Scientists have concluded that, even if the industrialized peoples of the planet experience a collective revelation, and enact and enforce tough restrictions on the emission of greenhouse gases, the world’s coral reefs are doomed. They are all going to die.
Scientists are therefore now proposing that coral samples be frozen, and stored in liquid nitrogen, until such time as human beings leave off killing the planet, at which time coral could be reintroduced, if and when global temperatures stabilize.
Coral reefs are responsible for a third of the world’s marine biodiversity, are relied upon by more than 500 million people for food, income, and protection, and consist entirely of living creatures. A fifth of them are already dead. The world’s richest coral reef, located off Indonesia and five other Southeast Asian nations, and containing three-quarters of the world’s coral species, is 40% gone, and is expected to entirely disappear by the end of the century.
“Unless something very remarkable happens,” says Dr. Alex Rogers of London’s Institute of Zoology, “the world’s reefs will be reduced to slime-covered rubble by 2050.”
At an October meeting in Copenhagen, attended by representatives of 16 nations:
politicians and scientists acknowledged that global emissions of carbon dioxide are rising so fast that we are losing the fight to save coral and the world must develop an alternative plan.
Freezing samples for the future may be a necessary option.
”Well, it’s the last ditch effort to save biodiversity from the reefs, which are extremely diverse systems,” said Simon Harding from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).
“It would take other work to try and reconstruct the reef so that you can start the process of building up a reef again,” he said.
“That is something that needs to be looked at in detail, but we can definitely store the species and save them in that way.”
Coral is threatened by rising sea temperatures, and by increasing acidification caused by rising carbon dioxide levels. Figuring that these demons are not about to be exorcised, researchers in the US developed a technique for preserving coral polyps—from which reefs grow—in cyrogenically cooled containers. A prototype “coral ark” is under development at London Zoo, intended to house coral from the Caribbean.
Dr. Rogers describes the process:
“It involves going out into the field and taking coral polyps, which is basically a very small piece of coral colony, and then cutting that coral colony up into very small pieces of tissue,” he said.
“That technology has basically been developed to actually freeze those tiny pieces of tissue.
“It appears that we can then basically revive those tiny pieces of tissue and enable each fragment of coral tissue to grow into a new coral polyp, and from there to essentially propagate the coral into a new coral colony.
“At the moment the concept we are actually looking at is to literally have a frozen ark, reef building corals. So that essentially is a lab-based project—freeze the diversity of corals that can build coral reefs.
“But the idea is to actually set up this facility at the zoo in the UK as part of a network of similar facilities that are spread across the world.”
Rogers hopes to have the project up within two years. It would be open to the public, so that people could see what they have wrought.
Cyrogenically cabining coral will not make of this a shiny happy planet, however. Coral may survive in their new-built frozen cages, but out in the world their absence will mean suffering and extinction for other species.
“The coral reefs create a habitat; they are like a forest, like the Amazon. They are home to scores of species. If the corals die we lose thousands of species that are associated to the coral,” said German marine biologist Judith Denkinger. The Galapagos-based scientist said the harm that pollution and climate change are causing marine life could trigger a domino effect and hurt on-shore species as well.
“Everything is intertwined. You can’t say this is land, this is sea. They are both one.”
In May the BBC offered a cheery piece on the likely effect of the extinction of the “Coral Triangle,” the world’s richest reef, containing 75% of the world’s coral species, akin to the Amazon rainforest in species diversity. With the reef gone, so too will go the fish that depend upon it. Next will go the people who depend on the fish.
By the end of the century, 100 million people across South East Asia could be on the march, looking for something to eat. Communities might be breaking down and economies destroyed.
“Up until now we haven’t realized how quickly this system is changing,” says Professor Hoegh-Guldberg.
“In the last 40 years in the Coral Triangle, we’ve lost 40% of coral reefs and mangroves—and that’s probably an underestimate. We’ve fundamentally changed the way the planet works in terms of currents and this is only with a 0.7 degree change in terms of temperature.
“What’s going to happen when we exceed two or four or six?”
Technological humanity is cutting it awful close. Capable of destroying the world’s coral reefs, but also of cyrogenically preserving them, until such time as humanity is no longer mad, and coral may be reintroduced back into the world. Capable of sending into extinction the planet’s largest mammals—lions, tigers, rhinoceros, the whole lot—but also of preserving their DNA in a “Frozen Ark,” until such time as humanity is no longer mad, and they may be reintroduced back into the world.
It is hard, sometimes, to believe that the race will not go to the mad. Such as when I recently opened a copy of a newspaper I used to work for, back when it was “alternative,” to find it celebrating a truly ugly individual who journeys to Africa to there slay some of the world’s most endangered animals. In the story’s lead he is breathlessly portrayed as some sort of hero, because he was not run down by a creature he had come to kill. The animals he slaughters are repeatedly termed by the writer “dangerous,” “man-eating,” “the black death,” and the killer himself is exhaustively allowed to emit the grossest lies—that what he does is for “a good cause,” that he “keep[s] animal populations under control,” that he helps the locals by providing them with meat, that “[i]f it weren’t for controlled hunting and tribal ownership of the animals, all of the animals would have disappeared from Africa a long time ago.” Nowhere does the story mention that the animals this happy madman kills are among the quarter of the planet’s mammals that face extinction.
