Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Coral WhisperersScientists on the Brink$

Irus Braverman

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780520298842

Published to California Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520298842.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM CALIFORNIA SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.california.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of California Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in CALSO for personal use. Subscriber: null; date: 21 September 2021

Prophet of Doom

Prophet of Doom

An Interview with Ove Hoegh-Guldberg

Chapter:
(p.55) Prophet of Doom
Source:
Coral Whisperers
Author(s):

Irus Braverman

Publisher:
University of California Press
DOI:10.1525/california/9780520298842.003.0004

Abstract and Keywords

Ove Hoegh-Guldberg is the inaugural director of the Global Change Institute and a professor of marine science at the University of Queensland, Australia. He has held academic positions at the University of California, Los Angeles, Stanford University, and the University of Sydney, and is a member of the Australian Climate Group and the Royal Society (London) Marine Advisory Network. In 1999, he was awarded the Eureka Prize for his scientific research. I interviewed Hoegh-Guldberg twice: once at the early stage of my fieldwork (February 25, 2015) and again more than two years later (May 22, 2017). I also met him in Waikiki, Hawai’i, on June 23, 2016. The following text is an edited compilation of our conversations. Hoegh-Guldberg has been cautioning about the impacts of climate change on coral reefs since the 1990s and has lobbied politicians on this front for many years. I couldn’t envision writing a chapter on global bleaching without foregrounding his narrative....

Ove Hoegh-Guldberg is the inaugural director of the Global Change Institute and a professor of marine science at the University of Queensland, Australia. He has held academic positions at the University of California, Los Angeles, Stanford University, and the University of Sydney, and is a member of the Australian Climate Group and the Royal Society (London) Marine Advisory Network. In 1999, he was awarded the Eureka Prize for his scientific research. I interviewed Hoegh-Guldberg twice: once at the early stage of my fieldwork (February 25, 2015) and again more than two years later (May 22, 2017). I also met him in Waikiki, Hawai’i, on June 23, 2016. The following text is an edited compilation of our conversations. Hoegh-Guldberg has been cautioning about the impacts of climate change on coral reefs since the 1990s and has lobbied politicians on this front for many years. I couldn’t envision writing a chapter on global bleaching without foregrounding his narrative.

IB:

  • How did you become interested in coral reefs?
  • OHG:

  • My mother and father are very much into nature. My mother used to take me down to a small river near where we lived in Sydney [Australia], equipped with a small fishing rod. I hated killing things, so I took the fish home and the fish became my pets. My Danish grandfather was a butterfly collector in his retirement, and he used to take me on expeditions, too. He’d come out from Denmark and we’d go to different places. One of the places (p.56) he took me to, in 1969, was the Great Barrier Reef. I was ten years old when I saw corals for the first time. I spent this wonderful week and a half with my two elderly grandparents, snorkeling.
  • IB:

  • Was he expecting to find butterflies in the water or—
  • OHG:

  • Well, there were butterfly fish of course [laughs], but that wasn’t the reason. He was collecting butterflies in the forest near the resort. And I was very much into collecting butterflies as well. Then I got fish tanks and collected little tiny tropical fish. So at the age of sixteen, I was spending all my time collecting fish. My parents almost moved out of their house because of the fish tanks. I was working at an oceanarium when I realized that you could actually go to the university and learn about these things. And, before I knew it, I was in my first university year at Sydney University as a research assistant for Peter Sale. We worked on an island in the Great Barrier Reef, and it was nirvana. I had arrived. It was beautiful. Every day I had to be hauled out of the water because the light was failing. And I’ve just been passionate ever since.
  • The following year I went to do my Ph.D. at UCLA. I worked with Len Muscatine, a famous coral biologist. Len had a massive influence on the field, and I was very lucky to be one of his last Ph.D. students. In the first year of my Ph.D., Len received samples of corals in the Caribbean that had started to undergo bleaching. Everyone was puzzled by it and by what it meant. No one knew anything. It was 1982–1983. Reefs in Florida went bone white, and people were sending samples to Len, asking what was going on. Was it a disease, was it natural? So I started to work on this particular issue, and by 1989 I had essentially done a Ph.D. on climate change without realizing it. I had conducted experiments to show that bleaching was related to temperature.
  • And that changed things for me. I was always a conservationist. And I loved diving. But it suddenly became clear to me that the thing I loved was now threatened. It didn’t look good. In 1999, I published a paper that cautioned that reefs could disappear by 2050.1 I did a very simple thing: I took the projections of future sea temperatures in the tropics, and then simply [compared them to] the temperatures in which corals would bleach and die. And when I put those two data sets together, I found that, basically, instead of having bleaching events every fifteen years, like we had since 1970, we would have them on an annual basis, and [that] they would be much more (p.57) intense than what we had then, by the middle of the century. I remember being hammered by my colleagues, who were attacking me, behind my back and in front of me. “How could this be? This is ridiculous. Yes, we have a problem, but this is a long way off!” It became political.
  • Since then, I’ve evolved into a much different scientist. I spend most of my time liaising [with] politicians, working with NGOs, going global. I’ve started this institute at the university here that is looking into solutions for these big global questions. It’s almost like suicide prevention.
  • IB:

  • You call it suicide prevention—that’s a bit catastrophic, isn’t it?
  • OHG:

  • Well it is, but there are solutions. I work very closely with the [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] and have been leading their ocean efforts. I’ve become a different sort of person. I’m not so depressed because I’m involved with the solutions and I’m pushing those solutions and getting those things done. Some days I wake up, and it feels like the world is small and it’s just a matter of changing some things. There is this sort of connectivity then that you start to see across the planet. There are solutions everywhere, it’s just a matter of linking those things up and leading into a future that’s really full of opportunity. Then there will be other days when I wake up and say, “Damn, it’s so big.” [The world has] seven billion people on it, and most people aren’t aware of the climate catastrophe that we’re heading toward, and so on and so forth. I mean, if we don’t arrest ourselves, we’re going to destroy ourselves. A bit like an alcoholic planet. We’re going to do all the worst things to ourselves and we’ll have only ourselves to blame for it. But we won’t quite die, we’ll be a shadow of ourselves of course.
  • IB:

  • What amazes me is that a lot of conservationists say that it’s all doomed, but then they act as if it’s hopeful. I guess that’s the only way to survive this period, mentally?
  • OHG:

  • Yeah. And, unfortunately, I probably share the point of view that a lot of what we’re doing in terms of conservation actions is futile until we stabilize the climate. I’ve been very involved in projects where we’ve grown coral back onto reefs in the Philippines using some very clever techniques. But, of course, if you haven’t solved the problem, which is warmer seas and deteriorating water quality, you’re putting coral communities there and they’re there for about a year and then they die. So you need to solve [the larger] problems.
  • (p.58) IB:

  • Isn’t this a kind of Sisyphean behavior?
  • OHG:

  • Yes it is, and that’s a good way of putting it. There’s an interesting set of psychologies here. An important one is the psychology of the reef gardener who wants to keep gardening. [Many scientists] just can’t see a future without coral reefs. They’re denying the existence of a problem because they can’t deal with it mentally.
  • IB:

  • Now, why do you call them gardeners? Do you actually have to engage in intense management of these reefs even after you restore them?
  • OHG:

  • Yes! If you put those beautiful plants down in your garden and then you go away for a couple of months, you come back and they’ll be overrun by snails and all sorts of things. Because we’ve perturbed the system, it’s not enough to just put the coral gardens down and walk away. You’ve got to then tend to them. Because you don’t have the grazing fishes any more, you’ve got to pull up the seaweeds. So it’s very much like a garden. In fact, it is gardening, it’s underwater gardening.
  • There are places from which [corals] have already disappeared. It’s not distributed evenly—some places have some, some places have none. And those places that have none, people are now trying to get in there and look at restoration techniques, and there’s a whole industry that has been emerging around restoration. Unfortunately, I am the party pooper. [Like I said,] restoration won’t work unless we stabilize the climate. I think we’re wasting a lot of money doing this sort of thing. Not to say that we shouldn’t be trying and refining the techniques and so on, but until we deal with the climate issue, [restoration] is futile. This is rearranging the chairs on the Titanic to get a better view. It’s a sort of head down, bottom up, almost burying your head in the sand, you know? Let’s just block out those horrible people, like me, who say it’s all futile. “Lalalalalala, can’t hear you!” I’m the preacher. The prophet of doom.
  • IB:

  • So tell me, why are these changes in the ecosystems something we need to be concerned about? What’s the problem with having seaweed instead of corals?
  • OHG:

  • That’s a big question—why are we worried? There are several levels at which that gets answered. At one level, there’s the beauty of nature, the uniqueness of reefs, things that go back three hundred million years. [Do we want to] live in this sliver of time in which people are putting this (p.59) ecosystem to death? I often use the analogy of The Starry Night by van Gogh. I say, well, what if we decided we’re just going to burn this painting? Get rid of it. There’d be a huge outcry because of its uniqueness. So why are we doing that with species? You know, each of those is like an impressionist artist’s work: it has existed over time, it’s never going to happen again, you can’t recreate it, [and] once it’s gone, it’s gone. So that’s one reason to lament [the major ecological crisis of our time]. The second reason to lament it is a very practical one: reefs that degrade and become algal forests are not as productive as those that are healthy, so the fish communities on degraded reefs around the world are not as abundant as those on healthy coral reefs. You lose half the species. There may be some species that benefit, but overall you get less protein per section of coastline. Coral reefs probably support five hundred million people worldwide in terms of food and nutrition. And when you degrade coral reefs, there’s less to go around.
  • The third bit is that coral reefs represent a million species, and once you lose coral reefs, you also lose those species, which are an enormous biochemical heritage. In Australia, for example, there are shellfish that have a very strong poison that can kill you. About ten different companies now make pain and heart medicine from understanding the poison of this particular organism. And that’s just one out of one million species. Another area that I work in is genomics, and it’s fascinating. We’re getting to the point now where we could really utilize this stuff very efficiently. But what we’re doing, instead, is trashing it.
  • IB:

  • What would you say to those who would suggest preserving those genotypes in non-wild situations, such as aquariums or gene banks?
  • OHG:

  • Well of course, yes—and there’s a very vibrant aquarium industry. … Actually, it is part of the insurance population, if you like, against the loss of corals elsewhere. … But it’s interesting [to consider] what would happen if we continue on our journey with climate change and end up with the only corals left growing in aquariums.
  • IB:

  • Even what we call today “the wild” will eventually become such a managed site that it won’t differ that much from that storage space, no?
  • OHG:

  • Absolutely. This idea that we go out in nature to conserve things back to the way they were is a gone concept; that changed with the industrial (p.60) revolution. What used to be weeds in our garden have now become wildlife. … We’re beyond conservation as we used to know it. [Instead,] we’re now in the game of trying to garden and manage this moving vista.
  • IB:

  • When you described your fascination with coral reefs, you didn’t speak so much about corals as important in themselves, except when you compared them to Starry Night, and then you did so indirectly. Could you say something about your relationship to the corals themselves?
  • OHG:

  • [My] fascination with corals and their diversity developed when I was an undergraduate and wrote my honors project on symbiosis in corals. I was fascinated by the idea that this ancient symbiotic relationship lives in perfect harmony and that together, coral and algae are conquering the universe. There’s a whole mutualistic vein to this that affected my psyche. I believe that there are great lessons there for every process we engage with. There is definitely a lesson about mutualism. I mean, mutualism is where we should be going—we should be trying to balance our relationships on this planet. When you do that, you get happiness.
  • IB:

  • You also called it connectivity. I liked that term.
  • OHG:

  • Yes, before we destroy our wonderful civilization, we are progressing toward a higher level of understanding and respect for balance. Really, two things have happened to us that destroyed the earth. One was Victorian England and the notion of survival of the fittest. … The second was post–World War II, when we had this unfettered rise of technology without consideration for balance. After those two shocks, we’ve moved away from a world in which we can expect to ever go back to balance. It will be a new world, a mixture of species that have not been seen on the planet ever before.
  • IB:

  • So there are disruptions, but then a new balance is found, until another disruption happens and a new balance is sought. Is that what you mean?
  • OHG:

  • If you watch a person stumbling and they’re sort of falling forward [as they] manage to keep going—that’s what we’ve got. We’re no longer the sort of robust person that’s standing perfectly balanced. The earth is stumbling on its journey, and what we have to do is make it stumble less. But how do we do that? The earth is on a treadmill, [and] the treadmill’s going faster and faster.
  • (p.61) IB:

  • I see—thanks for the clarification. Could you perhaps say more about why your work focuses on corals? You were interested in symbiosis, but aren’t there plenty of other examples of symbiotic relationships in the marine environment?
  • OHG:

  • Well, corals are unique because they build geological structures that you can see from outer space. I was pretty captivated by this very simple organism that had lived for millions of years and had created limestone deposits which shaped things like the French and Italian Alps of today. All of these places are made of limestone built, essentially, from the symbiosis between corals and these tiny plants. There are other contributors to those formations, but a significant part of them were these amazing reef systems, which depended on symbiosis—you give me sunlight and organic energy, and I’ll give you nutrients back. We need more people out there communicating about what is happening to corals and getting to everyone, from American dads to Ethiopian grandmothers to Swedish teens. That’s the only way the world will change.
  • IB:

