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Half of the Great Barrier Reef Is Dead (nationalgeographic.com)
220 points by lisper 5 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 64 comments

Yes it's worrying and sad. But there are some signs of recovery, and there's at least a little cause for a little optimism - and important reasons to maintain at least some optimism - according to this recent report:


From that report:

While it is important that mainstream media is used to make the public aware of large scale disturbances such as bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef, it is concerning to me that our young people and many millions of others are viewing those media reports and concluding that the GBR is “dead” or “dying” and hardly worth visiting. Contemporary journalism that neglects to mention the different susceptibilities of corals to bleaching stress, or the ecological adaptation of the reef to disturbance and its inherent recovery potential, are not helping to present an accurate picture of the current situation and they present an obvious risk of instilling a sense of hopelessness in our younger generations, right at the time when we need that generation to be inspired to take action to help protect ecosystems such as coral reefs.

> and concluding that the GBR is “dead” or “dying” and hardly worth visiting.

Isn't that a good thing? A while ago, the death of the coral reef was blamed on damage by tourists.

I don’t think the right approach is to pretend it’s more dead than it is just to keep the tourists away. That kind of dishonesty doesn’t pay off.

That aside, damage due to tourism is minor compared to bleaching and is easily abated through government supervision, and the fact that tourism operators have a commercial incentive to prevent damage in order to stay in business long term. That system has always worked well on the GBR, which is why it has continued to be an international tourism destination for decades and not sustained serious harm.

Every time i’ve visited the reef (and I’ve done it a few times), clear instructions are given on how to behave to avoid damaging the coral (not standing on it etc), and everyone there, being nature lovers in the first place, is most willing to oblige.

Thailand is bad too. Tourists standing on coral to take pictures etc, dead coral everywhere.

There was a set of articles in the newspaper yesterday in this aftermath of a month of tropical heat in temperate Europe. Climate scientists are now more inclined to publicly link this extreme weather type (and many other structural changes in the weather) to climate change. Good, because for a lot of people it stopped being some abstract thing.

But a painful observation made in the op/ed pages is that the general feeling is that this is just how it is; we can't do anything about it. That sense of being able to tackle problems and shape the world and society in a way that benefits us — it is gone.

Many people just submit to the notion that they can't do anything about it. Usually because 'doing something about it' on a personal level means sacrificing luxuries (consume less, buy less, stop flying half way around the world for a holiday twice a year, reduce your energy footprint). Climate change is an inconvenient truth, and a lot of folk seem quite content to just give up — consequences be damned, or rather, ignored.

Some flee into convenient falsehoods. Claiming that, yes, climate change is happening, but we don't have any influence on that, and did you know that [insert denialist trope].

A lot of people do continue to do what they reasonably can — balancing their modern comfortable lifestyle with genuine attempts at affecting change. Even if it means just lowering their own personal footprint and voting for the politicians are at least willing to explore solutions. But it's not enough, and that risks making one feel that all efforts are pointless.

We're clever and resourceful enough as a race to deal with this problem. We're also too self-centred (on a national, tribal, and personal level) to actually do more than take the absolute bare minimum of measures; and even those attempts are watered down time and time again by the leaders of the world's nations. Because either they don't understand the problem, or because they do and don't care.

It's all so very sad.

> Usually because 'doing something about it' on a personal level means sacrificing luxuries

Yes and the sooner we accept that this is a part of human nature the better. Fighting what is clearly innate is futile. We have not evolved the ability to ever be satisfied. We a stupid apes who want more, more, more at all costs.

We need to accept this reality instead of shaking our heads at one another in faux reproach (probably over dinner, made from 20 ingredients shipped from all across the globe).

The only way to make actions against climate change a reality is to make it profitable. If we can work out how to make it so that people make gobs of money by reversing climate change then things will be peachy.

If we can't figure out a way to turn a buck from fixing climate change then we are all, collectively, fucked.

"this is a part of human nature ... We a stupid apes who want more, more, more at all costs."

