We Could Lose All Coral Reefs

By: Nora Germain

There is a very sick, dizzying and mournful feeling that many people experience when they attempt to process what is happening to our planet. You can call it climate despair, climate depression, climate anxiety, or something else, but I don’t think there is any word or phrase that really captures the pain that one feels. So far, life only exists on our planet but it is being extinguished incredibly quickly.

Some people may be more susceptible to truly feeling what is going on around us, the crimes that we continue to commit on our natural places and just how cruel and short-sighted it all is. It’s not known why some people perceive the gravity of the situation more than others, but there is no doubt that more and more people are beginning to awaken to the agonizing reality that is climate change and what many are now calling “Earth system failure.” The comfort and security of nature itself is now at risk.

We are now in the sixth mass extinction and it is speeding up as we continue to abuse the incalculably rare and valuable natural wealth that surrounds our Earth. A recent report from The Guardian explains that it’s possible that if rich nations can honor their current emissions commitments that the planet will face roughly 2.4 degrees Celsius warming. This may sound like good news but it is not.

Not only is this figure well above the Paris Accord goals, but 2.4 degrees C is a lot hotter and more devastating than only 2 degrees Celsius, and here are some possible consequences for just that much heating — before the end of the century, or within the lifetime of any young person. For one, we could experience an ice-free Arctic, which would cause even more extinction and sea level rise.

We could also see 37% of the world’s population at risk of illness or death from extreme heat, which is defined as an increase of “highly unusual” hot days. We are also looking at between 8 and 18% of all species dying, which includes plants, insects and animals. Coral reefs would not survive this event, as about half of all coral reefs are already gone in 2021. There are numerous articles that point to other devastating impacts of 2 degrees Celsius of heating, and those include among others decreased crop yields, more water shortages, more severe fires and so forth. There is a huge amount of data out there and I encourage everyone to understand it and take it in.

How does it make you feel to contemplate the idea that we could lose the coral reefs for good? This is not speculation, and it is not hundreds of years in the future. It’s this generation, and it’s a near certainty, unless bolder action is taken extremely quickly. An important climate mantra to remember here is that you can’t make deals with physics. We are about to learn this lesson in a traumatic, irreversible way very soon. As mentioned before, the Paris Climate Accords aimed to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius, and even better would be to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. There are still a great many activists and scientists that advocate for a 1.5 degree strategy, but it continues to slip away as a potential outcome. At 2 degrees, we see a number of irreversible, costly and painful consequences for life on Earth, but sadly, according to The Guardian article, we are only on track (optimistically) to limit the heating to 2.4 degrees. Hopefully that prognosis will improve. It could also worsen, and we may well go beyond 3 degrees or more, which would entail a whole other level of cataclysmic hell. 

It’s important to understand that even a fraction of a degree of increased heating, although it may not seem like much, can have huge consequences for ecosystem survival. As mentioned in another blog, think of the Earth’s temperature like you think of your own internal body temperature. You can’t survive beyond a very small range of internal body temperatures, and neither can much of life on Earth.

A tenth of a degree of heating could be the difference between your children living on a planet with elephants or not, for example. It’s also widely understood that global heating increases at the poles and has greater consequences for our heat-trapping oceans than it does for other land areas. This means that whatever is happening to human beings, it’s much worse in the arctic and the oceans already. They are years and degrees ahead of us in this mess and that’s one reason why stopping climate change is so incredibly difficult. By the time you sense a change in your neighborhood or city, many, many species will have gone extinct in another part of the world. We only see the surface of the ocean, and it’s always glistening. Most of us don’t see what’s beneath the surface.

Furthermore, it was reported in April of 2021 that “just 3% of the world’s ecosystems remain intact,” and no matter where you live or what you believe about climate, I’ll bet that was less than you thought. This is why we must rush to comprehensively rewild and protect a huge amount of ocean and land areas, so that we can not only slow climate change but save some of these species that are teetering on the edge of extinction. When they disappear from Earth, they are gone forever. There aren’t more of these animals on Mars or anywhere else. When they disappear, they disappear from the cosmos, from the known universe.

I don’t want to live in a world without jaguars, coral reefs or fresh orange juice (hint: it grows on trees). I want to save this planet and I believe we can, if enough people find the courage to truly feel what’s happening and act. This can mean many different things, from voting to protesting, from changing one’s diet to flying less, from pressuring politicians to volunteering to plant trees or pick up trash, from working on coordination solutions, whether they are dApps, electricity innovations, or others, and a number of other things that could include more conscious investing, changing habits of consumption, getting an electric car, starting a garden and much more.Once we realize what is at stake and what we really have to lose as well as how much there is still worth saving, I feel that human behavior can collectively change. For example, after watching the film “Seaspiracy,” I have elected to stop eating fish because I believe they’re too valuable to be a food. Everyone has a role to play in this fight, and that means that everyone can help change the future. I for one am not willing to lose the coral reefs. Are you?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *