Category Archives: State of the Oceans

PIOMAS Arctic Sea Ice Volume 1979 – 2012

Andy just shared an animation he has been working on, which demonstrates just how much sea ice has been lost in the Arctic.

The Spectrum of Reason

I commented recently on why I believe those often referred to as “climate deniers” should more appropriately be considered “committed sceptics”. They are, after all, not denying climate changes or that there isn’t a climate at all, but rather committed to the conclusion that climate is unaffected (at least dangerously) but our actions, leaving them unquestioningly sceptical of any information that challenges that conclusion. If it were otherwise, they would take the time to learn one of the various fields of science, rigorously test the fundamental hypotheses and show, convincingly, within the proper peer-viewed scientific literature, why such conclusions that have convinced almost the entire expert community in the field of anthropogenic climate change are wrong.

Such a finding would be immensely important and the accolades would be more wondrous to the researchers involved than many that came before it. They would be global heroes whom saved us the otherwise necessary upheaval of many of our primary activities to ensure the longevity of resources and infrastructure that we owe to future generations (as was given to us).

The silence in this arena (compared to the noisy blogosphere and town hall) is telling. This breed of scepticism isn’t scientific in any nature and people like Alan Jones do a massive injustice to the name of a brilliant mind, Galileo Galilei, by using it for a completely unquestioning (at least, in a scientific sense) movement.

How such people, standing for the status quo in the face of obvious error, can use the name of someone who challenged the status quo based on obvious error can do such a thing with a straight face is beyond me. However, as I’ve covered previously, the fox indeed smells its own scent first and such people tend to make claims 180o to reality to support idea that themselves are 180o to reality.

The Spectrum of Reasoning

What I’ve come to realise is that reasoning is actually a spectrum on which we all slide upon. There are those committed sceptics on topics such as climate, evolution, vaccination, the moon landing, alien / UFO visitations whom are unmoveable regardless of contradiction. However, on the other side of this spectrum, we have other groups many science communicators also challenge.

It’s all about the “other ways of knowing”. It’s the New Age thinking.

For them, it’s not committed scepticism, but rather about a mind unbuttoned, free to explore all possibilities. For them, it’s not about holding an idea – which to everyone else it may seem to be, and is the case with the previous group – but rather holding onto the possibility. Anything short of this, to such an individual, is simply closed minded. That we can never be entirely 100% certain about most, if not all matters, this, to such an individual, means that all possibilities thus require equal consideration.

Dead in the centre of this spectrum is scientific methodology. Science demands the will to entertain any idea, but also rigorous testing, aimed not to prove the idea, but instead disprove it, to merit its validity.

You need not only the possibility of ideas, but also the cool-handed rejection of ideas that just don’t stand up to scrutiny. Equally, you don’t get by on hardcore scepticism of new or challenging ideas, because it’s clear that our intuitions have limitations. The natural universe is weirder than anything we could imagine.

New From the Credulous

It might be easy for those of us trained in science whom approach those heavy on either side of the spectrum with what looks to be an air of arrogance (whether intentional or not). We must remember however that none of us have it completely right. Each one of us were by our very nature once little people; inquisitive dreamers of all possibilities. Where we find ourselves today on that spectrum is the result of our history.

Even the very best of us at obtaining that central pivoting point have our moments. When a loved one passes away, we muse about them around us. In times of hardship, we wish or pray for assistance, guidance and/or strength. We see meaning in random events that our better training signifies as a statistical streak and nothing more.

At this point, I’m certain the committed sceptic could take the previous paragraph to confirm gullibility in those whom suggest new ideas are far more likely than previous ideas, based on strong evidence, while the unbuttoned mind would use it to confirm that “deeper understanding” is innate within us all, but trained out of us by the short-sighted and those of us that hover around the pivot point will be frustrated – even seeing this article as apologetic. The point of the matter is; we are all new from the credulous side of the spectrum, both as a species and individually.

The enlightenment refined the tools of inquiry so that we could build confidence in our assertions and as unfortunate as it may seem, each birth is a new start along the road of understanding; we are forced to learn from scratch what took a life time for others to appreciate. That both slows down the process of developing an understanding of the natural universe and demonstrates just how fragile the acquired knowledge can be; it takes great educators to ensure nothing is lost down the line.

The latter point sits behind the concerns of aging experts of any generation whom chastise “the abysmal level of education nowadays”.

The Science Communicator

I’m certain that our approach as science communicators fails to cause ripples among those heavy to either side of the spectrum because we fail to address where they are coming from. We also grow frustrated due to the same reason and condemn one group as fanatical believers to an “absolute truth” and the other as “off with the fairies”. Such attitudes and perceived arrogance does education no favours.