That's not part of human nature. There have always been people who've renounced much of the world and made a lot of sacrifices, even to the point of giving everything they own away and dedicating themselves completely to helping others. At times there were even mass social movements in that direction.

It's just that we're going through a period in history where some people are particularly selfish. Many of these people are unfortunately in control at the moment, or have undue influence on what happens. But there are others who are less self-centered and are even actively working towards constructive change, even at great cost to themselves. There always have been.

The question is how to get more people to act constructively and not passively accept what's happening. Education, discussion, and consciousness-raising are all great ways to do that. Disempowering narratives about limitless consumerism being an inevitable part of human nature are not.

The fact that some people consume less doesn't matter. This is a game theory situation. If one set of people reduces, another can increase.

The OP was right. We need to make using less profitable. A carbon tax would be perfect for that, and we could reduce the income tax to offset. We get less of what we tax, so we'd have more income and less carbon.

I actually think international efforts should be focussed on getting countried to agree to swap existing taxes for carbon taxes.

> The only way to make actions against climate change a reality is to make it profitable.

The other way would be 'international politics'. I know it has run out of fashion, but maybe in 10 years we can re-instantiate democracy.

The problem is, if you go the political (whether national or international) instead of what 'ux-app proposes, you'll be fighting an uphill battle against people who do make money off the status quo, and who stand to lose it if you get things your way.

> The only way to make actions against climate change a reality is to make it profitable. If we can work out how to make it so that people make gobs of money by reversing climate change then things will be peachy.

> If we can't figure out a way to turn a buck from fixing climate change then we are all, collectively, fucked.

Well, that old world is fucked. But if you look at the lifestyles of, e.g. American Indians, they lasted 10,000 years in North America in a much more sustainable fashion. Granted, it wasn't perfect. Humans caused the extinction of megafauna in North America as elsewhere, but organized agriculture never really took off there, and because of that, that continent was relatively unspoiled until Columbus.

> e.g. American Indians, they lasted 10,000 years in North America in a much more sustainable fashion.

Sure! And why did they change their lifestyle as soon as they could? Before it was MUCH more comfortable!

Cheap energy has revolutionized the world. It is unfortunate that, for the moment, we can only find cheap energy in polluting fossil fuels but, short of discovering a less polluting cheap energy source (if it ever exists), there is no going back! You'll never be able to convince billions of people to give up their car and air conditioning to go back ploughing the fields.

Climate change will get irreversible if we don't drastically lower our quality life? OK, let it be! Let's accept it already and start doing what we can do to adapt. But don't talk about going back: nobody will listen to you.

Quite a few Native Americans did not willingly give up their lifestyle as soon as they could. They were herded into reservations that were way too small to continue their lifestyle. Change was forced upon them. This was especially true when the buffalo herds died off. I’m thinking in particular of the Great Plains Indians.

Overall though your point stands. It’s not like billions of people are going to willingly give up the comforts that we have. Though in part this is because it is no longer feasible to live off the land as people did thousands of years ago. The only way to go back, as you call it, is for the population of the world to decline. This would mean a drastic reduction in the birth rate. There is a number for the size of the population of the world such that if everyone of those people lived like Americans pollution wouldn’t be large enough to be a problem.

"when the buffalo herds died off" -- when they were slaughtered almost to extinction, in large part to decimate the Indians who relied on them for food.

Check out the size of this pile of buffalo skulls, to get a sense of the scale of destruction we did:


I didn’t mean to give the impression that the herds died off naturally or died off due to hunting by Native Americans.


I did nothing of the sort, thank you very much.

See this a lot. Well if you really take it as a personal affront that many frontiersmen did this...please also refrain from taking credit for any collective positive accomplishment of humanity, like the US constitution, ending slavery, or more generally Science, computers, jeans, or bubble gum. If you wanna stick to the things that you personally did, by all means.

Why would I claim a hand in the creation of any of that? Using things others have built is not 'taking credit'. It's perfectly possible to acknowledge the evils of our ancestors without having to personally feel bad for it because none of us did it and have no reason to feel guilt for it. Kindly fuck off with your guilt complex.

> Kindly fuck off with your guilt complex.

This just not what anyone wants to see here at HN. No one personally attacked you, yet you feel compelled to spew anger. That's just not our culture. There are other places for shitposting.

"Kindly fuck off with your guilt complex."

Ah, men, the logical gender, the rational ones, and certainly never given to fits of emotion.

I would suggest reading Sapiens by Yuval Harari to get some more perspective on what the agricultural revolution has done to this planet, and to humans. And for Native Americans just "up and changing their lifestyle"--nothing could be further from the truth. They initially died by the millions from diseases brought by westerns and were then harassed, betrayed, murdered, warred upon, and pushed territory by terrority away from their lands and eventually corralled into reservations.

I’m unsure of the connection you’re making in this context. Are you suggesting that the solution is to live more sustainably once most of modern society is destroyed?

I honestly don't know what the "solution" is. But it is clear from our current trajectory and the willful blindness of the vast majority of humanity, not to mention the politically motivated disinformation campaigns, that we're looking at inevitable, drastic climate change that will almost certainly destroy modern society, yeah...unfortunately.

>We need to accept this reality instead of shaking our heads at one another in faux reproach (probably over dinner, made from 20 ingredients shipped from all across the globe).

FWIW, the carbon footprint of shipping produce from e.g. Chile is so low that you would create a bigger impact by driving an extra mile to get farm-fresh produce.

Whatever the solution is, "eating local" isn't it: it literally makes things worse.

What needs to happen to create political will is to connect the dots and not object to the verbaige being scientifically impure.

For instance, every time the weather is on and there's a terrible storm, they need to say "because we haven't taken the steps to curb CO2, this disaster is far more terrible then it would have been" or "that's the 30th day over 100 degrees this year. Our voluntary inaction on climate change and our refusal to do anything is causing more dramatically hot days each year" or "the migration problem is due partially to food and resource scarcity because we have chosen to not care about climate change" or "these terrible fires are record breaking because we are refusing to switch to renewables".

We could even make it a budget item, earmarking the disaster response, increased disease, increase emergency room visits and all the rest as the taxpayer burden of not doing anything.

It needs to be visceral, direct, repeated, and a daily experience. The lines clearly need to be drawn connecting the dots.

If this was said, every single time it's partially true in non-scientific casual language that the general public understands, things will start happening

I recently watched Google's internal leaked documentary, The Selfish Ledger [1], I think it has a really interesting perspective on this. Halfway through, the user is able to make a choice between two competing products, based on their preference (let's say it's reducing CO2). This is actionable because the supply chain of the product is available through public, transparent ledgers.

This is a faint idea, but what if we could achieve better collective leverage / incentive alignment through something like this? We already have brand boycott campaigns based on similar notions of environmental awareness, but I think there's a finite energy for being aware of these.

On an individual level, we have small economic influence. Collectively, we [can] have leverage. If we are effortlessly aware of both, there is that "visceral" daily experience where the lines are drawn between our basic split-second purchases (meat vs. vegan mince) and their impacts.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LUSZfEBTwRc

"We're clever and resourceful enough as a race to deal with this problem."

In theory. But in reality the bigger challenge is to actually work together as humanity for a common goal. And given our history the current amount of cooperation is allready impressive - so it might be a good challenge to unite humanity in general. I am quite optimistic in the long run.

I mean, the internet is barely 20 years old for the common people ... it just takes time to grow together, when we have a history (and probably genetic heritage) of caring only about the immediate things around us. And the more drastic the droughts etc. get ... the more people see it as a problem and act. And yes, the great barrier riff and the polar bears might die out, but there are worse things, that can and probably will also happen. But we as humanity will survive, maybe on a slightly different planet, though.

So I don't think it makes sense to fall into depression, when the expectations were simply unrealistic.

I mean, sure, I would like to stop coal and fracking rather tomorrow and get power from solar plants in the desert ... but we simply are not there yet, as the challenge is big and not only technically.

> And given our history the current amount of cooperation is already impressive

People cooperate fantastically when there is economic gain to be had. We're fucking atrocious at cooperating if one (or both) sides are set to lose out (as is the case wrt reduced consumption).

