Please select your home edition
Edition
Protector 728x90

Humanity may be able to avert major environmental catastrophes

by ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies on 27 Nov 2012
.
Humanity might be able to avert major environmental catastrophes that now loom if it learns to make better use of ‘borrowed time’, an eminent marine biologist will tell the Australian Academy of Science in Canberra tomorrow.

'There is mounting evidence that we have already passed or may soon pass several critical boundaries affecting life on Earth, as well as our own future wellbeing,' the director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University, Professor Terry Hughes, says.

Prof Hughes’ comments come as government leaders from around the world gather in Doha for the United Nation’s Climate Conference (Nov 26-Dec7) to try to impart new momentum to stalled efforts to prevent 4-6 degrees of global warming.

He is lead author of a new paper by an international scientific team in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution (TREE) which argues that while more and more of the planet’s environments are approaching major regime shifts – or points of no-return – there may still be time to save them.

The pressure of human activities and demands on the planet’s resources is shifting many of its familiar ecosystems to unfamiliar states, often much less productive and less able to support ourselves and other life, Prof. Hughes explains. These are known as ‘tipping points’ or regime changes.

'For example, there are signs the Arctic will soon shift to an ice-free condition in summer, which is a profound change, occurring just in our lifetime. In the Amazon Basin, clearing of jungle could move the whole region to a much drier state. Both of these changes affect human livelihoods as well as wildlife.

'In coral reefs, too, we see the impact of bleaching and other human pressures causing a shift from a coral-dominated ecosystem to one dominated by seaweeds, in which the rich diversity of the reef is lost. This in turn directly affects hundreds of millions of humans whose livelihoods depend on coral reefs,' Prof. Hughes says.

However the scientists say the good news is that many of these profound shifts take place over quite long time periods – decades or even centuries – and this gives humanity time to act wisely to prevent irreversible and dangerous damage from occurring.

'In effect we are living dangerously, on borrowed time – and we need to learn how to take early action to prevent ecosystems from approaching a tipping point,' he says.

The researchers say that when the decline in an ecosystem is sudden and dramatic, this often prompts society to take action.

Of greater concern is where the ecosystem degrades steadily over years or even generations before flipping into a new, unproductive state. It is human nature that we often fail to notice this gradual change.

'The human imagination is poorly equipped for dealing with distant future events that contemporary generations unconsciously discount,' the researchers say.

For example, 'it is hard enough to reach a societal consensus that anthropogenic climate change is real today – let alone to convince people of the longer-term threat (from current greenhouse gas emissions) of acidification in the deep ocean in 500–2000 years from now,' they add.

Today it appears 'that human activities are already slowly pushing many ecological and Earth systems closer to regional- and planetary-scale thresholds' – adding that it is possible some of these have already been crossed.

'Nevertheless, delayed responses displayed by slow systems might provide an important window of opportunity to navigate to a safer state,' they conclude.

'The most important slow regime-shift is a social one: convincing enough people to move away from ‘business-as-usual’ thinking before time runs out,' Professor Hughes says. 'Today this is a challenge for governments, managers, scientists and society alike, all over the world.'

He will present his paper to the Second Australian Earth System Outlook Conference, hosted by the AAS in the Shine Dome, Canberra, Nov 26-27, at 9.50 am tomorrow, as part of the session dealing with tipping points affecting Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

The article 'Living dangerously on borrowed time during slow, unrecognized regime shifts' by Terry P. Hughes, Cristina Linares, Vasilis Dakos, Ingrid A. van de Leemput and Egbert H Van Nes, appears in the online journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution (TREE).

http://www.coralcoe.org.au/
Sydney Harbour Boat Storage 660x82GAC PindarLancer 40 years

