One of my newer research tasks is to look into ways to offset the damage caused to coral reefs by global warming and other aspects of climate change. I’ve been in Cairns at a workshop on this issue, and yesterday we went for a day on the reef snorkelling and diving. Mainly R&R but the trip brought home the severity of the damage caused by the bleaching events* in 1998 and 2002. While the reef is still colourful and full of life, and new visitors have a great time, we were told on the tour that returning visitors often express disappointment. So, climate change is likely to have economic impacts on the tourism sector in the near future.

I made a foray into underwater photography, with results that could charitably be described as “mixed”. Here’s an example of the conseqences of bleaching.


11 thoughts on “Bleached

  1. The Bali Climate declaration by 200 scientists outlines how desperate our situation is.

    Objectively speaking, a Global Emergency should be declared now. We should have begun dealing with this problem 30 years ago. We have now lost a precious generation of adjustment time and there is scarcely any time left. The minimum goal should be a 50% reduction in global emissions by 2037 not 2050.

    The real disaster awaiting us now is a runaway global warming feedback loop which might not need any more anthropogenic impetus. As the tundra warms, vast amounts of methane are being released which could accelerate global warming and trigger a runaway effect.

    Worse still is the scenario of the vast methane hydrate deposits (clathrates) on the ocean floors being released by ocean warming. Such a release would be a global catastrophe for all current macroscopic life. Life on earth would return to another protozoic era.


    Where are your priorities?

  3. JQ might be justly cranky with me for hogging this thread but I feel compelled to say a little more.

    It appears to me that most people in their reasoning and general imagination cannot distinguish between “big” and “infinite”. To many people the world seems so big it is effectively infinite to them. They cannot conceive that the world is finite, has finite amounts of various resources and that these resources can run out.

    John Howard was clearly a person of this type and much of his appeal was that his deep-seated beliefs and prejudices were such a precise mirror of the same attitudes in the general populace.

    In addition to not understanding the difference between “big” and “infinite”, most people have no concept of the power of exponential growth. What they don’t realise, essentially, is that exponential growth involving a doubling every 30 years means the following. At the point where, after all of human history, we have used half the world’s resources we have just 30 years left until catastrophe. In fact it’s about 15 years as the second 15 years IS the rolling catastrophe.

    Well educated people would do well to understand that about 99% of the current world population do not understand the above facts even now. One can’t be judgemental about it either. They have had no chance to learn these concepts or they have lived under an ideology of endless growth capitalism which has actively denied and obscured the facts.

    Quite frankly, my answer is one of philosophy and fatalism. Not to put too fine a point on it I believe we are (mostly) done for. This is not to say we should not try to do something. The philosophical frame of mind recognises that we cannot know all facets of the future so we cannot know for sure that it is totally hopeless.

    I am 55 (or thereabouts) so I belong to the baby boomer generation. Members of my generatiion, even in Australia, who still believe they will enjoy a nice long old age funded by superannuation with plenty of motoring, fishing and overseas holidays, are totally kidding themselves.

    I am in perfect health now and my family history is one of longevity to the late 80s or beyond. Yet I do not expect to live beyond 70. I will be astonished if I still find myself alive at 75. And if I am I suspect I will be wishing I weren’t. The horrors are likely to be insupportable by then.

    I have no religion other than humanistic philosophic fatalism. I suspect the time will come when I view death as a blessed release from what the world is about to become.

    Bravo Capitalism! Bravo USA as the vanguard of exploitative destructive capitalism, land of the brave, home of the free. You have triumphed! Now look on the results and despair! It is finished.

  4. ike, how happy i am that i didn’t meet you earlier. we two would have established a negative feedback loop leading to harakiri in a week.

    the only plan to save us that i know won’t work, is more of the same. the social structure of ‘leader riding on facilitators riding on ‘horses’ has brought us to this looming catastrophe, it’s very unlikely to get us out.

