The New, Warmer Baseline: No Coral Reefs

"A new global deal on climate change will come too late to save most of the world's coral reefs...major ecological damage to the oceans is now inevitable." This according to The Guardian, which reports the finding of a new study in Geophysical Research Letters. The authors of the study found that the risk posed by carbon pollution to coral and marine life could justify a carbon stabilisation goal "lower than what might be chosen based on climate considerations alone". I feel paralyzed by this type of news. The only thing I feel I could do is abandon all responsibility and spend the next year diving on the last remaining pristine reefs so that when everyone else's baselines shifts to accept a coral-less world as natural, I remember (and lament the passing of) these underwater marvels. Knitting will be all we have left. It's positively heartbreaking.


Warmer waters, vanishing reefs

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I don't have to tell you that the complex process of framing of environmental problems to the public for maximum conservation action is somewhat of a balancing act.  A tension exists between conveying often-times grim environmental realities while still maintaining hope.

This tension results in part from what decision options we offer and the tone of the message as well as from our audiences norms, habits, and unique temperaments.

I honestly feel that Cao and Caldeira's recent published study didn't consider the possibility that their message would instill in the general public precisely your suggested response: "Abandon hope all ye who read this."

While I'm confident that Cao and Caldeiras motivations were to catalyze public demand for policy action (and perhaps they are strategically employing the "scare frame"), I fear that the grim message and sour prognosis for global coral reefs is the most enduring effect.

The overwhelming reaction from the global news media picking-up this report has not focused upon solutions to the coral crisis, but rather on the bleak outlook.  By far the most common headline to run with the story has been, "Cutting back on CO2 may be too late for Coral Reefs."  

We need to communicate the science in ways that foster hope and action rather than denial and despair.  I can't believe I'm actually quoting Matt Nisbet, but he's spot on in reminding scientists that, "This does not require scientists to abandon rigor or objectivity." But it does suggest they consider framing their message for generating solutions rather than defeat.