Is There Any Future for Coral Reefs?

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Back in March, I took a look at the state of climate change and the tasks facing nations if we are to limit average warming to 1.5oC.  Those tasks were, and remain, demanding.  Now we are enduring the covid-19 pandemic, and action on climate change has slowed perceptibly, even as the economic collapse leads to bluer skies, and much lower rates of CO2 emissions.  Meanwhile the warming has continued.

I have a book in press, due out in early 2021.  In it I refer to the increasingly slim chance that we will have anything resembling 20th century coral reefs by the end of this century, so I remain personally very interested in how coral reefs are doing these days.  Will that slim chance have vanished to no chance at all before the book even hits the market?  Or will something unexpected have happened that makes it laughable that we would be concerned at all for the well-being of these iconic oceanic wonders?

Bleached Acropora on the Great Barrier Reef.  It has happened again in 2020.  Image © ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.

The warming has continued to cause trouble from time to time at locations around the world as sea surface temperatures reach critical thresholds for coral reefs.  This year, there was serious bleaching again along the Great Barrier Reef (the third major bleaching event there since 2016) as well as in some other southwest Pacific locations.  The media, preoccupied with Covid-19, paid little attention and it is hard to find reports of bleaching other than on the GBR.

The Great Barrier Reef bleaching event, like the ones that preceded it, however, has been particularly well documented because of the science and monitoring resources able to be thrown at it and the media have responded accordingly.  Once more, scientists from James Cook University were able to conduct aerial surveys along the full 1500 km of the reef region during the second half of March, making 11 flights in 9 days, surveying 1036 reefs and scoring them for extent of bleaching.  They also did some in-water ground-truthing of the surveys.  Work was curtailed as the country shut down because of covid-19.  Later this year, the James Cook team will be diving many of these reefs to determine the extent of mortality.

Of the 1036 surveyed reefs, 39.8% exhibited little or no bleaching (less than 10% of corals bleached).  But 25.1% were severely affected (meaning at least 60% of the corals in shallow water were bleached.  The remaining 35% showed moderate bleaching (i.e 10% to 60% of corals bleached).  Compared to the bleaching in 2016, there are more unbleached or lightly bleached reefs and fewer severely bleached reefs, making this the second most extreme event since the first extensive bleaching of the GBR in 1998.  However, in contrast to both 2016 and 2017, bleaching in 2020 has impacted reefs throughout the length of the GBR province.  At the far southern end, I’m told by others that shallow reef flat corals at Heron Reef were severely bleached but that bleaching deeper on the slopes was lower (20% to 40% of corals) and more variable.  Shallow corals at nearby One Tree Reef have also been bleached.  I’ll be watching for the official report on the surveys of this bleaching event.

These three maps show each of the reefs surveyed during each of the last three bleaching events along the Great Barrier Reef.  Red circles reflect >60% of coral colonies bleached.  Green circles reflect <10% of coral colonies bleached.  The remaining 35% of reefs surveyed, scattered among the reds and greens, are omitted from the figure but had intermediate levels of bleaching (10 – 60%). Image © ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.

The most notable thing about Great Barrier Reef bleachings is that of the five major ones that have occurred, only 1998 and 2016 occurred during el Niño years when water temperatures might be unusually warm.  The others (2002, 2017, 2020) have occurred in non-el Niño years, showing that global warming has now reached the point, at least in the south-west Pacific, that typical temperature fluctuations due to local weather (heat waves) are sufficient to trigger bleaching.  February 2020 had the warmest sea surface temperatures ever recorded in the GBR region.

In the Caribbean, records have always shown that the degradation of reefs, as measured in loss of live coral cover, had been well under way long before climate change was on the scene.  This is also true of the GBR – until 2016, climate change was a distant third to explosions in numbers of Crown-of-thorns seastars, and cyclones, as causes of coral loss – but while significant loss of live coral cover was evident in the 1970s on the GBR, that downward trend in coral cover began in the 1950s in the Caribbean.  Climate change became important there in the 1980s and subsequently, but, unlike the Pacific, the Caribbean has suffered from a number of pandemic diseases of corals and other major organisms.  Diseases, while important in the Pacific and elsewhere, have been particularly destructive of Caribbean reef systems. 

Rapid progression of Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease is shown in this time series of photos off St. Thomas, USVI.  Photo © Sonora Meiling and Science News.

There is a growing suspicion among scientists who study such things that the serious diseases prevalent in the Caribbean are themselves a consequence of the long-term degradation of reefs by a multitude of human activities.  The problem for corals is now being exacerbated by the warming due to climate change.  Among the most destructive causes for reef integrity have been the unidentified pathogen that virtually wiped out Diadema sea urchins throughout the Caribbean in 1983, removing a major reef herbivore that has never really recovered.  This facilitated a shift towards a much more algae-dominant reefscape.  White Band Disease, which was largely responsible for the near disappearance of Acropora palmata and A. cervicornis during the late 1970s and the 1980s, continues to crop up.  And Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (usually just called SCTLD) is a new one currently ravishing populations of about 20 coral species in the northern Caribbean (many of these species are among the ones less likely to bleach as water warms).

SCTLD, first seen in Florida in 2014, has since been sighted in many locations throughout the northern Caribbean, including sites along the Mexican Yucatan but not Belize, and as far south in the eastern Caribbean as St. Kitts and Nevis, according to data compiled by the AGRRA monitoring program.

Two recent papers provide new information on the current threats to Caribbean reefs (both are open access).  Aaron Muñiz-Castillo and Ernesto Arias, both from Centro de Investigación y de Estudios Avanzados del I.P.N. (CINVESTAV), Mérida, Mexico, and five colleagues from Mexican and U.S. labs, published an article late in 2019 in Scientific Reports.  Their article deals with the spatial and temporal pattern of heat stress faced by coral reefs across the Caribbean, and therefore with the way warming is influencing different parts of the Caribbean in different ways and to different extents.  Katie Cramer of Arizona State University, and six, chiefly U.S.-based colleagues published an article in Science Advances on 22nd April that concerns the temporal pattern of loss of the two species of Acropora.  Their article is sure to generate discomfort in a number of places because of the putative causes they list. 

