (particularly young scientists) to re-read his
conclusions below.

Whether you like it or not, whether it serves your purposes or not, saving
coral reefs (now impossible anyway) is not the end game given the state
(and pace) of climate change. Every person must respond to the reality of
this situation. To ignore it, displays a level of hubris that will only
lead to peril.

I have given it much thought - and the only solution i find is to increase
ones own personal resilience to the coming change (viz. be self sufficient
for power, water, food, waste). This is to return to the old ways - pre
industrial revolution, large-scale technology. Start with individuals, then
expand to like-minded community interactions. The connected (resilient)
community must be the focused scale of support and intervention.

The problem is global - but survival will be local.

This does not mean ignoring research development into new technologies. The
coming change in battery technology will soon make "free" energy
(solar/wind/geothermal) a reality. Ultimately, therefore the key challenge
will be to ensure local-scale food sustainability.

Land-side approaches and constraints (water availability/soil fertility)
are well established.

Sea-side approaches are less well understood, particularly at the
local/community scale)

I personally think the funds dedicated to coral reef research and
restoration projects (e.g. regrowing reefs) would now be far better
utilised in researching ways we can increase local food supply chains. Is
the answer sea cucumbers? seaweeds?

The majority of people will be simply unable to "handle the truth". We have
all had it too good (easy), for too long. And Governments won't/can't be
the solution. They simply operate at the wrong scale (be it the
global-scale needed to mitigate CO2 emmisions or the local-scale need to
ensure food sustainability).

Scientists are surely part of the solution. But we need to take a moment to
reassess, and realign the focus of our endeavors. Spurious claims from well
recognised Marine Institutes claiming to be "engineering super corals" and
"helping the Reef repair itself"  (and the like) is quite simply doing more
harm than good. It is hubris, and self-serving.

I thank Bob for being brave enough to look at the big picture.



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
> 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

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