Cooperating when all/most parties are better off isn't impressive.

Real cooperation would be something like the Saudis announcing over night that "you know what, climate change sucks so we're going to stop pulling oil out of the desert regardless of how much it hurts us".

How likely is that?

That's not cooperation, that's self-sacrifice. Cooperation would be the Saudis announcing they wouldn't pull more oil, and in exchange the other countries announcing they would compensate for part of those lost revenues.

Any other country would be crazy to agree to that since it’s unquantifiable to compare the effects of oil from Saudi Arabia, versus trees in Brazil, versus factories in China, etc.

At the root of the issue is the fact that since humans aren’t able to measure the damage and see all the knock on effects of their actions, many large scale environmental and societal costs are externalized. And if you don’t take advantage of that, then someone else will and win in the market with lower prices.

> We're clever and resourceful enough as a race to deal with this problem.

I think the most depressing part about this whole situation is that I agree with most of what you wrote, up until this sentence. We like to believe that we are clever and resourceful, but the facts on the ground are that we are not, in fact, clever and resourceful. At least not in this period of history. In this period of history we are demonstrably fucking dumb, and have destroyed ourselves.

The next phase of human existence absolutely will require cleverness and resourcefulness, for it will be borne out in a dying world where ecosystems are unraveling, political systems have failed, and the vast majority of humanity has...sadly, died.

> It's all so very sad.

If the word sad could be stretch to cover the enormity of 10s of billions of human lifetimes of tragic short-sightedness giving rise to literally trillions upon trillions of organisms being snuffed out of existence, then yeah.

The very sad thing is, that a lot of progress could be made without any personal sacrifice. Switching electricity production from coal to wind and solar doesn't really involve personal sacrifice. Long term, it should be even way cheaper for the consumer. So why is there so much resistance to an energy change?

Almost the same with cars. Elecrical cars are a thing. And yes, while electric cars are different from ICE vehicles, this is actually a good thing. Why would people line up for Teslas, if they didn't provide the better driving experience? Of course, prices have to come down and so they will with larger production numbers. But switching from ICE to electric might be a noticable switch, but hardly a personal sacrifice either.

We have the ability to reduce our cabon footprint by 90% by just throwing existing technology at the problem. I fail to see why we shouldn't do that.

The devil is in the details. We can produce the energy but don't have the battery technology to store it beyond a certain timeframe, e.g. efficiently storing the solar energy from summer for use in winter. Lithium ion batteries have about 600 0-100% cycles of life in them. What happens at a plant when their cycles are used up? Energy analyst Gail Tverberg discussed these issues on a Featured Voices podcast: https://www.peakprosperity.com/podcast/113631/gail-tverberg-...

But that should not keep us from ramping up solar and wind. These details are important only if we want to go 100% CO2-free. I am not sure that is a requirement, if we can achieve 90% soon enough, that should be fine. And in no case it should stop us going all the way to 90%. What the right answer is to go to 100%, depends on the region. In most regions, solar and wind are good for a seasonal balance. This greatly reduces the need for long-term storage.

If not run 0-100%, lithium ion batteries can have thousands of cycles. For stationary storage one can optimize the chemistry for long-term stability rather than weight and volume. A lithium battery doesn't just fail, rather it continuously uses capacity over the cycles used. So the rated number of cycles marks the point where it has 75% of its capacity left, for storage it can be used far beyond that.

On the grid scale, beyond large batteries, one can of course used pumped water storage - still the most efficient mass grid storage available. If really long-term storage is desired, synthesizing methane could be considered, which can easily be stored and then used to drive high efficient gas power plants.

'Switching electricity production from coal to wind and solar doesn't really involve personal sacrifice.'

This is glib assertion. You might explain how the economics of this would be accomplished country by country. Earlier this year the UK was without significant wind power for nine days. Well, in absence of fossil fuel, that would indeed be personal sacrifice - Old Testament style.