Related Articles

An intense opening in Bermuda for the Race for Water crew
The crew of the Race for Water had been looking forward to the first stopover of their five-year Odyssey in Bermuda The crew of the Race for Water had been looking forward to the first stopover of their five-year Odyssey in Bermuda – but it has not been a holiday since they arrived safely in port 10 days ago. Although, after a month crossing the Atlantic, using only the power of the sun and the wind, the crew were happy to get their feet back on dry land and to be joined by some reinforcements....
Posted on 31 May
Coast Guard, locals rescue 44 stranded on breakwall in Provincetown
Coast Guard, Provincetown Harbormaster, and TowBoatUS Provincetown responded Sunday to 44 people stranded on a breakwall The Coast Guard, Provincetown Harbormaster, and TowBoatUS Provincetown responded Sunday to 44 people stranded on a breakwall near MacMillans Pier in Provincetown. The local fire department alerted watchstanders at Coast Guard Sector Southeastern New England to the situation at 1:47 p.m,
Posted on 29 May
Reef Summit sets new course of action for the Great Barrier Reef
A blueprint to respond to coral bleaching and other recent impacts on Great Barrier Reef was focus of Reef Summit A blueprint to respond to coral bleaching and other recent impacts on the Great Barrier Reef was the focus of this week’s two-day Reef Summit in Townsville, Australia. Hosted by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, the summit — Managing for resilience— was the first of its kind for the Reef and involved more than 70 leading marine experts from around the world.
Posted on 26 May
Race for Water Odyssey - Kitting across the Atlantic
After a month at sea, sailing from Lorient to Bermuda, crew of revolutionary Race for Water vessel has been learning art After a month at sea, sailing from Lorient to Bermuda, the crew of the revolutionary Race for Water vessel has been learning the art, and the science, of their high-altitude kite. Currently in the middle of the Atlantic, the Race for Water is averaging five knots towards Bermuda, which will be the first stopover of this five year Odyssey focused on promoting ocean preservation.
Posted on 10 May
Debbie says the 8thP with Insurance is Patience (Pt.II)
We’re back to keep exploring the nature of TC Debbie and how she came to tell us about the eighth P of insurance We’re back to keep exploring the nature of TC Debbie and how she came to tell us about the eighth P of insurance. We looked at what it was like to come into a disaster zone and now we see the evidence of those that did the right thing, and how the area is already on the road to recovery.
Posted on 25 Apr
Ayr, Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays to meet Cyclone Debbie
Having intensified to a Cat4 TC now, Debbie is expected to hit during the course of Monday night and into Tuesday mornin Having intensified to a Cat3 TC now and Cat4 when it will make landfall, Debbie is expected to hit during the course of Monday night and into Tuesday morning (0400hrs). Thus far, there have been police enforced evacuations around Ayr, as it is expected that this will be the biggest event since the all-powerful TC5 Yasi hit back in 2011. There are also reports of residents refusing to leave
Posted on 26 Mar
Coral Bleaching Again - Call to Action
Last week I attended latest Reef 2050 Long Term Sustainability Plan meeting of the Reef Advisory Committee in Brisbane It has become abundantly obvious to CAREFISH that climate change has eventuated and massive scale disruption and or destruction of our environment, particularly the Great Barrier Reef (GBR), is currently being experienced and is escalating. Whilst it is acknowledged that Governments are attending to some aspects and attempting to mitigate effect...
Posted on 22 Mar
There is always something to learn…
Did you know that Marlins have a gland near their eye that secrets oil that is thought to make them even more slippery Did you know that broadbill swordfish have a gland near their eye that secrets a special oil that is thought to make them even more slippery through the water? Until about a year ago, no one did! Also, did you know that the Oceanic White Tip Shark has special sensory structures in its head that act like a natural GPS utilising the earth’s geomagnetic field to locate itself in our vast oceans....
Posted on 9 Mar
Vibrant Life in Northern sector of the Great Barrier Reef
If you're curious about state of Great Barrier Reef north of Cairns, dive into world of Cairns local, Jemma Craig. If you're curious about the state of the Great Barrier Reef north of Cairns, take a minute to dive into the world of Cairns local, Jemma Craig.The 24-year old took the chance to document her first scuba dive on the reefs surrounding Raine Island, an area reported last year as being severely affected by coral bleaching.
Posted on 20 Jan
The Deepwater Horizon aftermath
Researchers analyze 125 compounds from oil spilled in Gulf of Mexico to determine their longevity at different levels. Researchers analyze 125 compounds from oil spilled in the Gulf of Mexico to determine their longevity at different contamination levels. The oil discharged into the Gulf of Mexico following the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) rig in 2010 contaminated more than 1,000 square miles of seafloor.
Posted on 1 Jan