Muñiz-Castillo and colleagues used remote sensing to plot heat stress variation over the period from 1985 to 2017 at sites throughout the Caribbean.  They showed, as expected, that heat stress was overall greater in more equatorial regions and in more recent years, but they revealed significant variation among locations in these trends.  They showed that heat stress does not map simply according to the ecoregions recognized across the Caribbean and proposed a new set of heat stress regions to be used when considering effects of warming in this region.  Among the most stressed, and most rapidly warming, locations are central and eastern Venezuela, the Honduran and Nicaraguan Miskito Keys, and the more southern Lesser Antilles along with the western Venezuelan coast, Aruba and Curaçao.  At the other extreme are the northern Lesser Antilles, most of the Mesoamerican Reef, and most of the Greater Antilles, the eastern Bahamas and Florida.  These least stressed regions may serve as heat refugia for coral reef systems.

The main message for me from their article is that patterns of heat stress vary significantly across the Caribbean and that, by knowing the local pattern, it is possible to infer likely relative heat stress in the future among locations.  All coral reefs, even within the Caribbean, are not experiencing the same thermal stress as the planet warms, and there may be opportunities to use the differences among locations in managing reefs more effectively.  For example, it would be wise to look after those putative heat refugia.

Cramer’s paper is a historical look at the decline in abundance of the two Acropora species found in the Caribbean – very historical in that it includes Pleistocene data.  When Tom Goreau first described the structure of Caribbean reefs in 1959, he named two of the nine zones he recognized as the cervicornis zone and the palmata zone because those two species tended to be overwhelmingly common at those parts of the reef.  He described the typical occurrence of A. palmata as starting at the top of the reef slope in “a narrow zone which is populated almost exclusively by huge tree-like colonies of Acropora palmata that take the full force of the surf. The great serried outliers of this coral are predominantly oriented in the direction of the prevailing seas which thus give the whole zone the characteristic appearance of a great jagged comb with irregular teeth….  In this region, Acropora palmata is clearly dominant and exists as a nearly pure population except on the sides of surge channels…  [To depths of 5 – 6 meters] Acropora palmata is still the dominant coral, growing in large isolated heads that also are strongly oriented into the prevailing seas”.  Needless to say, very few people diving today have ever seen those serried ramparts that formed the upper portion of most Caribbean reefs; that species, along with A. cervicornis, is on the endangered species list.

The crashes of those two iconic species were under way or about to begin as Goreau completed his article.  Cramer and colleagues have used a variety of types of data, from many locations across the Caribbean, and extending from Pleistocene times to the present.  While White Band Disease, which caused widespread die-offs of both species during the 1980s, has long been identified as a major factor, these new data show clearly that the decline in A. palmata was well under way at the time Goreau was working in Jamaica.

The proportion of reef sites with the species present (gray line) or dominant (black line), Pleistocene to the present.  The onset of White Band disease, and the Diadema die-off are both marked in red.  Stars mark the first period with a significant decline in abundance from Pleistocene levels.  Note that A. palmata is characteristic of reef crest sites and A. cervicornis is characteristic of midslope sites.  Image © K. Cramer and Science Advances.

At reef crests, the proportion of sites dominated by A. palmata declined from 78% during the Pleistocene to 6% in 2011.  Even by the 1950s, palmata abundance was significantly lower than in the Pleistocene.  At midslope sites, the prevalence of A. cervicornis declined from 63% of sites in the Pleistocene to 12% of sites in the 1960s.  Its prevalence has declined to <1% of sites at the present time.  Clearly, White Band Disease, or even White Band Disease and climate change are not the whole story here. 

In their search for drivers of these trends, Cramer and colleagues argue that several local human stresses have played major roles before WBD and climate change began their involvement.  In particular, they point to water quality, but their analysis is hampered by the lack of water quality data for reef locations even today.  (A little bit like Covid-19 testing, if you don’t monitor water quality, you cannot be asked or ordered to clean things up.)  The only long-term water quality data for the Caribbean – data on clarity for Belize and Puerto Rico – reveal a trend to increasing turbidity between 1993 and 2012.  Cramer and colleagues argue convincingly (at least to me) that the long-term decline of reefs coincides not only with increasing use of fertilizers on agricultural land, but also with increasing use of synthetic herbicides and pesticides.  Many of these are known to interfere with coral reproduction through effects on fecundity, larval development, and settlement success.  As well, human settlements near coastlines deliver a stream of pharmaceuticals and other chemicals through wastewater that can enter the reef environment.  These also have seldom been tested for their impacts on reef organisms.

I vividly remember a tiny pilot experiment Chris Metcalfe and other colleagues of mine carried out in the Yucatan in December-January 2008-2009.  With the help of experienced cave divers from the region, they deployed passive samplers in a series of cenotes that were downstream from tourism developments along the Mexican Riviera and in one cenote upstream from all development.  Water in these cave systems was all flowing towards the coast and would be expected to percolate up at offshore sites along the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef.  (Such sites are readily visible to a diver on the shallow forereef as the brackish water slowly mixes with surrounding salt water.)  They showed easily measurable concentrations of a variety of anthropogenic chemicals ranging from PCBs and organochloride pesticides to pharmaceuticals and illicit drugs.  Few of these compounds have been tested for toxicity to reef organisms such as corals.  Their results demonstrated clearly that runoff from agriculture and sewage from the hotel developments were entering the ocean along that shore.  But without time series of data, it is not possible to be certain that such chemicals have increased in abundance in reef waters – not possible to be certain, but does anyone really doubt this has happened as tourism has grown over the years?

In addition to onshore pollution, overfishing is the other local impact of people on reefs that could have played a major role.  Overfishing appears to have been rampant at many Caribbean sites but again there are not the long-term data across this region that would be necessary to test any trends in this factor against Cramer’s coral abundance data.

I think the main message from Cramer’s article is that while we spend plenty of time talking about the very real, and growing, link between climate change, bleaching and reef decline, we need to remember those other human impacts, that are still playing a role, although more locally.  They were sufficient to commence the deterioration of reefs before climate was a problem and mostly they are still acting.  The second message is the reminder that the trajectory for coral reefs in the Caribbean has been particularly severe, with diseases playing a much larger role than elsewhere.  The prevalence of these diseases is almost certainly also influenced by the various human stresses acting on reefs.

Coral-dominated reefs such as this one are getting harder to find as the various human-caused stresses act against them.  With loss of coral, the structural complexity of the habitat, and the rich biota characteristic of coral reefs disappears also.  Image © Robert S. Steneck.