There was a special bleeding irony, for me, with this piece, because while this man is circumnavigating the globe sending living beings into death, his daughter quietly works in the intensive-care unit of the local hospital, battling against death, helping people, healing people: she was the first and finest healer to attend my own daughter when she suffered a sudden and permanently life-changing injury.
But, as they say in the TV news biz: “if it bleeds, it leads.” If you kill: front cover. If you heal: eh.
And so Congress quietly appropriated in late October a minimum of $680 billion for killing people and breaking things in 2010 alone . . . then transformed into a roiling shouting-house over the “unacceptable costs” of a health-care plan that would expend roughly the same amount over ten years.
There are so many things that must change if we do not want to inflict upon the planet and ourselves truly cruel and dire straights. But people are not ready to go there. Every Man A King—the American dream—is not sustainable. It would require the resources of more than five earths for every person on this planet to live as the average American. Every Person A Plebeian—that is sustainable, but hardly anybody anywhere is willing to “settle” for such a thing. Americans wish to remain Americans, and elsewhere in the world people increasingly want to live like Americans, too. And who can blame them?
In C. J. Koch’s The Year of Living Dangerously, his protagonist has no answer, because there is no answer, to the question posed by a gifted young Indonesian man: “Why should I live like a poor man all my life, while stupid people in your country live well?” Nor to his second question: “And if you cannot answer, why do you condemn those in my country who have the will to do something about that question?”
Of course even on the lefty blogs are those who would respond with reference to the ludicrous doctrine of “American exceptionalism”—that quack-magic primitivo-religious doctrine that holds that Americans are entitled to more, because they somehow are more. But as Joseph Heller observed in Catch-22, if one wishes to truly acknowledge the exceptional, it is amphibians who should be honored—Aquatic Exceptionalism—not Americans.
“America is the strongest and most prosperous nation on earth,” Nately informed him with lofty fervor and dignity. “And the American fighting man is second to none. America is not going to be destroyed.”
The old man laughed indulgently. “Rome was destroyed, Greece was destroyed, Persia was destroyed, Spain was destroyed. All great countries are destroyed. Why not yours? How much longer do you really think your own country will last? A million years? A half million? The frog is almost five hundred million years old. Could you really say with much certainty that America, with all its strength and prosperity, with its fighting man that is second to none, and with its standard of living that is the highest in the world, will last as long as . . . the frog?”
Anybody with any sense knows we’re at the dawning of a global realignment, a shift from Every Rat Bastard Predatory Capitalist A King & Fuck The Rest Of You Peasants, to Every Person A Plebeian. And nobody knows it better than the man who is currently our president. Problem is, the guy has to just creep up on it, lest he be flayed alive. Not even the most frivolous and most obvious things are the people he governs ready to give up. In a recent conversation with several Kossacks, I wrote:
Here is a moment that I saw as lost, though I completely understand why it was. It was when, in the early days of pushing the stimulus program, President Obama appeared in the town that is the American hub of RV manufacturing. There he promised that the stimulus would revitalize such depressed areas. This was the opportunity, if he was going to talk about a “realignment,” to really do it. He could have said that it was too bad that the town was suffering, but that the RV business was never really going to come back. And, moreover, it shouldn’t. Because it is insane. That in a world where it would require more than 5 earths for everyone to live as an American, and where every drop of oil left in the earth will be gone in less than 125 years, for people to continue to build and buy mammoth gas-guzzling homes on wheels that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, is literally insane. Such monstrosities should not be built, and they should not be sold. Such plants should be shut down, and the workers retrained for other work. It’s going to happen sooner or later; why not now?
But this is his problem. He could not say that. People are not ready for such “realignment” talk. They’re not ready for him to go out on the golf course, as presidents always do, and there lean on his club, stare into the cameras, and say: “You know, golf courses, in the realigned world, they have to go. They are insane wastes of water, and we don’t have enough water anymore to waste insanely. And they poison the earth, with rivers of pesticides and herbicides, and we don’t have enough earth anymore to be poisoned. If a golf course can grow and sustain itself naturally, as they do in Scotland, from whence they came, fine. Otherwise, in the realigned world, they are over.”
If he made those sorts of remarks, about RVs or golf or anything else, he would be portrayed as something out of the Khmer Rouge. Not only on Fox, but everywhere.
Like the denizens of Harry Hope’s saloon in Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh, people are not prepared for such talk, not willing to give up their “pipe dreams,” to live without illusion. Like Harry himself, they don’t even want to hear about it:
Give us a rest, for the love of Christ! Who the hell cares? We want to pass out in peace!
And so I’ll close with a clip from Robert Altman’s most pitiless film, Quintet: