Great Barrier Reef in Danger of Mass Coral Bleaching Events Every Two Years
The Great Barrier Reef—Australia's remarkable but imperiled natural wonder—is under risk of repeat coral bleaching events unless greenhouse gas emissions are slashed, Australia's Climate Council warned Thursday.
The new report, Lethal Consequences: Climate Change Impacts on the Great Barrier Reef, determined that by 2034, the extreme ocean temperatures that led to the mass bleaching events of 2016 and 2017 may occur every two years if emissions continue on current trends.
Climate Councilor and ecologist Lesley Hughes explained that the unprecedented mass coral bleaching in 2016, which killed off nearly a third of the reef's coral, is occurring more often.
"In the 1980's, we would see a 27-year gap on average in between bleaching events around the world. Now, they're hitting every six years on average," she said, as quoted by the Australian Associated Press.
Under continued heat stress, corals expel the algae that live in their tissues and give them their stunning colors, leaving behind a stark white skeleton.
"This is not sustainable because repeated bleaching events will continuously set back recovery," the report states.
The new report finds that the damage to the reefs may be irreversible and that coral mortality has led to a decline in the diversity of fish species and in the number of juvenile fish settling on the reef.
The researchers urge drastic and immediate reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, a major driver of global warming. The report says that limiting temperature rise above pre-industrial levels to no more than 1.5°C—the ambitious target set by the 2015 Paris climate agreement—is critical for the survival of reefs worldwide.
"Doing anything other than urgently and dramatically slashing our nation's rising pollution levels will essentially sign the death certificate for the Reef as we know it today," said Martin Rice, acting chief executive of the Climate Council in a statement.
“Doing anything other than urgently and dramatically slashing our nation’s rising pollution levels will essentially… https://t.co/DagdPksORy— Climate Council (@Climate Council)1530781231.0
In April, the Australian government announced it will invest more than $500 million (US $379 million) to protect the reef.
However, environmentalists have pointed out that most of the funds are going towards improving water quality, controlling outbreaks of coral-eating starfish and research—a "band-aid plan" as Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull's fossil fuel-friendly government promotes the building of new coal mines, which fuels global warming that harms the reef.
The report states: "Whilst sediment run-off and the crown-of-thorns starfish place additional stress on an already stressed system, there is scant evidence that local management can sufficiently reduce susceptibility of corals to bleaching from marine heatwaves in the long-term. Without effectively addressing climate change, the Federal Government's plan will not help protect the Great Barrier Reef."
Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, also spoke out against the government's plan.
"Science is well aware of what is killing coral on the Great Barrier Reef. It's the excess heat that comes from burning fossil fuels," McKibben said in a press release. "If the Turnbull government was serious about saving the Reef they would be willing to take on the industry responsible for the damage. To simultaneously promote Adani's coal mine, which would be one of the world's largest, pretending to care about the world's largest Reef is an acrobatic feat only cynical politicians would attempt."
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Four years ago, Jacob Abel cast his first presidential vote for Donald Trump. As a young conservative from Concord, North Carolina, the choice felt natural.
But this November, he plans to cast a "protest vote" for a write-in candidate or abstain from casting a ballot for president. A determining factor in his 180-degree turn? Climate change.
Fractures Among Young Climate Conservatives<p>While young conservatives have united around the urgency of climate change, they remain divided over how to bring their concerns to the ballot box. Some embrace right-wing <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/biden-attacks-republican-convention/2020/08/24/434e5b46-e66d-11ea-970a-64c73a1c2392_story.html" target="_blank">attacks</a> painting Biden as a "tool of the left" and find his climate agenda "radical." Others can't find a way to justify voting for Trump, even if it means breaking with their party.</p><p>Patrick Mann from Orange County, California, voted for Trump in 2016. But today, he's leading Aggies for Joe at Texas A&M University and is co-founder of Texas Students for Biden. </p><p>Mann grew up watching wildfires ravage his home state, nearly forcing his family to evacuate in 2017. The GOP is failing to "meet the moment" for climate action, Mann said. He's hoping Biden will deliver on a promise to "<a href="https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/opinion/columnists/caucus/2020/01/06/joe-biden-democrat-president-iowa-caucus-restore-soul-our-nation/2806422001/" target="_blank">restore the soul of our nation</a>." </p><p>Taylor Walker from Pensacola, Florida, is also determined to make her voice heard on climate, including by casting her first-ever vote for president—but not for Biden.</p>
A False Equivalency<p>Young climate conservatives may fear climate denial and delayed climate action, but more than that, they fear the growing political momentum around the Green New Deal, the massive spending it entails and <a href="https://joebiden.com/climate-plan/" target="_blank">Biden's citing of it</a> as a "crucial framing for meeting the climate challenges we face."</p><p>Many don't want to split with their party to support a Democrat whose <a href="https://www.npr.org/2019/09/03/757220130/joe-biden-on-bipartisanship-gun-control-and-regrets-over-inaction-after-a-traged" target="_blank">allegedly bipartisan intentions</a> they doubt. If stymieing what they consider a radical green agenda means re-electing a climate change denying president, so be it. </p><p>"I'm scared of climate change, but I'm also scared of the Green New Deal and what it means for America," said Ben Mutolo, a republicEN spokesperson and junior at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. </p><p>Mutolo felt encouraged by former Ohio Governor John Kasich's <a href="https://www.rollcall.com/2020/08/17/kasich-speech-to-democratic-convention-follows-years-of-building-conservative-credentials/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">appearance</a> at the Democratic National Convention, but he still struggles to see himself voting for Biden. Though the candidate paints himself as a <a href="https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2020-08-12/harris-biden-different-generation-similar-political-instinct" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">centrist,</a> Mutolo believes he's "cozying up to the ultra-progressive left." </p><p>Mutolo, who wants to see market-based climate solutions like a carbon tax, feels torn between a candidate whose climate plan relies on taking an "<a href="https://joebiden.com/environmental-justice-plan/#" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">All-of-Government approach</a>," and one with no efforts to reign in global warming at all. <span></span></p><p>Leiserowitz said he appreciated how a conservative might feel Biden's climate plan "doesn't jive with their limited government, free-market approach."</p><p>But he sees a strong distinction between voting for a presidential candidate with a <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/14/us/politics/biden-climate-plan.html" target="_blank">$2 trillion climate plan</a> that includes large renewable energy investments, which have <a href="https://climatecommunication.yale.edu/publications/politics-global-warming-april-2020/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">bipartisan support</a>, and a candidate trying "to take the country in the opposite direction, towards more fossil fuels."</p>
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