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Why Dying Coral Reefs Will Bring Planetary Instability

Instead of protecting the Great Barrier Reef and other coral reefs like it, we’re destroying them.

The Great Barrier Reef. (Photo: Lock the Gate Alliance)

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The Great Barrier Reef is one of the great natural wonders of the world.

Stretching for more than 1,400 miles off the coast of Australia, it’s visible from space and is considered the largest single organic structure on the planet.

It’s also home to thousands of different species of marine life, including 1,500 different fish, 134 types of sharks and rays, and 30 types of marine mammals.

See more news and opinion from Thom Hartmann at Truthout here.

In other words, the Great Barrier Reef is exactly the type of thing we, as human beings and residents of this planet, should cherish and protect.

But we’re not doing that.

Instead of protecting the Great Barrier Reef and other coral reefs like it, we’re destroying them, and we’re destroying them with climate change.

According to new research from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the world’s coral reefs are now experiencing the largest bleaching event scientists have ever seen.

Coral bleaching is the name for the process by which healthy corals shed themselves of the algae they depend on to survive.

It can happen for a number of reasons like pollution, extremely low tides and too much sun, but the type of bleaching that the world’s coral reefs are experiencing right now has one very simple cause: rising ocean temperatures as a result of global warming.

As the Guardian reports, “Coral bleaches when water temperatures are a couple of degrees above the normal summer maximum for longer than about two weeks. Climate change has caused global sea surface temperatures to rise by about 1C over the past century, pushing corals closer to their bleaching threshold. A strong El Niño, as well as other weather phenomena, raised the temperature further this year.”

If nothing is done to reverse this trend, the world’s reefs will vanish, as some already are in the process of doing.

The Great Barrier Reef, for example, is now 93 percent bleached, and has seen one quarter of its coral population die. There is now a very real concern among scientists that the reef will never return to its former glory.

This is what climate change looks like.

By pumping fossil fuels into the atmosphere, we are doing massive and permanent damage to the one planet we call home.

Some of this damage, like the bleaching of the world’s coral reefs, we can see, but a lot of it we can’t.

And here’s the really scary thing — the worst is still to come.

We’re already in the danger zone, and every single day we keep pumping fossil fuels into the atmosphere just pushes us closer towards total climate devastation.

We’re also running out of time.

According to Michael Mann, one of the world’s leading climate scientists, we only have until 2036 — 21 years — to prevent the Earth’s temperature from rising 2 degrees Celsius, the standard cutoff point for “acceptable” levels of warming.

Other scientists, like James Hansen, have an even gloomier view of how much more warming the planet can take. Hansen now argues that we need to lower the limit of “acceptable” warming by a whole degree to 1 degree Celsius – a number we’re already dangerously close to reaching.

At this point, there is no other option — we have to completely commit to a Manhattan Project-style effort on the part of our government to decarbonize our transportation, heating and electric systems.

We won World War II in four years; we could tackle climate change in an even shorter timeframe just by using technology that’s already there.

The stakes are as high as they come when it comes to climate change, but it’s also an opportunity to fundamentally transform our economy for the better, and create millions of jobs in the process.

A good crisis, it’s often said, should never go to waste.

We have a very small window left.

Let’s do our best to take advantage of it.