A coral reef exists as an exquisite balance between calcification processes and a variety of forces of destruction, physical and biological.  As human use of the coastline increases, and as direct use of the reef increases, a multitude of human-caused stresses act to shift this equilibrium.  Whether we facilitate algal growth through overfishing of herbivores, reduce coral survivorship or reproductive success through pollution or climate change, or simply disrupt reefs physically through our sometimes thoughtless manipulation of coastal lands, dredging of navigation channels, or construction of artificial islands, our actions shift that equilibrium in the direction of reef degradation and decline.  We are now at a point where we have increased our impacts on many reefs so far that they are disappearing before our eyes.  My suggestion that we will not have anything resembling the coral reefs of the 1960s by the end of this century is not in danger of becoming obsolete before my book emerges next spring.  I wish I could be more positive about the future.  I would love for us all to begin acting in ways that will prove me wrong!

Categories: Changing Oceans, Climate change, coral reef science, diseases | Comments Off on Is There Any Future for Coral Reefs?

Our Environmental Crisis in a New Post-Covid-19 World – Pluses and Minuses of a Pandemic

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You might have thought that with Covid-19 locking down life, I’d have ample free time to post to my blog.  Fact is, I’ve been remarkably busy, in remarkably ineffective ways.  With next to nothing on my schedule for weeks, I’ve fallen into the trap which others have commented on.  While some people have used the sudden cessation of normal life to undertake projects that they had reluctantly shelved for years, others of us have frittered our time away, aimlessly drifting off in all directions without actually leaving the house.  Google has facilitated this in my case – now my drifting from link to link has no bounds and hours can go by before I remember what it was I went to Google for in the first place.  I climb back out of the rabbit hole, only to discover its already time for dinner.  And the weeks have rolled by.

That our Spring, so full of promise in early March, decided to pause and come in a bit late instead of super early, gave me the impression that time was standing still.  And yet, if one looks carefully, one can find ample evidence that the world still revolves at the same speed, still travels around the sun, and still changes under the pressure of all our mistreatment (although some of that mistreatment has abated because we have all been staying at home).  You have to search to find this evidence in the media.  Covid-19 has taken all the oxygen.  The CBC evening news program (which my parents watched religiously when I was a child, and which I’ve watched religiously ever since I returned to Canada in 1994) has almost become the Covid-19 Report.  Nothing else breaks through.  Even a tragic mass shooting of 22 people in Nova Scotia was reported through a Covid lens (ad nauseum, I might add – the CBC seems to feel obliged, without exception, to devote a full week on every story involving mass death of Canadians).  Lots of emphasis on how difficult it was to grieve when people could not gather or hug.  A little bit of wondering about whether the gunman finally lost his cool under the stress of days of forced inactivity because of Covid.

Nature of the Pandemic

So, what has been happening in the world, and what has not?  And what does this mean for the future?  I’ll now do something frankly stupid – try to look at the pandemic from inside the middle of it and draw some useful conclusions.  I cobbled together some numbers from WHO to look at apparent differences in impact among countries, knowing as I did so that the infection reached countries at different times so the situation on 17th May (when I accessed the data) is quite late (China), somewhere in the middle (USA, Canada, France), or very early (Peru, India) in the course of this first wave of infections.  Data on number of cases are flawed, to varying degrees, by the low and variable levels of testing, and data on deaths, which might be expected to be more accurate (dead bodies do focus the attention), are also of variable value due to differing ways of characterizing ‘cause of death’.  I used data for 17 countries including the 12 with the largest number of cases, plus four others with high numbers of deaths as reported by WHO.

I looked at the deaths per 100,000 of population to see if there was any pattern.  As the figure shows, deaths per 100,000 is all over the map for the 17 countries plotted here.

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Plot of Covid-19 deaths per 100,000 as of 17 May 2020, using WHO data for 17 countries with highest total cases and/or high numbers of deaths reported, and latest numbers from UN Population Division on national population size.

It’s tempting to suggest that the data for Belgium, Russia and India are particularly inadequate.  It’s tempting to suggest there is a cluster of low death rate countries including Canada, Germany, Brazil and so on averaging around 10 deaths per 100,000, and a cluster of high death rate countries – Spain, Italy, France, and UK – averaging around 55 deaths per 100,000.  With the Netherlands and the USA somewhere between.  There is certainly no tendency for the deaths per 100,000 to be more-or-less the same across most countries.  Its also clear that this per capita death rate is not related to population size in any simple way.  And finally, in this graph, the USA is not wildly different to other countries.  The USA has so far had way more deaths than any other country, but that is partly a function of its size.

It’s also tempting to suggest that, given the inadequacy of the data, this graph is meaningless.  In fact, if I were a reviewer of a paper including this graph, that’s the conclusion I would draw! 

We will probably have to wait some time before we can truly explore how this virus attacked in different countries (although in the interim, people with greater expertise in epidemiology than me will be able to make some real headway).  Then perhaps the differing approaches taken in trying to deal with it can be judged in terms of their relative effectiveness.  For now, I’ll limit myself to two comments: First, the data seem to be a bit of a dog’s breakfast.  Second, countries are taking decisions on containment – to lockdown, to individually distance, to quarantine – or worse, to move back towards ‘normal’ – that appear more driven by politics, public pressure, or the all-important GDP, rather than by the apparent status of the outbreak.  I fear we will see more bad news in the weeks and months ahead as people gather, mask-free, to celebrate their all-important freedom.

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Protestors outside the Massachusetts State House on May 4th calling for an end to restrictions to contain the coronavirus.  Photo © David L Ryan/Boston Globe.

The Economic Impact

The major direct consequence of efforts to contain this pandemic has been the shutting down of large swaths of the global economy.  The International Energy Agency’s Global Energy Review, which normally is released about now and reviews the preceding calendar year, in 2020 has looked as well at the first three months of 2020 (with some data up to end April).  It refers to the effects of the pandemic as unprecedented in peacetime, and projects a 6% global reduction in demand for energy for 2020.  This is the largest downturn in demand in 70 years (largest ever in absolute terms), and seven times larger than the downturn due to the 2008 financial crisis.  This drop in energy demand has been caused by the shuttering of manufacturing plants, a curtailment of retail, and a drastic reduction in transportation of all types.

Image from IEA Global Energy Review 2020 © IEA

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Image from IEA Global Energy Review 2020 © IEA

IEA’s graph of annual change in demand is particularly deceptive at first glance because it plots percent change in demand from year to year.  That is not the same as actual demand, and while the graph suggests demand has fluctuated a fair bit from year to year it also suggests, to the graphically naïve (including befuddled me when I first saw it), that on average demand for energy has not budged since 1900!  So – tilt your head to the right as you look at this graph because the zero line is a hell of a lot higher in 2020 than it was in 1900. 