Instead, it may pay to put the obligation back on them to validate their reasoning.

Indeed, as Hamlet said (and quoted endlessly by some), “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

No-one knows better than a scientist just how odd and counterintuitive the natural universe is. Perhaps acknowledging and demonstrating this could capture their imagination… before pulling the conversation in with justification as to why we know such things and hold so much confidence in their validity.

Maybe take it a step further and muse their ideas following an attempt to test its validity in the same fashion. The universe would remain a weird and wonderful place, but just maybe some of your audience may shift a little closer to the pivot point; they might get why you test ideas and enjoy the genuine confidence they hold in these new assertions while maintaining their sense of wonder and majesty in the universe.

Admire the mind strict and trained to demand compelling evidence. Ask them why they believe what they believe. Ask them what it may take them to question the validity of these beliefs. I hinted at it above; get them test their ideas and your own. Work with them from the ground up. Expose them to a new form of confidence not based on simply being strongly held, but instead tested until it stands regardless what you do to it. Maybe they too may shift a little closer to the pivot point and enjoy the exploration of thought.

We are all in this together. We have reached a point that our impact on the world is far greater than that we ever gave to any god. We remove mountains. We are changing the global climate. We are causing a mass extinction event and degrading our resource base. We have an arsenal able to destroy our species along with many others.

It may be fun for some and fundamental for others to knock others down because of conflicting ideas, but it isn’t helping anyone. Especially now that we have the tool set to chisel out information in great detail and with great confidence. We need to change our approach or else we’ll still be squabbling, knee deep in salt water with little left to defend.

Removing Politics From Environmental Governance

A number of years ago, when I was still an undergrad, there was a group of students whom worked together to produce and distribute fresh produce. It was a great and novel idea that provided cheap fruit and vegetables to a cluster of people notorious for a lifestyle of packet noodles, just to make ends meet on a student income.

Through a network of producers and workers, this little group had something special. Of course, part of the deal was to be actively involved with the labour; financial input was instead substituted by physical input.

I nearly got involved.

What stopped me was perhaps trivial, but is more common than many of us would like to admit.

The group was, from even a passing assessment, far more left than myself. I could provide to you now my own judgement of this group and of course face ridicule for it, but equally, I’m certain my clean-cut personality would have in turn caused judgement from the group as well. We’re only human; it’s what we do.

In short, we simply did not reflect the same ideologies, apart from this one activity and so my involvement was made difficult, if not impossible.

We humans naturally form clans and this group just wasn’t my clan.

From my observations of the various discussions regarding improving in the sustainability of our actions, I’ve witnessed the same thing stopping more mainstream acceptance of what is clearly in the best interest of us all.

The “already engaged” people are passionate, well meaning people. However, we have formed our own clans – even societies – which clearly are, more often than not, progressive.

It might initially seem that this makes sense; it is, after all, the progressive people whom change the world for the better and the conservatives whom hold us back. Such a conclusion is one that we progressive thinkers may tells ourselves to explain what we are witnessing or to justify some notion of moral superiority. However this simply isn’t the truth.

More importantly, anyone who has spent time researching on even one issue facing our future would be aware that the solutions are not only already at our hands, they require every last one of us. We are not out to save the biota, ocean and atmosphere of the progressive world, but the entire Earth – the only world we have.

While I believe it is important that we do build cultural identities around a new revolution in planetary governance, these identities need to be both right and left.

The conservatives, for instance, should be asking themselves what they are wish to conserve; a runaway churning of resources to fuel a short-lived boom, before the inevitable bust or a resource base in which we can continue to reap benefits from indefinitely? It’s not too hard to argue that environmentalism really should have been a conservative initiative to begin with.

I avoided cheap and highly nutritious food at my own expense entirely because I couldn’t mesh with a group behind a great idea. That only affected me in return; either in my coughing up extra money for the same food from a supermarket (albeit, probably less nutritious due to the general practices of storage and distribution of many supermarkets) or (more likely) turning instead to the cheaper alternatives, such as pre-packaged fast food.

On the other hand, in turning environmental governance and sustainability entirely into a progressive ideology, we are already witnessing a world of paralysis which affects us all. The longer we leave it, the bigger the clean up, the greater the expense and the more we would have lost forever.

