It doesn’t get any better than this. My old buddy Ove Hoegh-Guldberg in Australia is the lead author on a paper in Science this past week that basically says we can see the end for coral reefs and its not far away. It says, in relatively simple language, here is the threshold (atmospheric CO2 level of 500 ppm) beyond which coral reefs will vanish, and here’s when it looks like we’re going to cross that threshold (by the end of the century) given current trends.
Very lucid. No hesitating, qualifying, hedging. Just a simple, bold statement. Much like when the late Ram Myers said in 2003 that less than 10 percent of the large fish remain in the sea. In both cases we have major scientists writing major papers in major journals making major simplifications. And THAT is what makes for effective, powerful, important science communication to the masses.
Myers was savaged by the ankle-biters who came along after him and chewed away at the fact that some of the specifics of what he had to say weren’t accurate. Hoegh Guldberg already has his army of detractors who have called him an alarmist for years (though he sounds a lot less like an alarmist and more like a “fact-ist” after this paper).
But the bottom line is that in the midst of all the chaos of the excessively information-heavy communication of science, it is essential that individuals like these manage to stand up and SIMPLIFY the overall patterns for everyone. Jeremy Jackson did this in 2001 with his Science paper about appreciating the history of collapsing marine ecosystems. Daniel Pauly has done it repeatedly for world fisheries. Now Hoegh-Guldberg for coral reefs. The paper is going to cast a long, tall shadow for the next few years, just as the Myers, Jackson and Pauly papers have.
And if one of the great and mighty foundations, who think they are the beacons of wisdom with the leadership they are afforded by laying the path of financial crumbs ahead of scientists, were to wake up and appreciate all this, they would establish a major prize for it. They could call it an award for “scientific simplification in the public interest,” to be given to scientists who are brave enough to face the slings and arrows of the ankle-biters in the interest of helping move forward the broader public understanding of what the hell is going on with the planet.
Coral reefs: now you see ‘em, by the end of the century you won’t.