IEA points out that this loss of energy demand impacts various sectors and nations differently.  Countries in full lockdown mode see about a 25% decline in overall energy demand week after week until they begin to recover.  Oil is hit hard because of the cuts to road transport and aviation.  As a consequence, the mix of fuels providing energy shifts and, continuing the trend set in 2019, renewables and other green fuels will have provided more of the energy used than will coal.

The extent of the economic downturn is most obvious in aviation.  There were 716,727 commercial flights made during the first week of December 2019, but that number fell to 287,760 by the first week in April 2020, a markedly different trend than in 2019 when the first week of May saw 733,576 flights.  Even this number was being held artificially high because airlines were maintaining services, often at the request of governments, despite a lack of passengers.  The number of passengers passing through security at US airports shows the real state of affairs – down 96% between 1st March and 16th April while the number of flights ‘only’ fell by half.

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Number of passengers per day in US airports 2020 and 2019. Graph © Business Insider

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) upped its estimate for 2020 losses in passenger revenues from $252 billion to $314 billion, a 55% vs a 44% loss compared to 2019, in the space of just three weeks between 24th March and 14th April.

Along with the airlines, all other components of the tourism industry have been hit exceptionally hard, and that means that communities dependent on tourism have been particularly affected as well.  What will happen to the economies of Caribbean, Mediterranean, South-east Asian countries which have relied substantially on tourism for economic well-being?  What will happen to cities like Paris, Sydney, New York, or dare I say Dubai?  What will happen to theatre, and most other forms of the entertainment industry?  Will the NBA final or any other major sporting event even feel like a real event without packed stands and a crowd cheering in unison?  Because it seems increasingly unlikely that the global economy is going to bounce back quickly, and those sectors, or communities, that have been particularly hard hit will suffer for a long time.  In fact, given the extent to which people seem to be ignoring the informed medical advice about taking steps to minimize spread of the illness, and therefore, the likelihood of multiple waves of infection during the year or more before we get effective treatments or vaccines, I think we are facing a future which is going to be notably different to the recent past, and not in ways that we have chosen, or even foreseen.

Some Good News

And yet… there is some good news hidden in all this doom and gloom.  For example, with the rapid curtailment of energy demand, we are going to have a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in 2020.  IEA estimates that energy-related emissions will be just 30.6 gigatonnes CO2 for 2020.  That’s still a lot of CO2 but almost 8% lower than in 2019, and the lowest emissions rate since 2010.  It will also be the greatest emissions reduction ever seen, and six times larger than the decline caused by the economic downturn of 2008.

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Image from IEA Global Energy Review 2020 © IEA

When I first heard this news, I naively wondered if we could see this reduction in the CO2 concentrations atop Mauna Loa reported continuously by NOAA.  (I don’t always think clearly!)  Let’s just say that the 8% decline in emissions is going to be very welcome, but we need many years of such declines if we are going to keep warming to within 1.5oC.  Yes! The reduction in emissions achieved by the pandemic’s collapsing of the economy is of the same scale as the reduction we need year after year between now and 2050 to meet the Paris Agreement target!  And reducing emissions by 7 or 8% is not going to materially reduce the atmospheric concentration of CO2 – it will take years of such reductions to see that effect.  There is another important message embedded in this emissions reduction – anyone who still thinks we can solve climate change by shutting down our economy and living simply as in ye olde times needs to think twice.  We’ve almost shut our economy down over covid, and hardly made a dent!  We have got to reimagine our economy as one that is vibrant, but in a far less carbon-intensive way.  We’ve got to change our sources of energy, not simply turn off the taps and switches.

The downturn in 2020 has been accompanied by bluer skies, clearer waters, and much more evidence of wildlife in our public spaces.  Some people living in large cities have probably seen the stars for the first time in their lives. 

It’s amazing how quickly Nature is able to reveal herself once our mistreatment is eased.  A few months of cleaner air just may remind some of us of what we have largely lost over preceding years.  Might we want to hold on to that improvement as we recover from the pandemic?  Hold that thought a minute; it could become useful.  Meanwhile, get out and enjoy nature.

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When British Columbia’s site for reserving campsites in provincial parks reopened on Monday 25 May, it crashed immediately when 50,000 people attempted to book.  Photo © Pierre Leclerc/Shutterstock

What Will the Recovery Look Like?

Previous economic downturns have been followed by relatively rapid surges in activity which have brought CO2 emissions back to and higher than where they were prior to the downturn.  While the recovery this time may be slower, nobody is predicting economic activity will remain low.  Nor should it!  We need jobs and income to sustain lives.  And yet… There is the possibility after an economic collapse to rebuild differently, and there is some evidence that in some jurisdictions, governments are acting to stimulate economic growth in ways that simultaneously shift energy use in sustainable directions.

Canada

In Canada the surreal battle between Premier Jason Kenny of Alberta and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau over Alberta’s flagging oil sector was raging well before the pandemic hit.  Kenny, styling himself as Captain Courageous, protecting vulnerable Alberta from all those nasty, liberal people elsewhere in Canada, was doing a pretty good job of riling up his base á la Trump when the combination of a silly spat between Saudi Arabia and Russia – my oil well is bigger than yours – and a spiky little coronavirus combined to lower the value of oil below zero.  Here, Mr. Refinery Manager, I’ll pay you to take my oil.  Sort of left Mr. Kenny without much of an argument.  What valuable oil resources did you say Alberta has?

Except that large numbers of Albertans were losing their jobs as the oil sector tanked.  So far Trudeau has been making the right kind of responses.  In early March, speaking at the Prospectors and Developers Association conference in Toronto, Trudeau invited advice from the business sector on how to transition to a low-carbon economy, and noted that “moving towards a low-carbon economy is a big adjustment for many industries, including yours. This transformation won’t happen overnight.”  The speech was seen as a positive message by the mining industry.  Then with the covid-induced collapse, he provided $2.4 billion to help laid-off Alberta workers clean up orphaned oil and gas wells and stop the leakage of methane gas.  This may not have been the support Kenny was looking for, but it provided some relief from unemployment while solving some of the environmental problems generated by the oil industry.  (Of course, conveniently forgotten is that, once again, the fossil fuel industry is having its mess cleaned up by the taxpayers.  Funny how that always seems to be what happens.)

