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Stop trying to save the Earth, it's too late
July 15, 2012 1:00 PM   Subscribe

"...by persisting in the false belief that coral reefs have a future, we grossly misallocate the funds needed to cope with the fallout from their collapse." In the New York Times, ecologist Roger Bradbury argues that it's too late to save a big chunk of the Earth's environment, and that we should instead spend our resources getting ready for the challenges we'll face once that part of the world is destroyed. Marine scientists offer varying opinions on how doomed the reefs are, ranging from "Yep, they're doomed" to "If we stopped increasing CO2 concentration in the atmosphere today, they would probably stick around in some more or less degraded form" to "it’s clear to me that corals as a group of living things will almost assuredly* construct glorious reefs in millenniums to come of unimaginable richness."
posted by escabeche (78 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
(note: first two quotes are paraphrases, third an actual quote from Andrew Revkin)
posted by escabeche at 1:01 PM on July 15, 2012


Retreat!
posted by TwelveTwo at 1:12 PM on July 15, 2012


1. This is a story that needs to be told, but of course the conservation of biodiversity always comes a distant second in the public's perception of environmental urgency after polar bears, pandas, and other "charismatic megafauna."

2. What will happen to the atmosphere when the oceans are flooded with algae and jellyfish? I'm assuming it's something bad -- at least from the perspective of maintaining a biosphere that's habitable by humans.
posted by Yesterday's camel at 1:13 PM on July 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


Actually, apparently the belief that coral reefs have a future is false, is itself a false belief.

Anyway, isn't the point of being concerned about things like coral reefs more that they are useful symbols for the health of the ocean in general and its ability to provide the things humans have been eating out of it for millennia?

If the oceans stop providing food (and they're already starting to do that in a lot of ways), we're going to find it difficult to feed a large portion of the humans crawling on the planet right now.
posted by hippybear at 1:21 PM on July 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think the danger of saying that we should abandon hope here is that we will collectively say 'fuck it' and stop bothering to limit *any* of the damage we do, even the damage we could fix elsewhere. In other words, money wouldn't be allocated to other salvageable ecosystems: there would be no money spent at all. Or precious little.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 1:22 PM on July 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


hippybear, I think that reefs are important not only as sources of food for humans but also as repositories of biodiversity. Once they're gone, then the global pool of biodiversity will be severely depleted, with all the attendant ecological awfulness.
posted by Yesterday's camel at 1:23 PM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


the danger of saying that we should abandon hope here is that we will collectively say 'fuck it' and stop bothering to limit *any* of the damage we do

It's tempting to think that we should "do something" for the sake of doing something and keeping awareness alive and so on, but with finite resources and time constraints, it seems as if our effort is better spent on trying to figure out how to maintain the habitats that aren't yet truly fucked.
posted by Yesterday's camel at 1:24 PM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yeah, read my link, or listen to the NPR article you will find there. You'll find that coral reefs are more resilient than that. Anyway, do people actually eat things found on coral reefs?
posted by hippybear at 1:25 PM on July 15, 2012


Listening now. My understanding is that lots of tropical fisheries depend, at least in part, on reefs.
posted by Yesterday's camel at 1:27 PM on July 15, 2012


Respectfully, I'm unconvinced by the resilience argument made in the NPR story. Anthropogenic climate change is going to be tougher on reefs -- by orders of magnitude -- than what they've gone through before.
posted by Yesterday's camel at 1:30 PM on July 15, 2012


the NPR article discusses how a change in water temperature had a huge impact on the reef. But we are looking at a future of acidification + high temperatures + over-fishing. The "reefs are quite resilient" sentiment doesn't really cover all these issues at all.
posted by mary8nne at 1:37 PM on July 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


The acidification of the ocean doesn't bode well for the coral reefs, but that doesn't mean we should stop trying. Any reduction in biodiversity will be a bad thing for the world (and humanity) so should be combatted at every step. I hope future generations can forgive us.
posted by arcticseal at 1:38 PM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Anthropogenic climate change is going to be tougher on reefs -- by orders of magnitude -- than what they've gone through before.

I'd need some kind of citation to back up that belief.

The earth has undergone a lot of climate changes in the past. I'm not a climate change denier, and do believe that man is causing it (and also believe that we've already passed the tipping point).

But I don't know that the results of man-made climate change is necessarily going to result in anything more harsh or tough or whatever on currently living organisms than other changes we've found evidence for in the past. The only difference this time around is that we are here, and we are dependent on the web of ecology which currently exists in order to feed ourselves. If that unravels, we (and everything else) will be struggling to survive on the vastly changed resources as the wheel of evolution turns to bring around another era of biodiversity which can thrive in the new circumstances.