No one would argue for having no electricity in times of low wind and solar. The short term solution would be to use natural gas power plants to fill the gaps. If they ran only in those situations, the 90% of CO2 reduction could still be achieved. Of course, we need to expand storage solutions and with internationally coupled grids, those times become even shorter, as the weather variations tend to even out.

We can do something about this at government level, and especially with many governments working together.

Individuals can just make their own lives poorer with nothing to show for it.

Governments are for large scale action where individual action is meaningless -- the army, protection against national disasters like floods, and action against global warming.

Unfortunately the government of the largest polluter is hopelessly corrupt.

Exactly, government level action is needed. If you or I use energy saving or regular light bulbs does not tip the scale. A steel or aluminum Mill, a car factory, a Google data center, a chips factory, these matter as each consumes the energy equivalent to a small town.

If it is law and everyone needs to use e.g. LEDs (see Europe, although it is still legal to sell std bulbs) even what you personally do has an impact. Without government level action ... difficult.

At this point the likely adverse effects are so obvious you would think that the elite of the leading polluters such as the US and China would act even if only for their own self-interest. They won't get away unharmed if the climate changes - large parts of their respective countries may desertify and 1930s Dust Bowls could be common.

What's the backup plan, for instance for the US? Invade Canada where climate change may make arable land accessible?

It's not the 1950s anymore where people knew about climate change but only speculated that it will only become relevant some time in the far future. The effects occur now and will change the world by the end of the 21st century, even humans with their inability to comprehend long-term consequences should grasp this now.

I really don't get how - at this point, with our current knowledge - the world is still just doing nothing.

> What's the backup plan, for instance for the US?

- Reduce benefits to increase number of people who are unable to afford food

- Reduce availability of healthcare to encourage people to die early

- Blame immigrants and round them up into camps

- Fire on demonstrators if people complain

I get the feeling it's more generational than geographical. People who are making the decisions today won't be around to experience their consequences.

China is exactly doing that, investing huge sums in solar to improve air quality.

US on the other hand dropped out of the climate deal.

> 'doing something about it' on a personal level means sacrificing luxuries

But that's just not true, that's the line of the denialists. Doing something about it means reducing the carbon output by taxing those who produce it. The move can be fiscally neutral, i.e no net revenue for the government by decreasing other taxes.

We have the technological means to reach a 4t/year-person emission level without sacrificing quality of life. That's a sustainable global level the planet can accept. In 15-20 years we can roll that technology out globally and stem global climate change by 2050.

The problem we have is a political one: countries, political establishments, incumbent industry and whole constituencies are dependent on carbon emissions and would be drastically disadvantaged by such a move, hence they are fighting against it tooth and nail.

> Usually because 'doing something about it' on a personal level means sacrificing luxuries.

There are a lot of easy win-wins when it comes to lowering our carbon footprints. Eating more vegetables has health benefits. More home working can improve quality of life, reduce pollution and congestion. Less street lighting improves sleep quality. Something people can do is lobby their employers and representatives to point these things out.

But we can do things even they're small things. If enough people do small things together we can make a change. And if we keep making small changes over time maybe our attitudes, habits, and social norms will change too.

Commit to two days a week as a vegetarian (if you normally consume meat). If everyone did that it would be huge. Industrial agriculture is a large source of pollution that affects not only the health of our ecosystems but our health directly as well.

Little things make a difference.

Anything I do to change my lifestyle will be utterly swamped by global population growth, but forcing people to not breed is unfashionable.

Great steps are taken in the reef tank hobby and professional world. We now have much more insight on how to keep corals and animals alive in a tank.

It's sad that progression in the reef tank world almost feels like an ark project now that coral dies in the sea.

The worst thing about this is the timing. There is a political storm in Australia over what is being seen to be done to save the reef. In a nutshell the Prime Minister just gave away 444 million dollars of taxpayer money to an organisation of 6 people without any due diligence. Turns out they are all ex bankers and oil company people.

The organisation didn’t even apply for the grant.

