landlocked sheets of Antarctica and Greenland—it is very
clear that we must take immediate action on this critical
issue. If we don’t, the ramifications go far beyond coral
reefs, and may threaten the very existence of humanity.
According to the experts (the Intergovernmental
Mass coral bleaching at Great Keppel Island, on the southern Great Barrier Reef, in 2006.
Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC), changing course
with respect to the carbon intensity of our economy and
lifestyle will cost less than 2 percent of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth. This is akin to getting as
rich in 26 years as we would have in 25 years—not much
to pay to avoid planetary catastrophe!
As well as urging our leaders to take on this challenge
and steer our societies back to a safe climate, it is important that we make changes as individuals. There are
many things we can do in our daily lives that will have a
huge collective impact on the problem. For example, insulating our homes and investing in solar hot water will
reduce the average carbon emissions by 20 to 30 percent
per family. Simple things such as carpooling, walking or
riding a bike to work, and using public transportation
can also reduce our carbon footprint.
There are other things we can do for coral reefs to
buy time while we strive to reduce carbon dioxide and
other greenhouse gas emissions. Coral reefs
will have a better chance of beating the
climate-change challenge if other stresses
on them are reduced. They will have little
chance of recovering from climate-change
impacts, such as coral bleaching, if they are
polluted and physically destroyed at the same
time. For this reason, we must increase our
efforts to improve the water quality along
coral coastlines, reduce the pressure on reefs
caused by fishing, and help countries educate
their citizens about the folly of using destructive fishing techniques.
IS THERE HOPE FOR CORAL REEFS?
There is no doubt that the current situation
for coral reefs is extremely grim. Local pressures on coral reefs are expanding rapidly as
humans rely more and more on coastal resources for their daily food and livelihood.
At the same time, our current emission trajectory rises above the worst-case scenario
spelled out by the IPCC.
The good news is that we do have the
ability to turn the situation around. The cost
of transforming our societies from ones that
depend on carbon dioxide–emitting energy
sources to those reliant on renewable energy
sources, such as solar, wind, and tidal, is well
within our means, and is tiny compared to
the cost of repairing the catastrophic
damage we will incur if we don’t.
Ove Hoegh-Guldberg is professor and director of
the Centre for Marine Studies at the University of
works closely with several industry and NGO groups on climate-change issues and is a reviewing editor at Science Magazine. In
2009, Hoegh-Guldberg was made director of the Global Change
Institute at the University of Queensland. Details of his laboratory group can be found at www.coralreefecosystems.org. His blog
is at www.climateshifts.org.