Since late April, there has not been much out of Ottawa re the oil sector.  They’ve been busy dealing with the pandemic but I hope their experts have been meeting in back rooms to figure out how to restart the economy without going back to the old, dig it up and ship it out approach.  Certainly, there has been plenty of evidence that the old ways are truly dead.  For example, Norway’s $1 Trillion sovereign wealth fund explicitly singled out Canada’s oil patch leaders, along with some others, to be blacklisted – all part of a plan to rid its fund of carbon-intensive risk.  For another example, a leader in Alberta’s oil drilling industry wrote in the Globe & Mail about how it was possible for the Alberta drilling industry to retool and retrain to exploit geothermal energy instead of messy tar sands.  He said this was possible because that is what his company had done — how’s that for irrefutable logic? 

Meanwhile, Mr. Kenny unwisely sank $7.5 Billion of Albertan’s money into the Keystone XL pipeline – perhaps the most blindly ignorant thing he could possibly have done with those funds.  Still, it serves to remind Albertans of who is on their side.  Meanwhile, many of us wait, less and less patiently, for Justin Trudeau to finally wheel out something solid to combat climate change.  He has a wonderful, virus-brought opportunity to stimulate economic recovery while reshaping the energy sector in this country, but will he muster the courage to do so?

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Jason Kenny announcing the commitment of $7.5 Billion of Alberta government funds in the Keystone XL pipeline – a pipeline in a foreign country that may never get built. 
Photo © Jim Wells/Postmedia.

Elsewhere

There are encouraging signs from some other places that the economic rebuild is being done in sustainable ways.  If a global pandemic is a great time to build pipelines without anyone noticing (that’s the latest piece of brilliance out of Alberta), it’s also a great time to put in bike lanes and pedestrian-only malls.  They can be advertised as temporary, but people will come to love them, and many cities around the world are doing this.  Milan’s Strade Aperte plan announced in late April is quite ambitious, and New Zealand’s progressive government has funded all cities to increase pedestrian and bicycle access.  Other than Montreal, however, Canadian cities seem to be quite timid and they may be losing a golden opportunity.  In fact, cities like Toronto may see an upsurge in car traffic because people will be avoiding crowded public transport.  Come on, Canada, get with the program.

Meanwhile, the Environmental Crisis Unfolds in its Inevitable Way

In the middle of the pandemic, the Great Barrier Reef bleached severely, the third major bleaching of this iconic system since 2016.  If you were paying attention, you heard about it.  But if not, this bleaching has come and gone with scarcely a wimper.  The extent of what is happening to coral reefs deserves yet another post of its own, and I’ll turn to that next time.  Let’s just say that if it takes at least a decade to ‘repair’ a damaged reef (in terms of coral cover – a very incomplete level of ‘repair’), three major bleaching events in the space of four years have halted the repair process, at least for now.

Despite this bad news, the Australian political class, along with Rupert Murdock and most of the Australian media, and a growing number of people in the reef tourism sector (people who really should know best what is happening because they are taking tourists to the reef daily) all continue nonsense claims about the reef not being damaged, or recovering overnight, while promoting the gas and coal industry, and anything else that should be anathema in that climate-ravaged country.  If anyone, anywhere, wants non-American evidence of the damage that can be done to democracy by money and vested interests, just take a look at the feeble responses of most politicians in Australia to any notion that maybe climate change is an existential problem for this hot, dry nation, and maybe their gas and coal industries need to be scaled back.

Closer to home, I think of Canada’s Arctic coastline as our equivalent to the Great Barrier Reef.  Like Australians 50 years ago, Canadians today are largely unaware of our Arctic coast, and we have generated even less detailed information concerning how it functions.  Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans chose to mark Earth Day 2020 by releasing its report: Canada’s Oceans Now: Arctic Ecosystems 2019, accompanied by a 206-page technical report.  The press release suggested the report “provides useful educational content for students and all Canadians to read on Earth Day while at home” – nothing like the government giving us homework during a pandemic lockdown!

Still, I hope many Canadians will have at least peeked at this report.  It defines Canada’s Arctic Ocean Area as the ocean over Canada’s Arctic continental shelf and the islands there contained.  It reveals this as a 4 million+ square kilometer area, spanning 30 degrees of latitude, and equal in size to 41% of Canada’s total land area.  The mainland coastline is in excess of 176,000 km in length, and the 36,500+ islands together include about 800,000 square kilometers of land.  This vast area is populated by just 65,000 people, and the vast majority of Canadians have never set foot in it.

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A Canada most of us scarcely know. And a region that is changing very rapidly because of climate change.  Is Canada even equipped to manage this region sustainably? Photo © DFO.

Much larger than the Great Barrier Reef, it lacks that region’s diversity, but it is biologically rich in fish, marine mammals and birds.  The report, which makes extensive use of Inuit knowledge as well as of the science that has been done, takes pains to stress how much we do not know about this region, and how little information we have available even to detect changes that are taking place.  Although this report does not say so, the paucity of information about the Canadian Arctic is a failure of Canada’s responsibility to know about its land and waters.  There is a real need for funding to build the basic inventory of information about this part of Canada, and other forms of inducement to bring more scientific effort both from government and from the university sector.  This need is acute because the Arctic is warming at 2-3 times the rate of more equatorial parts of the planet, and that melting is already producing profound changes in geography and ecology both on land and in the water.  While the population may be small, the lives of Canada’s arctic inhabitants are being irrevocably changed and government lacks the data to adequately simulate or anticipate what may be coming.

The report does a good job of pointing to the special role of sea ice in the Arctic, distinguishing between that ice which is anchored to shorelines and the free-floating pack ice.  These are behaving differently as the ocean warms.  Apparently, prevailing ocean currents are pushing multi-year ice into northern Canadian waters and this part of the Arctic is likely to be the last place in that ocean to have summer ice.  There are important implications here for conservation of ice-dependent ecosystems and organisms.  As well, the melting of sea ice, which is one of the things well documented over 40 years through use of satellites, is shifting the balance from under-ice to open water productivity by phytoplankton.  As a consequence marine food webs are altering, although at present there is insufficient data to understand the pace or the full consequences of what is happening.

While this report, and its more technical companion, avoid alarmism, a careful reading reveals the enormous consequences of what is now happening, although without a clear statement about pace.  Canada is going to have to deal with many of these consequences, as they affect living and operating in the Arctic.  What happens to Inuit culture as the world melts?

Elsewhere, the long march to a warmer climate continues apace.  CO2 above Mauna Loa averaged 416.21ppm in April 2020, up from 413.33ppm last April, and 393.18ppm a decade ago.  Our chances of containing warming to 1.5oC have grown vanishingly small, and a sea level rise measured in meters by 2100 is no longer fiction.  On April 30th, a paper in Science reported on NASA’s new ice monitoring satellite, ICESat-2 (Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite-2) launched in 2018.  By accurately measuring elevation, over time it can map rates of ice loss.  The rates are very variable from place to place across Antarctica, but in some places the rates of loss are on the order of a meter per year.  Over all Antarctica, ice loss amounts to 3200 cubic kilometers of water per year, raising sea level 8.9mm.

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Image based on data from ICESat-2 and ICESat to compile rates of loss of altitude between 2003-9 and 2018.  The rate for all of Antarctica, 3200 cubic kilometers of water per year, is half the flow of the Amazon, twice the Congo, or six times the Mississippi or the St. Lawrence; a lot of water entering the ocean.  Image and data courtesy NASA Scientific Visualization Studio.

While warming continues apace, the action to address this existential problem has fallen off.  Governments are understandably preoccupied with the pandemic, and delaying major in-person conferences, such as COP26 – the next international climate conference, is wise.  COP26, originally set for November 2020, had been postponed to May 2021, but has now been postponed until November 2021.  Unfortunately, the flamboyant climate conferences are useful vehicles for holding nations’ feet to the flame, and without them action falters.  Witness the fact that action on climate change was one of the major demands by voters in the Canadian election last October.  Canada still awaits tangible action by the national government, showing that this message was received and that plans to strengthen the so far rather tepid Canadian performance on climate are now being put in place.  Yes, the government has been busy, but its been eight months already and all we have is some encouragement to the Alberta oil industry to clean up some abandoned wells.  Time for some real action, Mr. Trudeau.

Canada is not alone in slowing action on the climate file.  The USA continues to back away from every piece of environmental legislation it has on the books.  Australia is intransigent in its enthusiasm for its fossil fuel industry.  And climate change is hardly spoken of around the planet.

Australia’s case is particularly surprising given the abundant evidence of the damage already experienced there due to climate change.  Australia currently subsidizes its fossil fuel industry with about $57 billion per year according to the IMF, and its commitment under the Paris Agreement has been widely denounced as inadequate.  Yet, the Australian government recently announced it would not be altering its announced Paris target for emissions reduction until 2025 (countries are supposed to be racheting up their commitments year by year beginning before 2020).  Still, Australia finally took some positive action on climate with the release on 21 May of a discussion paper, Australia’s Technology Investment Roadmap, which is supposed to drive the innovations needed to move towards a carbon-neutral economy.  The fact the roadmap exists is a positive glimmer; the absence of any milestones for reductions in emissions, or carrots and sticks to move the economy forward shows it to be little more than green window dressing at this stage.  But, given past performance, even dressing the windows can be a sign of an awakening.

Not to pick on Australia.  Slacking off on climate action seems to be prevalent all over.  Remember my earlier comment that the blue skies, lack of smog, clear waters, abundant wildlife during the pandemic shutdown might remind us of how wonderful the world can be, and might serve to stimulate a desire to attend more closely to the needs of nature?  Here in Canada, as Spring moves into Summer, there is a surge of interest in camping, canoeing, and hiking in our natural areas.  Maybe, just maybe, we are about to see a reawakening of enthusiasm for nature, and a recognition that we have got to act to avoid destroying this source of so much that is good in our lives.  Let’s promote that thought.  It might help.

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Canoeing in Algonquin Park, Ontario.  Photo © Voyageur Quest

Categories: Arctic, Canada's environmental policies, Changing Oceans, Climate change, diseases, Economics, In the News, Politics | Comments Off on Our Environmental Crisis in a New Post-Covid-19 World – Pluses and Minuses of a Pandemic

Viral pandemics and climate change – different pace, different response, a message perhaps?

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We tried to follow our usual Saturday morning routine on Saturday morning.  We were foiled, in part, because of the way our community is responding to the onset of Covid-19.  There are lessons here on tipping points, on climate change, on pandemics, on human and societal response to emergencies.  And our town has zero cases of Covid-19 yet reported.

I live in a small town, but we are relatively well connected to the rest of the world because we have many retired folk who travel and many seasonal residents who move regularly up and down the highway connecting us to Toronto.  There are still no cases of the virus reported in Muskoka, but we all know it will be here sooner or later.

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Early spring in Muskoka can be breath-taking.

Saturday dawned mild and sunny, a wonderful Saturday hinting at a Spring that is still a few weeks off up here.  I’d have expected the town to be bustling, with families out enjoying the day, visitors strolling and looking into the shops, people pretending that winter has gone already.  True, we had cancelled a dinner with friends the night before because two of our guests had only returned from Spain five days ago (with zero symptoms), and one of our guests could not afford to become ill at this particular time.  We had the food bought and ready to cook, but prudence got the better of us.  Still, as we ventured out on our regular Saturday morning visit to our favorite coffee shop and the library, we weren’t thinking about viruses, pandemics, or anything else.

The streets were quiet.  Then we found the public library closed until further notice.  We put the books we were returning into the drop-chute at the door, wondering when we’d get to browse for something new to read.  The coffee shop was bustling, but mainly because two large families were encamped at its two largest tables, with board games and the usual devices plugged into ears.  I suspect they’d ended up there having run out of places to go with the kids.  We had our coffee and returned home.  My wife got an e-mail advising that her regular Monday/Wednesday exercise class was cancelled until further notice, and immediately panicked because that meant no after-exercise latté with her friends.  I got an e-mail advising that a discussion group I belong to would not meet this week, because the building we meet in was closed indefinitely.  I was supposed to lead that discussion.  Sitting at my computer, I’ve discovered scores of other cancellations and closures in our town, all to stem the spread of what we know is coming.  Yesterday, I cancelled a trip to Europe we’d been planning for a year.  It was not going to happen until July.  Now it won’t happen at all, for the foreseeable future.

In Canada, governments at all levels are acting prudently to curtail social gatherings, particularly of older people.  One of my nephews has announced that his friends are referring to Covid-19 as ‘the boomer remover’ – a sign that the young are taking this emergency in stride and won’t be in need of psychiatric counselling as our society collapses around them. 