Sadly this has become a highly political thing and because of the current state of politics in Australia where your team must do the opposite of the other team (little bipartisan action in the last 10 years with fallout being carbon taxes, welfare, NBN) nothing is likely to be done until the current government is voted out. Even then with another change its likely to start all over again.

It’s a horrible state of affairs and sadly while a lot of Australian’s are outraged our politicians are beholden to other interests so nothing will be done.

If you want more background reading I’d suggest a quick look through the Australia subreddit, keeping in mind that the majority on there are very left leaning.

Some links of interest http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-08-09/barrier-reef-foundatio... https://independentaustralia.net/politics/politics-display/t... https://www.2gb.com/ben-fordham-takes-environment-minister-t...

What saddens me about this story when it first cropped up back in 2016 is how powerless I feel to be able to do anything directly.

Rising sea temperatures is not (as far as I'm aware) something we're "directly" doing, but rather the net result of collective actions by humanity world wide. We can't point to one person/orgainsation/political party/etc and get them to fix this.

The whitening of the Great Barrier Reef, along with the natural damage caused by immense hectares of open mines dug up across Australia is too abstract a concept for most city-dwelling Aussies to really care about since it doesn't impact on our day to day lives.

I wish there was something more we could do besides donating more to environmental charity x.


collect samples from the remaining reef (all over the place) and cultivate them artificially until the situation is sorted out?

That's something we might be able to do on a smaller scale.

It’s not just the reefs. It’s the whole ecosystem that surrounds them, which is much harder to replicate as a whole in captivity

i watched blue planet 2 and its stunning visuals are not enough to make up for the bludgeoning message it delivers about what we've done to the oceans to feel good afterwards. couple that with a record summer and the outlook isn't pretty.

Remains of Huge, Ancient Coral Reef Discovered 2010


> Because the fossil remains were found in deep waters where coral typically can't survive, the researchers suspect that the reef drowned due to rising sea levels leaving behind the newly discovered fossil structure and a small section of living coral, which was able to stay in shallow water.

Not related to the mechanism that is killing the Great Barrier Reef, which has survived sea level changes.

Based on how people talk about it I actually thought it was a lot more.

at which point will it have a negative on human life? (hopefully just humans)

Humans are the most adaptable invasive species. The whole ocean can turn to jelly mush before we care. We will say "oh dear", switch our fast food order to fried chicken instead of fish and carry on as usual.

We're adaptable, sure. But we're not some collective. There are hundreds of millions of peoples lives that are tied up in the ocean. There are entire cultures. Those things don't adapt easily. Turn the ocean into plastic mush, and while I in my literal New York ivory tower will be fine, the fishermen will starve.

Seeing this from another perspective. Why does a person who can’t even afford to travel give a shit about Barrier reef. Sure collectively, we as humans have messed it up. But what are the actions of one person gonna make a difference? Most people have bigger problems to worry about. Like ... staying alive, being able to hold a job and pay rent.

I also think that it’s wishful thinking that suddenly we as humans will suddenly change our livestyles. Cheap energy makes our lives confortable and arguably makes us happy.

Add this to the capitalist landscape of most countries where govts bend to accommodate corporates, why would anyone implement a policy that’s harmful for their economy? May be Australia since the Barrier reef is in their country but even their govt really doesn’t give a shit to be honest.

In terms of game theory, it makes sense why they behave the way they do.

I feel the only way to get out of this is rewarding strong innovation. I.e making it so that solar/wind/nuclear is wayyy cheaper than coal so it doesn’t make sense for any business to run a coal plant. Just the way we stopped burning wood and candles.

Same with cars, it’s too expensive to buy a Tesla / leaf compared to a good ol reliable Toyota. Prius is fugly. Gimme an affordable electric car that beats the pants off gasoline car in range, style, and long term maintenance costs and everyone will shift.

Incentivize Apple, Google, Microsoft, Hedge funds etc to spend their billions of fat cash in energy revolution and we’ll get the returns.

The truth is the economy rewards profits and right now, not being green is profitable.

Well, good news I guess, I thought it was already killed.

I don't think the rest will last very long.

Yes, why only last year 95% of it was dead. This is actually an improvement.


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