Doom and gloom won’t save the world

By Nancy Knowlton

Once upon a time, a career as a marine biologist conjured images of days spent diving amid beautiful sea creatures. These days, it can often feel like being an undertaker for the oceans.

Early in my career, I witnessed first-hand the depressing side of the job. The coral reefs off the north coast of Jamaica, where I had spent several magical years as a graduate student in the mid 1970s, were struck by a category-5 hurricane in 1980. Then came mysterious ailments that devastated two of the most important coral species, along with a species of sea urchin that, because of previous overfishing, had become the last defence against a tide of seaweed that was choking the struggling coral. Ten years after my first dive in Jamaica, the reefs I’d studied were all but gone.

These days, students studying reefs spend their time investigating bleaching and acidification, terms that were never mentioned when I took my first coral-reef class in 1974.

As we observe Earth Day on 22 April, it’s worth recounting how researchers like myself have managed to rebound a bit from all this depressing news.

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23 COMMENTS

  1. Fair enough, but we must ensure that the science is reported and believed as much as is possible. For those interesting in optimism (re-solutions) I can suggest watching Fully – Charged (I have been Binge watching of late) on you-tube where you will see how many of these problems can be solved in practical even cheaper and better ways than we currently do.

  2. A straw-man, as Phil Rimmer would say.

    Analogy: Feeling doom and gloom about dying when you’re a healthy patient is as absurd (irrational) as feeling hopeful about one’s long-term prospects if you’re a late-stage cancer patient, in the palliative care stage.

    What is required is realism.

    I’ve been informed that the coral reefs will be mostly dead in a very short time. Sounds like that warrants a sense of doom – or grave concern, if you prefer. Denial will not save the planet either, is in fact more likely to contribute to our untimely extinction.

    Yes, yes, let’s look for solutions. If that’s the point than yes, I agree. But no one should tell other people what to feel. The experts should share the facts with the public and with their colleagues and students, and then it’s up to them, up to us, how we process those facts.

  3. Reckless Monkey #1
    Apr 20, 2017 at 4:32 pm

    Fair enough, but we must ensure that the science is reported and believed as much as is possible.

    While we should be very careful about introducing potentially invasive species, we may need to consider replacing bleached reefs with heat tolerant corals and algae as warming continues.

    http://www.coral-reef-info.com/red-sea-coral-reefs.html

    Characteristics of Red Sea Coral Reefs

    The geological history of the Red Sea region is distinctive, and there is only slow and restricted water (and larval) exchange between this sea and the remainder of the Indo-Pacific region as a whole.

    Thus, Red Sea reefs have developed a number of features that distinguish them from reefs found throughout most of the rest of this vast oceanic area.

    Particularly important in the light of global warming predictions is the fact that Red Sea corals have developed an unusually high tolerance to the extreme temperatures, salinity, and occasional turbidity (caused by huge seasonal dust storms) that occur in the region. Such conditions that would be lethal or highly damaging to most hard corals found elsewhere.

    Also, water clarity is exceptional in the Red Sea because of the lack of river discharge and low rainfall. Thus, Red Sea reefs are not heavily impacted by the suspension and dissipation of fine sediments that plague reefs in tropical oceans near large land masses.

    The issues of muddy waters cutting off sunlight, is a separate issue from temperature, and needs a different solution.

  4. q

    Thanks. He da man.

    I am delighted by much that he says, even if it is uncomfortable to hear.

    From 1:06:15 he not only sells our light bulbs, but Bernie Sanders too, saying his policies could be Eisenhower’s.

    Republicans need to see what controlled zombies they have become, now their inner selfishness is unfettered. They simply can’t see themselves in mirrors (or is that vampires?) They are vampiric, controlled zombies with a moral dysmorphia. No wonder these are Hollywood’s favourite tropes.

  5. Thanks q.

    Well put, Phil. (We agree politically; so why can’t we agree about a priori knowledge?)

    Le Pen may win. A neo Nazi for sure. Someone in Austria is running, with widely known neo-Nazi roots.

    What I don’t understand is why people, including Chomsky, blame neo-liberalism (free market, etc.) for the rise of right-wing populism. That can’t explain why so many are still looking for right wing populists for leadership. People like Trump are to the right of neo-liberals. Isn’t France aware of that?

    My take on it (today) is this: it’s about flattering people in order to gain power. This is related to the problem of nationalism. Other elements too, like pent up violence and rage (and the “foreigner” is a convenient scapegoat) and wanting to feel not just good, but superior. The wretched of the earth, and that includes all of Le Pen’s supporters and everyone who is still loyal to Trump, hate their own lives, are lost souls, and therefore they become nationalistic; and the demagogues make them feel special. You are French. You are American. The others can go F themselves.

    That’s a pattern. Hasn’t changed a whole lot. A little maybe

    I have hope too. You have to have hope; “without hope you die!” (MLK)

  6. Dan #6

    Le Pen may win.