This prudent closing down of social interaction and travel does not prevent the spread of the virus, but it greatly slows the spread and could significantly reduce the proportion of the population that becomes infected before the current pandemic is spent. 

The NIH’s Anthony Fauci, one of the saner Americans on television these days, famously attempted to explain how social distancing can flatten the curve, thereby avoiding overloading of emergency care capacity when lots of people become ill at once.  He gave his explanation at a White House press conference on Tuesday evening and again on Thursday.  Not shaking hands, keeping some distance between you and others in a group, avoiding gatherings of large numbers of people… this is social distancing.  It’s what Canada is putting in place; it’s what Fauci is recommending; it’s behind the cancellation of most professional sporting events in North America.  President Trump thanked Fauci and shook his hand.

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The rate of increase in number of new cases depends on the rate at which an infected person infects others.  If that can be lowered by measures such as social distancing, the total number of people ultimately infected may not change, but the peak is lower, perhaps below the level that would swamp the capacity of the health system to provide care.  Diagram © US CDC.

My town has clearly embraced social distancing, as has the rest of Canada.  I suspect a lot of people are a bit fuzzy on what social distancing does.  They might be surprised to learn it has the potential to prolong the period when we will be at risk of infection.  In fact, it may prolong the period and fail to reduce the proportion of the population that actually contracts the disease.  It all depends on how effective social distancing is in curtailing transmission.  The US Center for Disease Control has provided diagrams and a good explanation here.

WHO reports that the average person infected with Covid-19 infects between 2 and 2.5 other people.  That number will be higher when people are in crowded situations, and when symptom-relief is poor or the infected individual is careless about avoiding affecting others.  It will be lower when infected individuals self-isolate, are quarantined, and/or practice behaviors that minimize spread – coughing into one’s elbow, avoiding shaking hands, wearing a mask.

With the average infection rate of 2.0 to 2.5, it follows that social distancing will reduce this.  That means the rate of increase of infected individuals in a population will be lower.  If the distancing and other measures are successful enough, the number of infected individuals may not grow at all (an infection rate of 1.0) or rapidly decline to zero.  If the social distancing is less successful, the rate of increase in the number of infected individuals will be lower than otherwise, but there will still be an increase.  The peak number of infected individuals will be lower and will be reached more slowly; both these factors are important in avoiding swamping available medical capacity to treat the small number for whom this disease becomes life-threatening.  From a public health perspective, avoiding swamping the capacity of the system is important and leads to a far better community outcome than otherwise.

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This simulation shows the value of introducing measures such as social distancing rapidly (the graph is based on a model, not real data for Covid-19).  Image © US CDC

As of now, it is too early to assess the likely health impact, globally or locally, of this virus.  As a novel virus to humans, none of us have immunity and it could infect a substantial proportion of the human population, perhaps 20 to 60% of us.  With a mortality rate of somewhere around 2%, if 40% of us get infected, that translates to about 150 million deaths due directly to this disease.  Public health officials are hoping it won’t be that bad but preparing for major challenges in coming days.

The coronavirus is also having undeniably large impacts on human behavior and on the global economy.  Social distancing means stopping many activities that bring people together.  The travel industry will soon be on life support.  Mass entertainments whether sporting events or theatre are following closely behind.  The downturn in travel, long-distance and local, is curtailing the need for energy, and, given that Saudi Arabia and Russia have chosen now to engage in a tit for tat fight to garner increased market share of oil, we suddenly see the price of oil collapsing.  For Canada, that downturn is an added complexity.

Forbes is currently suggesting that if the disease pandemic declines and withers away by summer (an optimistic possibility), the world will see a wave of rolling recessions as the impacts peak in each nation, but there won’t be a global recession.  The OECD, earlier this month, said that global GDP growth could fall by half, to 1.5% instead of the 3% it was projecting prior to the crisis.  Such relative optimism may continue, but not if the Covid-19 outbreak intensifies in coming weeks.  One positive aspect of all this is that the total CO2 emissions to the atmosphere this year may plateau, or even fall, compared to 2019.  We need some good news at present!

The global response to Covid-19 has been interesting.  There has been a lot of variation in effectiveness of response among countries, and even now there is evidence that nations are not working closely together to achieve common goals.  Different countries are implementing different measures to combat the spread, with differing effectiveness.  Leadership from the USA has been wanting, and that leadership is missed.  In one particularly jarring action, Naked Emperor in Chief announced on March 11th a ban on all travel from Europe.  The ban, which went into effect on Friday, did not include the UK (with the second highest number of confirmed cases behind Italy) and did not apply to American citizens or permanent residents.  Apparently, this ‘foreign’ virus does not travel on Americans or Britons, or at least that was the thinking in Washington on Wednesday.  The ban has subsequently been extended to include travelers from the UK, but still exempts Americans and permanent residents.  Most amazing of all, this travel ban was announced without any consultation, or even a heads-up to Europe!

Despite such bumbling, most countries have been responding, and at least trying to put in place sensible measures in a timely manner.  But they don’t appear to have been working together as well as they might.  China was quick to provide data on the outbreak and details of the sequence of the virus, and some coordination among leading countries is starting to happen as containment actions are ratcheted up.

The coronavirus outbreak has all the hallmarks of a tipping point for human behavior and the structure of the global economy.  The push for social distancing in most affected countries will show us that working from home is a viable option for a majority of workers for non-urgent times as well.  There may be a jump in online shopping, but there may also be a move away from rampant consumerism as well.  I searched online today but could nowhere find information on the likely duration of the need to practice social distancing, but there is growing awareness that schools that close now may be closed into summer, and on Sunday evening the US CDC explicitly recommended social distancing in the USA for the next eight weeks.  That the virus has established itself in Australia, most South American, many African, and Southeast Asian countries suggests to me that it is unlikely to wither and die come the northern summer, much as I would like it to.  It’s not going to be over quickly and back to normal, whatever that is.

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This up-to-date map is provided by the European Center for Disease Control reports 151,363 confirmed cases and 5758 deaths between start of 2020 and 15th March.  Many infections reported are in people who have travelled from China, Iran, or now Italy, but most countries begin to show in-country infections once they have a few cases reported.

This is what a tipping point is like.  It creeps up to you without you being aware.  Then it rapidly reveals its significance.  And if you are lucky, you don’t stand transfixed like a deer in the headlights for too long.  In the case of Covid-19, we did not stand transfixed but mobilized quite quickly to deal with it.

Climate change is an on-going, and more serious crisis, in the long term – one likely to bring many tipping points of variable severity.  We have not responded to climate change with the urgency we should have, and the contrast with the response to Covid-19 is instructive. 

Our seeding of the atmosphere with excessive amounts of greenhouse gases leads directly to warming and the warming then leads to a widely ramifying array of impacts on our environment.  These environmental changes, in turn, lead to changes in the goods and services for which we depend on the environment, and to changes in the conditions governing human health.  This multilinked web of causes and effects is complex – far more complex than the idea of a deadly new virus multiplying rapidly in some human population far from home but linked to us by the miracle of long-distance travel.  The old idea that we are all 6 degrees or less separated from each other helps us understand that Wuhan, China is not in another universe, and we understand the concept of deadly disease.  We understand Covid-19 far more than we understand climate change.

Unlike climate change, the Covid-19 pandemic is fast-moving.  Public health agencies are racing to keep abreast of it, and sometimes, as recently in Italy, they fall behind with tragic consequences.  But its pace is also a good thing – we are built to recognize rapidly moving threats, far more ready to jump out of the way of the sabre-toothed cat than we are to move our cities out of the way of a rising sea.  Sea level rise, one of the climate change impacts on environment, has been going on for decades, and will continue for at least the next several centuries.  Southern Florida, large parts of Bangladesh, and many other places will be submerged as sea level rises meters.  Perhaps it will only rise a couple of meters (assuming we end our period of transfixion and get busy curtailing the warming); perhaps it will rise many meters, sometimes abruptly as glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica slip and slide their way into the ocean.  But either way, it will be slow, easily something we can keep abreast of.  We could start now to plan for the migration of coastal settlements and coastal cities over the next couple of centuries, but I think we probably won’t.  Instead, we will try a series of expensive band-aids, refusing to recognize the extent of the change we have already put in train, and we’ll waste a lot of money in the process.  We’ll be remaining transfixed, gazing at the headlights. 

This image shows Florida with 3 meters of sea level rise.  That’s the sort of rise we might see at the end of this century.  Image © Sarah Frostenson/Vox.

Sea level rise is one of the slower processes that climate change has initiated, but even the rapid changes and the warming itself are slow by human standards.  True to form, thoroughly transfixed, we have been sitting around discussing, arguing about, denying, and definitely not getting down to dealing with, the problems we are causing.  Climate change happens too slowly.

The environmental changes caused by a warming climate are much more rapid, for the most part, than sea level rise.  Some of them, like the rapid degradation of coral reefs, are both quite rapid and quite conspicuous.  But the collapse of coral reefs is still slow when measured against human timeframes, and we are proving very slow to recognize the consequences of reef degradation for us.  Many of the reef scientists get it; they are the ones with tears in their eyes when they speak about reefs.  Many others still think that somehow reefs will miraculously get through largely unscathed – how this will happen is seldom articulated, except by those pushing the latest way to build an artificial reef, or the latest way to mobilize support for an MPA.  And that’s the scientists, the people who should understand best. 

The enthusiasm for technological fixes is not limited to coral reefs (just think of the absurd schemes to remove plastics from the mid-Pacific), but there are ample examples from coral reefs.  This 2018 video from Vice spends its first half on super-expensive ways to get more precise data on how much coral has died around the world.  That does not fix the problem at all, it just documents the problem in exquisite detail.  (The second half talks about some technologically advanced science that might succeed in developing corals that might live in Anthropocene seas.)  Just think of the schemes that have hit the press over the past couple of years to protect, or to rebuild coral reefs: plastic sunshades to float on the ocean over a reef; cold water pumped from depth to keep reefs cool, using small solar-powered pumps; an endless assortment of different forms of scaffolding on which to suspend coral nubbins that will be then out-planted to replace coral that has bleached; coral planulae being distributed to dead coral reefs using underwater drones. 

The latter is a particularly ridiculous case of clever engineers modifying underwater ROVs (remotely operated vehicles) to carry live coral larvae to a reef.  First announced in 2018, by late 2019 they had progressed to the point that a set of CoralBot ROVs could work from a single LarvalBoat full of larvae.  Gentlemen, the problem is not in getting viable larvae to dead reefs, its in finding ways to prevent juvenile corals being killed by the next heat wave.  That will likely require some selective breeding of corals, as mentioned in the Vice video, and some concerted effort to reduce emissions and keep warming down closer to 2.0 or 1.5oC.  Go play your ROV games in someone else’s playground.

We have been very inventive.  But none of these plans scale up to real solutions for a world that has already lost 50% of its coral and is getting warmer every year, heading towards a +3.5 to +5.0oC increase by the end of this century.

What we should be doing, apart from speaking out loudly and repeatedly against global inaction on efforts to reduce emissions, is intensifying our efforts to understand the details of how coral reef ecosystems function, and to explore ways of retaining at least some of those functions even as coral reefs degrade.  A few of the world’s coral reef scientists are doing this.  They include ecologists and evolutionary biologists, molecular and cellular biologists, geneticists, and many others.  They focus on corals but also on fishes and crustacea and molluscs, and on all those other creatures, including algae, that make a reef possible.  See for example, the articles in this special issue of Functional Ecology.

Cover of Functional Ecology 33 (6), containing an eight-article, special topic on coral reef functional ecology in the Anthropocene.  Photo © Tane Sinclair-Taylor.

But these scientists are a tiny minority of the now very large reef science community.  I only hope they prosper and become the leaders that can bring about sensible adaptations that will help us preserve some of the functions, some of the goods and services, and some of the wonder that healthy coral reefs now provide.

If we can build a future world which has shallow-water ecosystems that largely replace the functions of the coral reefs of the 1950s, coral reef science will have done well.  And in doing well, it would have shown the rest of us how to help our world transition to a good Anthropocene.  This may now be the best we can aim for.  We have had forty years (since the 1982 bleachings) in which we have failed to grapple with the root problem of excess emissions, and we show little sign that we are starting to act aggressively on climate yet.  Perhaps, just perhaps, Covid-19 might help us to understand how to work as a global partnership to manage global crises.  This is learning we clearly need and learning that would help us deal with climate change.

Categories: Climate change, coral reef science, diseases, Economics, In the News, Politics | Comments Off on Viral pandemics and climate change – different pace, different response, a message perhaps?