I guess the real question is, how old is coral as an animal, and what kind of conditions does it need to survive? Wikipedia suggests that corals probably originated during the Cambrian period, but really began to flourish during the Ordovician period. I guess that latter period saw very hot (45°C) oceans with highly acidic water due to the high levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. That sounds a lot like what man-made climate change is going to wreak, so I'm not sure your orders of magnitude concept holds much water.
posted by hippybear at 1:40 PM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


the idea that you can make sweeping predictions like that is crazy. we should keep trying.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:42 PM on July 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Well, for one thing, there were relatively few human-piloted fishing boats trawling and dredging said Ordovician reefs...
posted by Yesterday's camel at 1:42 PM on July 15, 2012


Right, but trawling and dredging, as horrible as it can be for an ecosystem, is not actually part of "climate change".
posted by hippybear at 1:44 PM on July 15, 2012


Anyway, do people actually eat things found on coral reefs?

A bit. But 100s of million of us use the things that eat the things that eat the things found on coral reefs as our primary protein source. "The ocean's rainforest" is an apt metaphor. An existential threat to the reefs is a catastrophic threat verging on existential to the global ocean in general. No telling what a mass extinction event would do, for example, to the plankton that supply half the oxygen in our atmosphere.
posted by gompa at 1:46 PM on July 15, 2012 [22 favorites]


Um, trawling and dredging contribute to climate change in much the same way that slashing and burning the Amazonian rainforest does. They both cause irreparable (within human timespans) damage to the biosphere's capacity to continue producing oxygen, which has been known to be useful to humans...
posted by Yesterday's camel at 1:48 PM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Hippybear - you're conflating the survival of coral the species with the survival of coral reef ecosystems and the biodiversity it supports.
posted by -harlequin- at 1:48 PM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


That "varying opinions" link is great, thanks. And yeah, overfishing is mentioned again and again in all the links; it's a key part of the issue being discussed, even if some might nitpick at calling it "climate change."
posted by mediareport at 1:50 PM on July 15, 2012


gompa and -harlequin- are spot on. If you lose reefs, you destabilize extensive oceanic ecosystems which are linked to them, with incalculable results. Results which could be particularly nasty if oxygen-producing plankton are imperiled.
posted by Yesterday's camel at 1:52 PM on July 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


I feel this is appropriate.
posted by psolo at 2:08 PM on July 15, 2012


Hippybear: In theory, warming temperatures mean that coral reefs could live closer to the poles.
In practice, they grow very slowly and this will not happen for centuries or millennia.
Survival is not just about a particular sea level / temperature / CO2 / pH - it's about the speed at which these things are changing.
posted by nixt at 2:16 PM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Respectfully, I'm unconvinced by the resilience argument made in the NPR story. Anthropogenic climate change is going to be tougher on reefs -- by orders of magnitude -- than what they've gone through before.

Yeah.... the whole thing with rapidly recovering reefs is that some coral survived elsewhere, in order to drive the repopulation. If it all dies, it ain't coming back, and the total death of all coral everywhere is well within the realm of possibility.
posted by Malor at 2:42 PM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


It should be pointed out that while the challenges facing reefs now are not necessarily harsher than those that the biosphere has experienced in the past, some of those past events managed to cause 95% of all families (two levels up from species) to go extinct. Recovery of biodiversity took tens of millions of years and many major lineages were lost forever. The oceans were particularly hard-hit in some of these mass-extinction events.

We are currently on the verge of (or at the beginning of) another such mass extinction. The difference is that this time is is at least nominally under our control, and we bear the responsibility for it. We should not be backing off on our efforts -- rather than reallocating resources, we should be pouring more resources into the effort.

I also think that it is necessary for effective concentration to wage a public relations campaign attempting to transfer public sympathy for "the environment" away from the abovementioned charismatic megafauna and toward habitats and ecosystems, which are intensely beautiful and awe-inspiring in themselves. Coral reefs are an excellent place to begin this effort.
posted by Scientist at 2:49 PM on July 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


hippybear for purposes of the OP's article, there is no effective difference between "coral reefs dying forever" and "coral reefs shutting down until conditions improve". The point of the article is that conditions will not improve so we have to start planning for how we're going to compensate in a human timeframe. The article is concerned with the survival and well being of current and near-future generations , not with epochal cycles and a hypothetical rebound in some unknowable future.
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:04 PM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


We are currently on the verge of (or at the beginning of) another such mass extinction.