    Yes, Le Pen is through to the final round of the French presidential election, and therefore may win. The fact she made it through to Round 2 is entirely consistent with all the polls prior to the first round: French polls generally are significantly more accurate than either UK or US ones. Those same polls predict that Macron, the centre left candidate, will beat her in the final round by about 65:35. In fact, they showed that ANY of the other 3 leading candidates in Round 1 would beat her in Round 2; and that Macron – the candidate who has actually got through to Round 2 – would beat her most resoundingly of all. It hasn’t happened yet, so there are no guarantees. I’m not saying she absolutely can’t win, or that she absolutely won’t win. But all the signs so far point to its being highly unlikely that she will win. In exactly 2 weeks’ time we’ll know for sure. What’s the point of spreading not particularly well-founded doom and gloom in the meantime?

    Someone in Austria is running, with widely-known neo-Nazi roots

    Are you referring to the Austrian presidential election? Because if so, that was last December. And the neo-Nazi lost.

    The other country that was feared to be about to fall to the Far Right was the Netherlands. There, too, the Far Right candidate lost.

    Look, the Far Right is stronger in a number of countries at the moment than it’s been for decades, and that is a serious concern. But we need to keep it in proportion: the pattern at the moment – after the shocks of Brexit and Trump – is that fewer people than feared are voting for them, and enough sensible people are voting for sensible candidates to keep the lunatics out of office.

    Be concerned, by all means. The existence of a Far Right base in so many countries is concerning. But for goodness’ sake, let’s keep it in perspective, keep up with what’s actually happening, and leave the woolly, emotive, content- and detail-free proclamations to Trump.

  7. Hi, Marco,

    last December

    I must have read an old article. They never give the dates on these frigging online articles.

    I am simply appalled that someone whose racism is as thinly veiled as Le Pen’s is could have gained such a following.

    Your points are all well taken, however; and I thank you. (Funny; I’m trying to cheer other people up, and feel that they are too negative; haven’t made much of an effort to cheer myself up.)

    (I’ll try to feel worried rather than bleak. That’s reasonable, as you said.)

  8. Marco #7
    Apr 23, 2017 at 8:59 pm

    Yes, Le Pen is through to the final round of the French presidential election, and therefore may win.
    The fact she made it through to Round 2 is entirely consistent with all the polls prior to the first round:
    French polls generally are significantly more accurate than either UK or US ones.

    It will be interesting to see how this investigation works out!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-39733452

    The far-right National Front (FN) of French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen may have defrauded the European Parliament of about €5m (£4m; $5.4m), EU sources say.

    It is more than twice the sum initially estimated in an inquiry into FN staff.

    The parliament suspects the money went to FN assistants who were not really working for MEPs, but were engaged in FN party work in France.

    The allegations – denied by the FN – have now gone to French investigators.

    Ms Le Pen is campaigning for the second-round vote in the presidential election on 7 May. Her rival, liberal centrist Emmanuel Macron, is ahead of her in opinion polls.

    The alleged fraudulent payments – from 2012 onwards – concern her and several other FN MEPs. The FN is highly critical of the EU, rejecting its liberal, free market agenda.

  9. The right-wing anti-EU brexiteers of UKIP, who were standing for the May election in the UK local council elections, were pretty much wiped out! – (although some who were not yet up for re-election are still in place.)

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-39815444

    UKIP has lost a swathe of council seats in England and Wales, leading to claims that the party is in crisis ahead of June’s general election.

    In total, UKIP lost 145 councillors and secured one seat.

    It was wiped out in Lincolnshire, losing 13 seats, while all its nine representatives in Essex were defeated.

    Former MP Douglas Carswell and UKIP donor Arron Banks also cast doubt on the future of the party while elections expert John Curtice said UKIP, which won 3.8 million votes at the 2015 general election, had lost “everything they’ve been trying to defend”.

    It did win one seat from Labour on Lancashire County Council. Alan Hosker won in Padiham and Burnley West, a ward represented by the BNP* between 2009 and 2013.

    (*The BNP – British National Party – is another minority far right party)

  10. https://www.commondreams.org/news/2017/05/03/nearly-500k-people-urge-congress-take-away-trumps-nuclear-football?utm_campaign=shareaholic&utm_medium=email_this&utm_source=email

    “The current nuclear launch approval process, which gives the decision to potentially end civilization as we know it to a single individual, is flatly unconstitutional.”

    Close to 500,000 people have signed a petition, delivered to Congress on Wednesday, that urges lawmakers to take President Donald Trump’s finger off the nuclear button.

  11. Sadly, it’s not that UKIP’s frothing EU-phobia and hostility to immigrants have gone away, but that they’ve been absorbed – beyond UKIP’s wildest dreams – into mainstream Tory Party policy. Why vote UKIP when the Tories are not just espousing UKIP’s entire programme but will also get elected to government to boot (something UKIP could never hope for)?

    Ironically, given Britain’s First Past The Post electoral system, the demise of UKIP is likely to leave Hard Right politics more entrenched in UK politics: having the Hard Right vote concentrated in a single, mainstream party means it will no longer be split. Result: harder to get rid of Hard Right politics AND harder to get rid of this Tory government too.

