The Great Barrier Reef, a problem for the planet

How did the Great Barrier Reef reach ‘terminal stage’?

Back-to-back severe bleaching events, caused by warming oceans, have affected two-thirds of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, new aerial surveys have found. Climate change is not the only challenge – runoff-affected water quality, reef-killing crown of thorns starfish and the destruction of Cyclone Debbie also threaten the reef’s health. Scientists are warning that Australia has little time left to act on climate change and save the world’s largest living structure.

Inherently democratic in its size and closeness to the shore, the Great Barrier Reef is truly the people’s reef. Looking back on the first great struggle for the reef between the Australian people and the fossil fuel industry, Wright wrote thatif disasters in the shape of weather, accident and climate change lie ahead, the work done already has shown what can be done to shield it from such dangers and has proved that people will agree, in the event, to supplying the help it needs”.

Unhappily, those disasters are now upon us. Global warming brought the great bleaching of 2015-16 and the dreadful and unprecedented sequel over the summer that has just finished. Our reef is in dire trouble.

But while the people’s reef is grievously wounded, it is still very much alive. And life fights for life. Innumerable animals are now doing what creatures do, navigating the hazards of life as best they can to survive and reproduce in the warming waters. Given time and the right conditions, the people’s reef can recover and life will flourish again.

Two-thirds of Great Barrier Reef hit by back-to-back mass coral bleaching.

The big lie propagated by Australian government and big business is that it is possible to turn things around for the reef without tackling global warming. As scientists have made clear, it isn’t – we have to stop climate pollution to give our reef a chance.

It is true that Australia can’t save the reef alone because climate change is a global problem. But that does not mean we are powerless to act and we should not be deterred. Because when you love something deeply – as we Australians cherish our people’s reef – then you do all that is within your power to save that thing which you hold so dear. And there is much that is within our power to do.

So what is to be done? The answer does not lie in false techno-fixes or the faux-democratic farrago of the government-business funded Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef. Australia’s greatest contribution to global warming is through our coal, exported and burned in foreign power stations. So our most determined Australian efforts to save the reef must be directed to closing down the coalmining industry, while ensuring decent new jobs and fair transitions for all affected workers and communities.

Again, the balance of power seems loaded against us. First the Queensland premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, and now the prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, have betrayed both the reef and the trust of the Australian people by snivelling across the seas, pledging allegiance to the Carmichael coalmine. All too often, the rest of big business is complicit in the crisis by explicitly or tacitly supporting the coal industry. Financial institutions such as CommBank continue to invest in the fossil fuel projects that are bringing disaster to the reef.

Read the complete article on The Guardian newspaper web site.

Global warming may be far worse than thought, cloud analysis suggests

 Under a blanket of clouds, tourists watch a meltwater waterfall on an icecap. Photograph: Ralph Lee Hopkins/National Geographic Society/Corbis

Under a blanket of clouds, tourists watch a meltwater waterfall on an icecap. Photograph: Ralph Lee Hopkins/National Geographic Society/Corbis

Researchers said that a doubling of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere compared with pre-industrial times could result in a global temperature increase of up to 5.3C – far warmer than the 4.6C older models predict.

The analysis of satellite data, led by Yale University, found that clouds have much more liquid in them, rather than ice, than has been assumed until now. Clouds with ice crystals reflect more solar light than those with liquid in them, stopping it reaching and heating the Earth’s surface.

Scientists have been trying to get to grips with the extent clouds and water vapor will influence the warming already under way. A paper published last year found that short-term fluctuations in clouds have large impacts on the net rate of heat gain by the Earth.

Read the complete article on The Guardian newspaper website here.