  5. Golly Ike, that’s a pretty bleak picture you’re painting of the near future. I’m 24 so I’ve got a good chance of living to see just how bad it can get Thanks for the inheritance guys. I’m starting to feel that it would be rather senseless of me to have any kids myself.

  6. actually, gerard, have a lot of kids, quickly. in the 2-10 year range they’re good eating, and self-portable. might be your only reliable source of protein in a few years…

  7. The aorta of Oz, the Mighty Murray no longer flows to the Southern Ocean. The Great Barrier Reef is dying at an accelerating rate. Big Carbon defines our National Interest. The globe is our bell jar and soon enough we’ll all be gasping.

    But no need to worry folks, The Economy’s going gangbusters!

  8. For once, developing countries have the upper hand. They will decide the future of this planet. The developed countries are adopting double standards. On the one side they are the biggest polluters(Australia is the highest per capita), and on the other hand they want the developing countries to show restraint, eventhough this may slow down their development.

    Countries like China and India should use climate change issue to their advantage. There is no way China and India can show any kind of restraint given that a vast majority of their populations have to brought out of poverty. Instead, the developed world should start concentrating their efforts to improve living standard in the develping countries. Some of the ways they(developed countries) can help the developing countries are:

    – Reducing emissions themselves.
    – Spending on research that will help the underdeveloped world, rather than investing in useless research.
    – Allowing large scale migration from developing countries. It is easier for developed countries to generate jobs that does not affect environment.

    Well, if developed countries don’t do what they preach to others, then they too will face the consequences. That is why I think climate change issue will shift the balance of power in this unequal world.

  9. Now Rudd is equivicating on the 40% by 2020 that his advance party to Bali apparently let through. Yet I thought his election pledge was 20 percent from renewables, excluding ‘clean coal’ by 2020. And of course 60% by 2050. I’m with Iconoclast on the need to call it a global emergency. Even Garnaut used the word diabolical to describe the trend resulting from the ‘Bush approach’. Maybe the good professor needs to call Rudd with his own early warning wake up. And a query on the exponential growth effect of GW. Wouldn’t the same roughly apply with the wholesale application of renewable technologies, that they could quite rapidly soon account for those ‘percentage gaps’ between 20 and 40 percent by 2020. If this isn’t the big picture then my old age too is in the hands of heavy kevie.

  10. After reading of the latest update from Bali, where it seems that the United States is still refusing to sign and blocking progress, I must ask: is it time to forget the carrot and try the stick? We clearly don’t have time to wait for every offending nation to join in before acting.

    Negotiations to date on Climate Change seem to have been based on the idea that we could somehow achieve a “win-win” with carbon trading as the solution. Ratifying nations are reluctant to act for fear of competitive disadvantage against nations that do not implment Kyoto. So – are trade penalties the solution? Perhaps a tarriff on goods from nations not meeting obligations? The tarriff should be larger than the cost imposed by carbon trading, to encourage nations to join. Surely there is a game theoretic solution here? Similar to other anti-pollution laws, penalise the offenders till they stop.

    Is something like this possible?

  11. pablo, Rudd’s not equivocating on the 25-40% aim. He has consistently said that he would commit to 2020 targets after Garnaut brings down his report. Listening to Garnaut I’m confident that 25-40% will be thereabouts. I’m sure Rudd knows this, but to pre-empt the Professor would make his reluctance to commit before the elections look like a stunt.

    Mark Lynas in his Six Degrees cites a Hoegh-Guldberg paper that sees 1998 style bleaching as ‘normal’ by 2020 with less than one degree’s warming. If he’s right then significant damage to the Reef is pretty much unavoidable.

    I heard recently that there are 100 million people around the world who depend on reef ecologies as a prime food source.

    The methane clathrate thing is probably avoidable if we limit warming to 2C above pre-industrial, but no-one knows for sure and avoiding 2C is not going to be easy.

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