    The rest of the world does indeed seem to be beginning to wake up from a bad dream, and that’s wonderful. I just wish we in the UK (and all of you in the US) weren’t still locked so firmly into it. Wouldn’t it be great if we could have 2016 all over again and do it properly this time?

  12. Marco #17
    May 8, 2017 at 7:50 am

    Sadly, it’s not that UKIP’s frothing EU-phobia and hostility to immigrants have gone away, but that they’ve been absorbed –
    beyond UKIP’s wildest dreams – into mainstream Tory Party policy.
    Why vote UKIP when the Tories are not just espousing UKIP’s entire programme but will also get elected to government to boot
    (something UKIP could never hope for)?

    Unfortunately, having walked all over Cameron and his half baked referendum, the loony right have taken over the Tory Party, while Corbyn and the loony left thought that they could gain UKIP votes and power, by mixing brexiteer Europhobia, with their own fanciful uncosted wish-lists.

    Ironically, given Britain’s First Past The Post electoral system,
    the demise of UKIP is likely to leave Hard Right politics more entrenched in UK politics:
    having the Hard Right vote concentrated in a single, mainstream party means it will no longer be split.
    Result: harder to get rid of Hard Right politics
    AND harder to get rid of this Tory government too.

    . . . and with the lack of any substantial credible opposition party in England, the loony right look like they have acquired dominance of a major party of government, in a similar way to Trump high-jacking the gormless Republicans!

    The divisions and disaster area may eventually get rid of the incompetent Corbyn, but at a terrible cost to the country!
    With organised, planned, substantial competent opposition, it would have been only the “no plan, no idea”, Tory party, which was exposed and split!

    Meanwhile as the citizens of the UK are told their “belt-tightening austerity” is essential, the ultra-rich and opportunists enjoy their higher rate tax cuts and get richer!

    The UK’s richest people have defied the double-dip recession to become even richer over the past year, according to the annual Sunday Times Rich List.

  13. Alan #18

    Meanwhile as the citizens of the UK are told their “belt-tightening
    austerity” is essential, the ultra-rich and opportunists enjoy their
    higher rate tax cuts and get richer!

    On the subject of income inequality, I see the Institute for Fiscal Studies has produced a report (https://election2017.ifs.org.uk/article/tax-revenues-where-does-the-money-come-from-and-what-are-the-next-government-s-challenges), showing that

    60% of UK adults do not earn enough to pay any tax at all (i.e. less than £11,500 p.a.)

    and

    the top 1% of UK adults earn so much that they generate 27% of the total tax take.

    Last week I saw figures (can’t remember the source, sorry) that showed that the UK and Greece were the only countries in the EU where over the course of the last (I think) 20 years, there had been a DROP in average incomes at the same time as a RISE in GDP.

    There’s really no long-term hope for the UK so long as we have income inequality like this. It distorts everything: educational performance, public health, crime levels and, most importantly of all, people’s lives. I totally take your point about the hopelessness of the opposition just now; but it’s still staggering and deeply depressing that a country of sheep is about to vote en masse for the party of the wolf.

  14. Update:

    Haven’t been able to find a link, but apparently the figures re the drop in average wages despite a rise in GDP come from an OECD report charting real wage growth across all developed countries 2007-2015, as reported in the Financial Times.

    And although I only saw them last week, the report was apparently published in 2016.

  15. Marco, Alan.

    Agreed.

    If there is a main driver for our current political ills, for this turning inwards into a defensive huddle it is surely this theft that most are only dimly aware of, the theft of the dividends of our collective success in recent decades.

    The horror of a sudden lurch to the right has been better managed and mitigated by those less stolen from in Europe I suggest. We would do well to re herd the horses and bolt the stable door, by fixing the divvy…

    Marco, I think the data says 42% of adults contribute no income tax….still a depressing enough figure.

  16. Thanks for the correction to the data, Phil – accuracy matters, even if, as you say, the take-home message is still much the same.

  17. Marco #17
    May 8, 2017 at 7:50 am

    Sadly, it’s not that UKIP’s frothing EU-phobia and hostility to immigrants have gone away, but that they’ve been absorbed – beyond UKIP’s wildest dreams – into mainstream Tory Party policy. Why vote UKIP when the Tories are not just espousing UKIP’s entire programme but will also get elected to government to boot (something UKIP could never hope for)?

    It’s not only the Tories!

    UKIP has told its voters to vote for Labour candidates who support “the right kind of BREXIT”!

    http://www.express.co.uk/news/politics/795222/Paul-Nuttall-Ukip-Labour-Tory-seats-Election-2017

    Mr Nuttall, who will appear on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show today, said that if Ukip were to stand everywhere on June 8, the party risked “damaging good Brexit MPs and allowing Remainers to oust them”.

    He said the party could also risk “allowing incumbent Remainer MPs to cling on when they do not deserve to”.

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