I'm Glad I'm Old

David K. Smith, 7 January 2018

I just spent the last few hours doing a deep dive into the phenomenon known as "coral bleaching." For starters, the term sounds nowhere near as dire as it really is: the name is derived from what the event looks like. It should instead be called, "The Death of Coral Reefs." Because that's what's actually happening.

Prior to 1980, coral bleaching had never been observed. It's only been since global warming has begun to directly affect the world's oceans that it started to take place. Yes, global warming has become so bad that water temperatures have begun to rise enough to affect all ocean life.

What happens is this: an increase in mean water temperature—in this case, just a fraction of a degree—causes corals to become overheated, and consequently they expel the organisms that live symbiotically with them. Visually this results in their loss of color—hence the name. But the loss of such organisms, which help corals process the nutrients upon which they survive, causes them to starve to death.

Corals are normally quite resilient, and in about ten years they fully recover. The problem is that the cycle of bleaching events is quickly growing shorter, from twenty years now down to about five, and virtually every major coral reef in the world has been affected. So now the corals are at risk of dying off forever, since they cannot recover quickly enough.

Why is this of any concern to us on dry land? Because we have this thing called a "food chain." All life on the planet is part of this eternal cycle, which is being disrupted in ever-increasing ways. The loss of corals will adversely affect ocean life, which is already at risk owing to pollution, over-harvesting, oxygen deprivation, increasing acidity, and other deadly effects; sea birds consuming waste plastic, sea turtles turning female, and other issues are subjects unto themselves.

It has been predicted that all ocean life will plummet to half the current populations by 2050, by which time corals may be dead worldwide. However, based on predicted versus observed values, it's possible these estimates aren't bad enough; worse, this is part of a geometric curve, not a straight line; in other words, the rate of decline will accelerate. And due to latency, any countermeasures we might take now won't be seen for centuries, since it's taken centuries for global warming to directly impact the oceans.

The death of ocean life will be but one of many nails in our coffin, since we depend heavily on our oceans not just as a food source, but as being one link in the world's great food chain. Meanwhile, our attention is focused on the "tweets" spewed from the President of the United States—almost as if our very lives depend on what he thinks and says. Tangentially this may be true, what with the threat of nuclear war; but as a matter of actual fact, this pales by comparison to the events that really affect us; the tweets are so much noise drowning out the information that describes our real, imminent doom.

It's already too late to save Planet Earth; we've damaged her beyond repair. All solid scientific evidence—as opposed to opinions, pseudo-scientific nonsense or new-age hopefulness—indicates this. We might be able to turn things around, but everyone on the planet must immediately be, first, willing to accept this is really happening, and second, be willing to unite in an effort to fix it. And any thoughts of that actually happening are pure fantasy.

Realistically, the only thing we can now affect directly is the rate at which our demise takes place, although it will almost certainly be sooner than anyone has predicted, mostly due to the fact that hardly anyone is taking any of this seriously. But make no mistake: it will take place. Not in my lifetime, to be sure, and likely not in the lifetime of anyone who might read this. The only question will be how many centuries the human race has left. (This is one of many reasons I never had children!)

So, I'm glad I'm old. I won't be around when the Serious Shit hits the Really Big Fan, and we come face-to-face with the ultimate doom of our own making. I feel sorriest for Mother Nature and her children (all non-human life forms). They never asked for this.

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