It's actually been going on for 50,000 years or so - just ask the Megatherium and the Diprotodon. We just seem to be at an inflection point within the last few hundred years of the mass extinction where improving human technology is greatly increasing the number of species we can drive extinct and the rapidity with which we can kill them all.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 3:05 PM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I heard jellyfish make a mighty tasty spread on an algae sandwich.
posted by digsrus at 3:07 PM on July 15, 2012


Something something Fish, and plankton, and protein from the sea something something.
posted by Slackermagee at 3:11 PM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ma Nature will press on, whether we like the outcome or not. Corals aren't the only species to to extinct, and we may just follow them eventually. The planet has worked out pretty good for us so far, but that's in spite of us, not because of is. If things turn to crap, well, hey--Life is change.

Or to second the eponysterical strangely stunted trees.
posted by BlueHorse at 3:13 PM on July 15, 2012


to GO extinct
not because of US

Dang, and I can't even blame it on phone keys.
posted by BlueHorse at 3:15 PM on July 15, 2012


My impression is that a lot of money being donated to organizations to "Save the gorillas! Save the elephants! Save the whales!" is actually going to leverage broader conservation of habitats, and those charismatic species are useful "flagship species" that attract public attention and dollars. Of course, there's criticism of this practice, and people question how effective this approach to conservation is.

Sadly, as someone who studies a vulnerable, population decreasing, charismatic megafauna, I'm afraid you might be overestimating exactly how much attention the public at large currently pays to "charismatic megafauna." But also - we redirect donations away from, say, chimpanzees, directly to habitat conservation. Are people who were mobilized by sad baby chimps going to donate to protect a more nebulous "Guinean Forest Ecosystem?" Is the loss to conservation of charismatic megafauna, and the umbrella effect of conserving these animals in situ, worth trying to change the habits of the few people who are contributing to broader conservation efforts?
posted by ChuraChura at 3:46 PM on July 15, 2012 [7 favorites]


Anyway, do people actually eat things found on coral reefs?

Hippybear, yes we unquestionably do.

"Over 25 percent of the world's fish biodiversity, and between nine and 12 percent of the world's total fisheries, are associated with coral reefs. [a] While a portion of these diverse species are associated with reefs only to hunt or for a portion of their life cycle—such as juveniles utilizing reefs as a nursery and adults during spawning—others spend their entire lives in reef ecosystems.

"And this may only be the tip of the iceberg; scientists estimate that there may be another one to nine million undiscovered species of organisms living in and around reefs!
" [NOAA]
posted by Mike Mongo at 4:23 PM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thanks, Mike Mongo, for answering that question. (I grew up in the desert southwest, and am not fond of fish overall, so I really have no context for such things. So, much appreciated.)
posted by hippybear at 4:32 PM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


The confusion between climate change and other anthropogenic pressures can also readily be explained: dynamiting reefs and polluting them with agricultural run-offs and sediments due to poor catchment practices reduces their resilience and capacity to absorb change, right at the time when ocean temperature and acidification is demanding the greatest change. The species that can survive the new ocean chemistry just may be the same species that has just gone extinct due to other human processes. So while not directly climate change per se, these things cannot be unpicked in quite such a reductionist fashion.

Coral reefs are in crisis.

As to the value of coral reefs, it's not only that they are one of the key hatcheries for fish, it's also that they are mostly found in developing countries where they are part of a subsistence diet. There are no other alternatives for many of the people, who are not contributing much in the way of emissions themselves.

Anyway, the world is fucked.
posted by wilful at 4:42 PM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Coral Reefs have given me an appreciation for the Islamic fundamentalist states ...

My parents used to drag us around the continent, seemingly intent on visiting every single coral dive site in Malaysia, and in the neighbouring countries (Indonesia and Thailand).

The best sites were amazing: water so clear it looked toxic and unreal - like you wouldn't believe such clear water existed unless it was soaked in bleach or something, it was much clearer than the cleanest swiming pool I'd been in, you could literally see for miles around and all the way to the sun dappled sand on the sea floor. The density of fish was intense: you could barely put your foot into the water without sinking into a mob of multicolored fish, and the big predators moved slowly at the bottom, large grouper and small sharks. Big clams the size of car tyres, giant corals the size of cars themselves.

The most degraded sites were literally just coral skeleton graveyards: an endless sea of bleached dead coral as far as the eye can see, slowly grinding into dust. The water is soupy and sedimented. The only living things seemed to be an army of sea urchins, deadly spiky things, who've moved into to eat the now abundant algae that have taken over. They sit quietly on the sea floor, the last lonely watchers on the reef: in their own way, perhaps, trying to fix things, if they can eat enough algae maybe the corals can recover but just looking at a reef in this state you get this sinking feeling that there's nothing left to recover.