Each one of us needs to remove this stigma from the culture of good environmental governance. We can’t make it a progressive or a conservative movement. Instead we need to be approachable with language that reflects left, right and central. There are many more with a conservative outlook whom would support positive action on environmental governance than currently are because of the cultural divide that we have created. Appealing to the obvious conservative arguments, such as the one I made above, and working positively with everyone who shares a joy for nature (I’d argue it’s instinctive and thus universal) will help bridge this divide and provide a more meaningful grounds for constructive debate; where we are arguing over solutions and not simply the confidence we have in scientific methodology or the perpetuation of an argument over right and left.

It would be like the group of students noticing my interest in their activity approaching me, making it clear that our obvious differences are irrelevant because what’s important is only what we’re both interested in (ie. the clan is based around the positives outcomes of the activity at hand and not also about other related lifestyle choices that would tend to refine the clan into greater specific attributes). Who knows, we may have even rubbed off on one another over time with the constructive basis created and found greater grounds of similarity.

This is exactly what we need in the face of climate change, growing oil, food and water insecurity and biodiversity degradation; constructive holistic activity aimed at protecting and invigorating the dynamic life support system on which we all depend.

On such topics, there just isn’t room for ownership by just one hemisphere of political ideology.

The Signal emerges from the Noise: Climate, Politics, History

Great job Dwight!

Drowning out the truth about the Great Barrier Reef


Mass bleaching at the Keppel Islands in 2006. Our greatest natural asset is under threat, but you wouldn’t know it from reading Andrew Bolt.
Ove Hoegh-Guldberg

MEDIA & DEMOCRACY – Ove Hoegh-Guldberg dives into the media’s coverage of an Australian icon’s future.

One of the most straightforward climate change storylines is the link between global warming and coral reefs such as the Great Barrier Reef.

When our reef waters get too warm, corals sicken (bleach), often causing disease and death. And when the corals go, many of the other organisms go with them. At the current rate of ocean warming, we will soon exceed the critical temperature at which this happens every year, causing the Great Barrier Reef to rapidly degrade.

The greater the amount of human-driven climate change, the less will be left of the Great Barrier Reef as we know it today. And the less fishing, tourism and other benefits we will derive from it as a country.

The science tells us that exceeding 2°C in average global temperature will largely exceed the thermal tolerance of corals today. It is already happening. Rolling mass bleaching events, unknown to science before 1979, are increasing in frequency and severity.

This simple set of linkages demonstrates the risk that climate change generally places on natural ecosystems.

It is supported by hundreds of papers and highly experienced and published experts from oceanography, climate science and marine biology.

Why is it then that commentators in the media such as Andrew Bolt and Jamie Walker consistently take a different view and posit, either directly or indirectly, that all those leading experts are fraudulent, dishonest or at best shoddy scientists?

Is it a genuine lack of understanding of the facts, or is it a deliberate strategy to confuse people about what is otherwise a very clear message about climate change and coral reefs?

Could it be that confusing Australians about the risk to our reef is highly prized by the people that fund their operations?

Let’s take Andrew Bolt. Andrew has been vociferous in his claim that scientists like me are alarmists, even deliberately deceptive.

He wraps us all up in the same blanket: me, Flannery and Garnaut. Quite an honour really, given the eminence of my co-accused.

Apparently, we do it because we are mad, we do it because we are on the take, and we do it because we are zealots!

Bolt has repeatedly claimed, for example, that I warned in 1998 “that the Great Barrier Reef was under pressure from global warming, and much of it had turned white. In fact, [I] later admitted the reef had made a “surprising” recovery.”

This implies that I got the events of 1998 wrong. Let’s examine his claim.

In 1998, more than half of the Great Barrier Reef experienced bleaching and about 5 to 10% of the corals that make up the reef died (about 4000 km²).

This was the largest mass coral bleaching event in Australian recorded history.

All of this has been reported in the scientific literature.

Other coral reefs did not get off so easily. In the Western Indian Ocean, 46% of corals were eliminated by the underwater heatwave that swept through the region in 1998. An estimated 16% of the corals were eliminated worldwide.

While 1998 was an extraordinarily hot year, it will be commonplace in a few decades time at the current rate of global temperature increase. As if to emphasize this point, 2010 was a shade hotter then 1998 and saw record bleaching in many regions.

If conditions had been as hot on the Great Barrier Reef as in the Western Indian Ocean, similar events would have transpired.

We did fear the worst, but we got lucky, hence the reference to “surprising recovery” when the heat stress was abbreviated by storm activity.

It is hard to see what I got wrong.

Despite my having responded to these issues, Andrew Bolt has not removed the misinformation and continues to this day to chant its content on a regular basis. I find it hard to believe that Andrew cannot understand this critical issue. Perhaps he doesn’t.

It is hard to practice as a humble scientist when powerful columnists like Bolt run amok. Drawing attention to their fundamental scientific errors and distortions only brings more insult and abuse.

Hardly what I signed up for when I began training in science over 30 years ago.

Is this simply bad journalism or an attempt to deliberately mislead the Australian public on this issue? It’s an interesting question, given the fact that Bolt receives direct support from Australia’s richest mining magnate and climate denialist, Gina Rinehart. Cash for comment?

Bolt is not alone.

The Australian has also been ahead of the charge with commentators such as Jamie Walker either not understanding or deliberately distorting the information on the risks of climate change to the Great Barrier Reef.

Jamie has published a number of incorrect statements about the Great Barrier Reef, rarely, withdrawing statements when they were proved wrong.

Jamie published the following opening statement to an article in February last year:

“Kevin Rudd’s insistence that the Great Barrier Reef could be “destroyed beyond recognition” by global warming grates with new science suggesting it will again escape temperature-related coral bleaching.”

The truth couldn’t be further from Jamie’s clumsy spin.

First, there was no “new” science or report, given the story was based on a single year of data from a survey program that the Australian Institute of Marine Sciences has been running for 19 years. It’s literally published every year.

Second, AIMS responded by saying “The latest AIMS monitoring observations of the Great Barrier Reef do not contradict projections of potential harm caused by rising sea surface temperature or any other consequences from increasing concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide.”

According to AIMS CEO, Dr Ian Poiner, “One or two seasons of no bleaching do not mean that the GBR is not threatened. It is over-generalisation to the point of unreality to extrapolate from one set of observations to what is going to happen to the GBR in the long term.”

As you can see, Dr Poiner statement is pretty unambiguous. Hardly grating up against Kevin Rudd’s statements!

These statements are also relevant to Andrew Bolt’s misunderstanding (deliberate or otherwise) of statements relevant to what will happen within a single year, versus what will happen in the long term.

But this is what happens over and over again in the Australian media.

By misreporting “facts” and smearing scientists’ personal reputations, journalists are willfully misleading the public about the nature of the threat to one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world, and one of our most valuable tourism assets.

And ultimately to our world.

This article is part of the Media & Democracy series. Read the rest of the series here.

This article is about the media’s representation of climate change – we’d love to hear your opinions on that topic. If you would rather discuss the existence of climate change, there are many other articles on the site covering that issue: please take your comments to one of those discussions.

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Requiem for the sea: State of the Seas report concludes “negative changes” to the oceans exceed IPCCs worst case scenarios.

Back in my “Watching the Deniers” days I developed a keen interest in the state world’s oceans, as it was through my reading and research I came to have a better understanding of the fragile state of the world’s oceans.

In July 2010 I started to become deeply alarmed: research indicated that since the 1950s over 40% of the oceans phytoplankton had died out due to rising temperatures and acidification.

Now, more bad news: the seas are well and truly dying and time frames for actions are “shrinking”.

The most recent “State of the Ocean” report has just been released and is grim reading indeed.

Some quotes from the report:

…The speeds of many negative changes to the ocean are near to or are tracking the worst-case scenarios from IPCC and other predictions. Some are as predicted, but many are faster than anticipated, and many are still accelerating.

…The magnitude of the cumulative impacts on the ocean is greater than previously understood Interactions between different impacts can be negatively synergistic (negative impact greater than sum of individual stressors) or they can be antagonistic (lowering the effects of individual impacts). Examples of such interactions include: combinations of overfishing, physical disturbance, climate change effects, nutrient runoff and introductions of non-native species leading to explosions of these invasive species, including harmful algal blooms, and dead zones

The report also notes:

…The longer the delay in reducing emissions the higher the annual reduction rate will have to be and the greater the financial cost. Delays will mean increased environmental damage with greater socioeconomic impacts and costs of mitigation and adaptation measures.

…Ecosystem collapse is occurring as a result of both current and emerging stressors. Stressors include chemical pollutants, agriculture run-off, sediment loads and over extraction of many components of food webs which singly and together severely impair the functioning of ecosystems.

Who will mourn the death of the seas myriad ecosystems?

Who will remember the passing of the oceans?

Some of us will.

Where are your monuments, your battles, martyrs?
Where is your tribal memory? Sirs,
in that gray vault. The sea. The sea
has locked them up. The sea is History

- The Sea is History, Derek Walcott

Mozart’s Requiem is perhaps the only fitting piece of music to commemorate the loss of the sea.