Miami under seige

In the Miami area, the daily high-water mark has been rising almost an inch a year.Credit Illustration by Jacob Escobedo

In the Miami area, the daily high-water mark has been rising almost an inch a year. Credit Illustration by Jacob Escobedo

From the New Yorker magazine:

The city of Miami Beach floods on such a predictable basis that if, out of curiosity or sheer perversity, a person wants to she can plan a visit to coincide with an inundation. Knowing the tides would be high around the time of the “super blood moon,” in late September, I arranged to meet up with Hal Wanless, the chairman of the University of Miami’s geological-sciences department. Wanless, who is seventy-three, has spent nearly half a century studying how South Florida came into being. From this, he’s concluded that much of the region may have less than half a century more to go.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, sea levels could rise by more than three feet by the end of this century. The United States Army Corps of Engineers projects that they could rise by as much as five feet; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts up to six and a half feet. According to Wanless, all these projections are probably low. In his office, Wanless keeps a jar of meltwater he collected from the Greenland ice sheet. He likes to point out that there is plenty more where that came from.

“Many geologists, we’re looking at the possibility of a ten-to-thirty-foot range by the end of the century,” he told me.

We got back into the car. Driving with one hand, Wanless shot pictures out the window with the other. “Look at that,” he said. “Oh, my gosh!” We’d come to a neighborhood of multimillion-dollar homes where the water was creeping under the security gates and up the driveways. Porsches and Mercedeses sat flooded up to their chassis.

“This is today, you know,” Wanless said. “This isn’t with two feet of sea-level rise.” He wanted to get better photos, and pulled over onto another side street. He handed me the camera so that I could take a picture of him standing in the middle of the submerged road. Wanless stretched out his arms, like a magician who’d just conjured a rabbit. Some workmen came bouncing along in the back of a pickup. Every few feet, they stuck a depth gauge into the water. A truck from the Miami Beach Public Works Department pulled up. The driver asked if we had called City Hall. Apparently, one of the residents of the street had mistaken the high tide for a water-main break. As we were chatting with him, an elderly woman leaning on a walker rounded the corner. She looked at the lake the street had become and wailed, “What am I supposed to do?” The men in the pickup truck agreed to take her home. They folded up her walker and hoisted her into the cab.

To cope with its recurrent flooding, Miami Beach has already spent something like a hundred million dollars. It is planning on spending several hundred million more. Such efforts are, in Wanless’s view, so much money down the drain. Sooner or later—and probably sooner—the city will have too much water to deal with. Even before that happens, Wanless believes, insurers will stop selling policies on the luxury condos that line Biscayne Bay. Banks will stop writing mortgages.

“If we don’t plan for this,” he told me, once we were in the car again, driving toward the Fontainebleau hotel, “these are the new Okies.” I tried to imagine Ma and Pa Joad heading north, their golf bags and espresso machine strapped to the Range Rover.

Read the complete article here at The New Yorker web site.

You’re going to get wet

Image from The Economist magazine.

Image from The Economist magazine.

I lived for a few years in a home on Vancouver Island a few feet from the ocean, and had an interest in global warming increasingly creeping water up towards home during the coming years.

I didn’t see the sense living in a million-dollar home with a million-dollar ocean view if in 20-40 years you need a submarine to get to your car.

Lately, I’ve seen more and more waterfront homes coming on the market for $4-28 million dollars. Maybe these owners are deciding to get out while the getting is good.

Before Hurricane Sandy tore through New York and New Jersey, it stopped in Florida. Huge waves covered beaches, swept over Fort Lauderdale’s concrete sea wall and spilled onto A1A, Florida’s coastal highway. Beach erosion forced Fort Lauderdale to buy sand from an inland mine in central Florida; the mine’s soft, white sand stands out against the darker, grittier native variety.

Even as seas have risen over the past century, Americans have rushed to build homes near the beach. Storms that lash the modern American coastline cause more economic damage than their predecessors because there is more to destroy. The Great Miami Hurricane of 1926, a Category 4 storm, caused $1 billion-worth of damage in current dollars. Were it to strike today the insured losses would be $125 billion, reckons AIR Worldwide, a catastrophe-modelling firm. In 1992 Hurricane Andrew, a Category 5 storm, caused $23 billion in damage; today it would be twice that.

The Economist magazine has a great article titled “You’re going to get wet”. Well worth reading.