I've seen photos and revisited sites over the years, and more and more healthy reefs are looking more like the degraded reefs, even in the span of only 5 to 10 years, it's shocking.

Anyway, the healthiest reefs were always found on the east coast, in the islamic fundamentalist states which which had never developed beyond rural agrarian farming, and never seemed to have the will or interest to do so. Or maybe they were being held back by some insidious force, who knows.

I know it's a simplistic view to hold, but maybe if we were all content to live in wooden huts we could enjoy nice things like beautiful coral reefs, but that isn't the way of things.
posted by xdvesper at 4:48 PM on July 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


Anyway, do people actually eat things found on coral reefs?

I experienced this first hand a few years ago when I did fieldwork on a small Pacific island that has a pretty subsistence-level lifestyle. When you want to eat something that isn't a coconut, you have two choices: you can walk down to the beach and spear or net something in the shallows around the reef (time taken: 10 minutes; energy spent, almost none). Or you can get in your boat, use some of your precious diesel, take a couple of hours to get out beyond the reef, and fish for deep sea tuna or other large fish (time taken: most of a day; energy spent, lots).

I ate a lot of weird fish, plus eels, octopus and squid during those weeks. But I don't know that the island could survive without the reef supporting so much life close to shore. (Of course with the highest point of the island 3 metres above sea level, climate change will cause them greater problems than reef die-off, anyway.)
posted by lollusc at 4:48 PM on July 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm going to confront this hopeless situation with orders of nigiri-zushi and cold beer until the darkness of our present moment is obliterated by the fire of wasabi. Global warning shall pass through my nostrils as though I am dragon. See it's working already.
posted by humanfont at 5:17 PM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


In the New York Times, ecologist Roger Bradbury argues that it's too late to save a big chunk of the Earth's environment, and that we should instead spend our resources getting ready for the challenges we'll face once that part of the world is destroyed.

Oooh!! Wait! Wait! This is a fun game. Let me try!

"...by persisting in the false belief that newspapers have a future, we grossly misallocate the funds needed to cope with the fallout from their collapse."

On Metafilter, commentor formless argues that it's too late to save a big chunk of old media, and that we should instead spend our resources getting ready for the challenges we'll face once that part of the information ecosystem is destroyed.

Am I doing it right NYT?
posted by formless at 5:46 PM on July 15, 2012


On the bright side we'll be able to drill the shit out of the dead coral reefs and get all their oil. President Romney is probably already lining it up.
posted by Camofrog at 5:57 PM on July 15, 2012


it should be noted that the reefs themselves will be fine - it's just the coral that's toast.
posted by mattoxic at 7:39 PM on July 15, 2012


"...by persisting in the false belief that newspapers have a future, we grossly misallocate the funds needed to cope with the fallout from their collapse."

Is this meant to be an obviously bad line of argument?
posted by escabeche at 7:47 PM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Peter Watts: Last Rites, Lost Rights:
Take Roger Bradbury very seriously. He’s no crank: coral reef specialist, heavy background in mathematical ecology, published repeatedly in Science. Chief and director of more scientific panels than you could roll a raccoon over. So when he says the coral reef ecosystem is already effectively extinct — not the Florida Keys, not the Great Barrier Reef, but the whole global system of tropical reefs everywhere; not just at risk or imperiled or endangered, but fucking dead already, running brain-dead and galvanic for a few more years on nothing but sheer unsustainable inertia — you’d better listen.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:01 PM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


The varying opinions piece linked to in the post is very much worth a read. From John Bruno, for one:
So that aspect of Rogers Bradbury’s Op-Ed in today’s New York Times is generally accurate. The world’s coral reefs have indeed changed, are under enormous pressure, and their future is threatened.

But are they really “on a trajectory to collapse within a human generation”? No.

Is there really “no hope of saving the global coral reef ecosystem”? No, there is hope.

And is the “scientific evidence for this is compelling and unequivocal”? No, not remotely.
This is not a anti-climate change reactionary, this is another marine biologist who recognizes the delicate situation reefs are in, but remains hopeful.

It strikes me that it may be worthwhile to consider both perspectives moving forward: what do we need to do to prepare for the loss of a significant amount of coral reef habitat, and simultaneously, what can we realistically do to reverse or bring back some of the reef habitats that are salvageable now? These don't need to be mutually exclusive strategies.
posted by dubitable at 8:11 PM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Only when the last tree has died and the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realize we cannot eat money"
posted by littlesq at 8:26 PM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


it should be noted that the reefs themselves will be fine - it's just the coral that's toast

This is not remotely true by any standard definition of fine. A coral reef is a living and constantly evolving ecosystem, all of it resting on an enormous stack of perpetually growing limestone. The limestone reef is built layer by layer as coral polyps expel their skeletons, which a special genus of algae known as zooxanthellae turn into calcium carbonate. Through this symbiotic relationship, vast colonies of coral grow in dense clusters, creating habitat and food for a staggering abundance of aquatic life.

When corals bleach (due to extreme heat) those individuals are gone forever, and only a return to less hostile conditions allows other corals to reseed the bleached reef. If the water's pH passes its tipping point (believed to be as little as 20 years off on our current CO2 trajectory), the zooxanthellae no longer fix the coral skeletons. The reef dies en masse. Some individual coral species may live on in open water, but the reef itself becomes a dead mass of limestone, and just about everything we mean by the term "reef" ceases to be.

(By the way, if anyone's after a one-stop read on how coral reefs work and what threats they face, I can't recommend Charlie Veron's A Reef In Time more highly. A little overly technical and research-paper-sloggy in parts, but a fantastic primer nonetheless on coral ecology and its imminent peril.)
posted by gompa at 8:57 PM on July 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


I never understand folks that talk about "believing" (or not) in climate change. I don't see it as an issue of faith, and I don't like faith to be introduced to the discussion, and belief involves faith. I suspect many things are true, but it doesn't mean I believe them.
posted by Goofyy at 10:59 PM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Goofyy, I prefer the terms climate science accepter or denier. This grounds the language in what it is - an acceptance or denial of what is extremely robust and well-agreed science (at least amongst all of the experts). No belief required or expected, except in the scientific method..
posted by wilful at 11:43 PM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


"...by persisting in the false belief that newspapers have a future, we grossly misallocate the funds needed to cope with the fallout from their collapse."

I don't know if you're being serious or not, but if you are, can we not do this with every story coming from a traditional print publication? Unless you're going to point to some amazing blog that covers the fate of the coral reefs at a level that makes all other discussion or coverage superfluous it seems really pointless here.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 11:44 PM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is not a anti-climate change reactionary, this is another marine biologist who recognizes the delicate situation reefs are in, but remains hopeful.

Reading his actual counterpoint it's just fluff. It boils down to
Temperature and acidification are increasing and these pressures do have great inertia, but they are certainly NOT “unstoppable and irreversible”.
If you accept that the reefs will be killed by acidification due to increasing CO2, and accept that the world has given up on getting CO2 emissions under control, then yes the reefs are dead. I think it's becoming increasingly clear that we've passed the point of no return on CO2 emissions. The only thing left is to wait until we realize how badly we've fucked things up and start trying to geoengineer ourselves a solution before the whole ecosystem collapses in on us. If we stopped all emissions tomorrow the earth would continue to warm and the oceans acidify for decades at the least, due to lag and feedback effects, coasting the ecosystem closer towards crisis each year. Instead we've got our foot on the gas, spending $7 billion to build a dripline for dirty Canadian oil, fracking apart vast swaths of earth, sending robots to explore mile-deep oceans for a few more drops of sweet liquid or solid carbon that we burn up into the atmosphere

It is long past time for scientists to wake up and cut the pollyanna bullshit. As James Hansen says, there is an asteroid headed for earth, and we are doing absolutely about it. Every passing year we dawdle it becomes less likely we'll be able to stop it. At some point it is simply irresponsible to continue imagining less plausible hypotheticals about magic pony asteroid deflectors/carbon sequestration/sulfur to block the sun someone might invent in the nick of time - it is time to tell the public what course we are on

Bruno says
We have many examples of places where local threats like fishing and pollution have been reduced or reversed
But this is not a local threat, and there are no local solutions
posted by crayz at 11:52 PM on July 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


Can anyone speak to the effect of an increasingly low pH environment on the coral's ability to fix carbon? Limestone plus acid yields methane, but I don't know if there is some mechanism to prevent the dying corals' carbon from moving into the atmosphere.
posted by samofidelis at 6:49 AM on July 16, 2012


hippybear: Anyway, isn't the point of being concerned about things like coral reefs more that they are useful symbols for the health of the ocean in general and its ability to provide the things humans have been eating out of it for millennia?
Millions of people living in coastal cities are protected from wave impact by the energy absorption of coral reefs offshore. Indonesia's extreme weather problems were fairly quickly attributed to the death of coral reefs; what took years to establish is that the reefs died due to mismanagement of near-Saharan farmland (sands from those areas were found embedded in the dying coral bodies).
posted by IAmBroom at 8:24 AM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Can anyone speak to the effect of an increasingly low pH environment on the coral's ability to fix carbon? Limestone plus acid yields methane

Not sure if this is what you're asking, but in any case the world's oceans aren't becoming acidic; they are becoming less basic. I believe the pre-industrial mean pH was about 8.2, and we're now dipping below 8.1 (representing an increased acidity of something like 30-40% but not actually rendering the water acidic). I once read an estimate that 8.05 or something was the tipping point beyond which zooxanthellae no longer fix coral skeletons as limestone, but I don't know if that's just informed speculation or established science.

One of the most curious and paradoxically exciting things about ocean acidification is that it's pretty much virgin territory as far as the science goes. Though the mechanism has existed as long as the earth has, it was only codified and named circa 2003. When you talk to acidification researchers, they're still engaged in very basic data-gathering. See for example NOAA's "Ship of Opportunity" program, wherein merchant ships are outfitted with monitoring and sampling equipment to provide NOAA chemists with basic info to map the chemical makeup of the seas. (Fun fact: deep ocean currents take thousands of years - exact timelines still being studied - to go through a single cycle. Meaning that there are perhaps pockets of water at the bottom of the sea right now that are chemical snapshots of pre-Christian oceanic and atmospheric conditions.)

When I met with a couple of NOAA scientists in Florida a little while back, I got the sense they existed in this deeply contradictory state where they found their work exhilirating and its implications horrifying.
posted by gompa at 8:43 AM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


It is long past time for scientists to wake up and cut the pollyanna bullshit.

It is also time for scientists to quit the panic, and quit the fatalism. It is time to roll up our sleeves. We need to move off the nuclear and hydrocarbon economy, and onto the solar economy. Anyone who says it is impossible or too late to do so is a threat to the well being of the planet.
posted by No Robots at 8:55 AM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sorry, No Robots - could you be more specific about how scientists can both "cut the pollyanna bullshit" and "quit the panic, and quit the fatalism?" It seems to me that the general scientific community is making strides towards understanding fundamentally interesting things about the organisms and ecosystems we're interacting with, and figuring out how our behavior is impacting them, and then communicating that information to the public with some degree of "This is potentially very bad!" or "This is something we can deal with" as appropriate.
posted by ChuraChura at 9:07 AM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


The scientific establishment has no interest whatsoever in a fundamental alteration of mankind's relationship with the rest of nature. Scientists have grown fat sucking on the teats of our political and corporate authorities. We cannot count on their help in solving our ecological problems. Furthermore, scientists are constrained by their rigid evolutionist framework that prevents them from taking any real interest in the long-term well-being of anything at all. "Eat and drink for tomorrow we die" is the ethos of our scientists today.
posted by No Robots at 9:27 AM on July 16, 2012


What are you basing that on, No Robots?
posted by MsVader at 9:41 AM on July 16, 2012


Scientists have grown fat sucking on the teats of our political and corporate authorities. We cannot count on their help in solving our ecological problems.

This is some seriously gristly cheap-cut animal-feed trolling right here, but I still feel obliged to mark it with a great nose-snorting guffaw on behalf of every cashstrapped, grant-denied, forever-on-the-verge-of-defunded climate scientist I've ever met.

That NOAA "Ships of Opportunity" thing I mentioned? You think that's because merchant ships are simply the best at data gathering, or because begging the private sector to carry a bit of cargo along is the only possible way NOAA oceanographers can get their work done? I will tabulate fossil-fuel industry profits while I await your answer.
posted by gompa at 9:47 AM on July 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


Look, if you want to help save the planet, great. If not, then get out of the way.
posted by No Robots at 10:04 AM on July 16, 2012


Look, if you want to help save the planet, great. If not, then get out of the way.

I'm assuming your efforts to save the planet will be based on science? As in the science that pointed out these problems in the first place. And the science that worked out to harvest solar energy in the first place. Or is it just going to be a bunch of people with buckets washing things and living in yurts?
posted by lesbiassparrow at 10:30 AM on July 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


“scientists are constrained by their rigid evolutionist framework that prevents them from taking any real interest in the long-term well-being of anything at all”

…Huh.
posted by nicepersonality at 11:25 AM on July 16, 2012


Or is it just going to be a bunch of people with buckets washing things and living in yurts?

Well, it certainly won't be based on the "science" that says, "Wah, wah, wah. We're all doooooomed!"
posted by No Robots at 1:14 PM on July 16, 2012


Maybe you should try engaging with the broader scientific community instead of suggesting everyone's in it for the money. There are lots of scientists working to keep the world from being doomed. Plus the suggestion that we should try to figure out how to best allocate very scarce resources in order to keep as much from being doomed as possible ... that's a pretty reasonable one, and a pretty realistic and unfortunately rational way to look at the world. Unless you're sitting on a whole bunch of money and willpower to disperse to the world at large.
posted by ChuraChura at 1:19 PM on July 16, 2012


No Robots: The scientific establishment has no interest whatsoever in a fundamental alteration of mankind's relationship with the rest of nature. Scientists have grown fat sucking on the teats of our political and corporate authorities. We cannot count on their help in solving our ecological problems. Furthermore, scientists are constrained by their rigid evolutionist framework that prevents them from taking any real interest in the long-term well-being of anything at all. "Eat and drink for tomorrow we die" is the ethos of our scientists today.
Wow... that's a big glass of kool-aid you've got there. Aside from lumping all the scientists into one big pile of single-minded amoral mad-doctors... No, really, that's it. That's where your argument left Planet Earth for me. Long before your "evolutionist framework" accusations.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:29 PM on July 16, 2012


If things are as bad as the scientists say, then isn't it time to take drastic action? Isn't it time to regard as an enemy of the planet anyone and anything that thwarts the establishment of sustainable ecology? And isn't a doctrine of biology predicated on relentless competition a serious threat to balanced ecology? It's time for the ecology movement to break completely with the theory of evolution. That doesn't mean embracing creationism. Much as the evolutionists deny it, there are in fact naturalistic alternatives to their barbaric dogma.
posted by No Robots at 1:40 PM on July 16, 2012


No Robots, you need to be able to break apart popular reporting on scientific issues, politics, and the science itself. Also, read some books on evolution while you're at it.
posted by perhapses at 2:04 PM on July 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


perhapses, that is like telling the French revolutionaries that before they take over the monasteries they should read some theology. The fact is that the movement to destroy the evolutionist stranglehold on biology has already begun.
posted by No Robots at 2:20 PM on July 16, 2012


I am enamored with No Robots' structure just there. It goes something like this:

If things are as bad as say, then isn't it time to take drastic action? Isn't it time to regard as an enemy of the market anyone and anything that thwarts the ? And isn't a doctrine of a serious threat to ? It's time for to break completely with the theory of . That doesn't mean embracing . Much as the deny it, there are in fact naturalistic alternatives to their barbaric dogma.

Here is an example of it in action:

If things are as bad as the economists say, then isn't it time to take drastic action? Isn't it time to regard as an enemy of the market anyone and anything that thwarts the economic stability? And isn't a doctrine of an economy predicated on relentless competition a serious threat to a stable economy? It's time for capitalists to break completely with the theory of free market capitalism. That doesn't mean embracing communism. Much as the economists deny it, there are in fact naturalistic alternatives to their barbaric dogma.

posted by TwelveTwo at 5:38 PM on July 16, 2012


Uggh, I used <.


If things are as bad as {group} say, then isn't it time to take drastic action? Isn't it time to regard as an enemy of the market anyone and anything that thwarts the {idealized impossibly harmonious conception of thing which group are perceived to value}? And isn't a doctrine of {definition of valued thing} a serious threat to {idealized impossibly harmonious conception of valued thing}? It's time for {group} to break completely with the theory of {definition of valued thing}. That doesn't mean embracing {perceived opposite of valued thing}. Much as the {group} deny it, there are in fact naturalistic alternatives to their barbaric dogma.
posted by TwelveTwo at 5:40 PM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Anyone who says it is impossible or too late to do so is a threat to the well being of the planet.

I don't think many who might say that we've already passed the tipping point are also saying that steps should not be taken... Nor do I think that anyone who believes that we have already passed the tipping point and that it is too late to mollify pretty severe climate change over the next 50-100 years is a threat to the wellbeing of the planet. It's curious that you seem to believe otherwise.

One of the things one must realize about climate change is the concept of the "commitment to warming", a phrase which is used to describe the time-delay effect of emitted greenhouse gasses on global temperatures. Any changes we're feeling right now are the result of emissions from decades ago. Anything we're pumping into the atmosphere right now, we won't feel the effects of for decades. Even if we cut all greenhouse gas emissions to zero right now, we will still have 30-50 years of increasing temperatures to cope with because of this delayed effect.

Anyway, that's as much as I'm going to respond to your trolling comments, because you got all ranty-ranty right off the deep end there... But really, we're on a path which we MUST continue down, because of this commitment we've made.
posted by hippybear at 6:44 PM on July 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


evolutionist? WTF even is that?

Oh, and you've got less than a clue about ecologists and what they do and believe in, No Robots. Speaking as one myself.
posted by wilful at 7:48 PM on July 16, 2012 [2 favorites]




It's ranty and trollish to get upset about the state of the planet? It's ranty and trollish to get upset about the turgid response to the state of the planet? Then, yeah, colour me ranty and trollish.
posted by No Robots at 8:31 AM on July 17, 2012


Sorry, change "turgid" to "sluggish."
posted by No Robots at 11:01 AM on July 17, 2012


The scientific establishment has no interest whatsoever in a fundamental alteration of mankind's relationship with the rest of nature.

Ranty

Scientists have grown fat sucking on the teats of our political and corporate authorities.

Ranty

We cannot count on their help in solving our ecological problems.

Ranty

Furthermore, scientists are constrained by their rigid evolutionist framework that prevents them from taking any real interest in the long-term well-being of anything at all. "Eat and drink for tomorrow we die" is the ethos of our scientists today.

Trollish
posted by hippybear at 6:30 PM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


What I object to is the fatalism that is creeping into the discussion. This promotes a torpid (that's the word I was looking for earlier) response from the public, that in turn serves the interest of the current power structure. And there is no doubt that the current power structure is maintained largely through the assistance of its scientific and technical cadres. And there is no doubt, either, that the theory of evolution is the ideological foundation of the current power structure.
posted by No Robots at 7:53 AM on July 18, 2012


It's not fatalism if it's a fact. And our commitment to warming is a fact.

The thing is, we MUST do things now to stop real horrors from happening 50-100 years down the line. (Although saying that what is going to happen in the next 50 years won't be horrific, that's foolish.)

The problem is, motivating the populace to move against their own short-term interests (of maintaining the status quo which gives them an easy life full of luxury, at least in first world countries) in order to provide long-range benefit to imaginary people who haven't been born yet is a very difficult thing.

Scientists, whom you claim are serving some monolithic power structure, have been sounding this alarm for over 40 years now. The early 1970s were when I first heard reporting about impending climate change due to man's consumption of fossil fuels. Who was making those reports? People who work in climate sciences.

See, the objection I have to your comment is that you use this word, "scientists", as if it is some monolithic group with members who all are indoctrinated into a single mindset. This could not be further from the truth.

Nearly all the people I've known who work in various sciences (and I've known quite a few due to having been raised by a chemistry professor) take a very long view about nature and life, and have a keen insight into exactly what the possibilities are for mankind's power of creation and destruction and unintended consequences of actions.

I do find your "the theory of evolution is the ideological foundation" thing to be a bit silly. Perhaps it is because you're not explaining what you mean when you say this.

I think, truly, that you will find that the current power structure is maintained largely through its ties to financial institutions and large corporate conglomerates who seek only to further the improvement of their quarterly earnings reports, and have little to no regard for anything which might affect that. Look at the lobbying structure in D.C. -- it's not a bunch of scientists who hold the power. Follow the money, and you'll find the truth.

If there is any underlying theory which forms an ideological foundation to the current power structure that I can see, it is that of greed and short-term gain overriding any hard choices which need to be made to affect long term positive change. And the choices will be hard, because the changes which need to be made now will, by necessity, need to be drastic enough and swift enough to require undoing much of what we (in first world countries) take for granted as our standard of living. Any sort of slow transition to something else will only commit us to further warming down the road.

Ultimately, changes WILL be made and the status quo WILL be upended. The question is, will it be by deliberate choice (and there are plenty of people working in sciences of all sorts who are striving to create and discover solutions and alternatives which will be viable choices), or will it be because natures forces it upon us as our commitment to warming plays itself out and crops start to fail and shoreline disappears under rising sea levels?

Earlier in this thread you said that we need to move onto the solar economy. But how much do you know about those working in development of solar power, and what kind of technology they are developing and how viable it is to be deployed to meet even a fraction of our current energy needs? How much do you know about the kinds of storage which are currently being investigated in order to make solar something viable when the basic source of power (sunlight) is guaranteed to be not available 50% of the time, and frequently more with things like clouds and weather happening? And who do you think is doing all this research and trying to push this technology forward into something which will work as reliably as possible?

There are scientists, that nebulous boogeyman word you invoke, who have been pouring their lives into this endeavor. Do you want them to succeed? Then you truly must get the ACTUAL power structure which is tied up in oil and derivative investment to change their focus and start pouring their money into these sciences. Until that happens, it's going to be baby steps for the next 20 years, and we really can't afford another 20 years of increased CO2 emissions.
posted by hippybear at 8:40 AM on July 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


Let's just say that there are scientists on both sides of this war.
posted by No Robots at 9:04 AM on July 18, 2012


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