  • Tropical reef-building corals have this symbiotic relationship, but not all corals do. So do you think nonsymbiotic corals should be part of this story?
  • OHG:

  • Thousands of meters below the surface there are the Lophelia reefs, which are really important for fish habitat. The deep-sea corals are real specialists. At two thousand meters, it’s dark, it’s cold—it’s probably six degrees Celsius—there’s no light, you feed exclusively on particles, and you produce these very fragile skeletons that form a bit of their habitat, which is very extensive. But those corals are never going to replenish the warm-water reefs of the future, or mitigate the damage they have suffered. Just take the six degrees in temperature change: moving to warmer waters would kill these cold-water corals. The tropical corals are the ones that have one million species living on them. The Lophelia reefs of the deep, dark seas have very low diversity by comparison.
  • When you’re in the warm tropics, 95 percent or more of the corals form a symbiosis with tiny algae, and those algae are really important. First we realized how the algae lived within the corals; the next revolution was when scientists started to realize that maybe there are bacteria living in harmony with the corals, too. That then led to our modern understanding of corals, what we call holobionts. You know, there’s maybe as many as a hundred (p.62) different organisms living in and around corals that determine whether corals are healthy or not. This understanding only emerged in the 1990s. Nobody was thinking about that before. Once we got to the point where we could take tiny amounts of DNA in and around corals, we actually found a large number of other things living in this association, which we roughly call a coral.
  • IB:

  • I like the idea of seeing a coral as an association. The coral is like a network, an assemblage, right?
  • OHG:

  • Right. It’s not just a single animal, or even two animals, it’s a continuum of organisms that are all living and surviving together. And that’s going to be really crucial as we go forward in time, as we change things around this complex consortium. Because we’re going to have to really understand what makes a healthy coral, and it appears that these bacteria may have a very important role in their health.
  • Recently, we’ve been working a lot on mesophotic coral communities—those corals that live right at the edge of the depths in which corals can actually survive with photosynthesis, [which is] at about one hundred meters. We’ve been exploring whether mesophotic corals could act as a refuge against climate change. Members of my team have been issuing high-definition population markers to figure out whether corals that live in the deep actually supply baby corals to the shallows. As it turns out, some do and some don’t. After a climate catastrophe like the one that we’re crafting, some corals in the deep may be the source of new corals in the shallows. But it looks like for a very large number of corals, if they tried to have their babies in the shallows those babies would die.
  • IB:

  • You are referred to in the coral community as the “doom-and-gloom bloke.”
  • OHG:

  • Now vindicated.
  • IB:

  • Can you tell me about this vindication?
  • OHG:

  • Like I said, in 1999, I published research that suggested that all reefs could disappear by 2050. Everybody said that I was too gloomy. But as it turns out, I was right—unfortunately. And so we’re now seeing bleaching events happening year after year, instead of once every fifteen years. This was completely predicted. Given the gravity of the situation, it’s no (p.63) wonderful thing that I was proven to be right, because it’s the worst thing on the planet—it’s a sure sign that we’re losing the world’s most biologically diverse ecosystem outside of rainforests. It’s also a really bad sign that we are rapidly heading toward an ecological disaster, not only in coral reefs but also for the rest of the planet. Because of their conservative nature, scientists had underestimated the rate at which this is happening. It’s actually happening faster than even I thought it would.
  • IB: So

  • how do you suggest moving forward?
  • OHG:

  • This is where the 50 Reefs project comes in, [which is] an idea … formulated during the [2015] Paris climate talks. First, we’ve got to stabilize ocean conditions as quickly as possible. That’s number one. The second thing we’ve got to do is to recognize that even if we do achieve the Paris goals, we will lose 80 to 90 percent of the world’s coral reefs, so we’ve got to plan for the future. Once we have stabilized ocean conditions, we need to have a healthy stock of corals still on the planet. There will be only 10 percent of what we had before, but these corals will reseed future reef systems. So it’s a two-step process: stabilize ocean conditions … and identify those reefs that are likely to survive climate change and look after them. Nothing else makes sense.
  • And that’s what the 50 Reefs project is about. This is an all-hands-on-deck moment: we need to get ahead and plan for the long term. There’s nothing else you can do. If you don’t solve the climate problem, no amount of genetic engineering will get you anywhere near having a coral reef again. Then do your best to identify those reefs that have the best chance of surviving to the future and make sure they aren’t wiped out by local factors such as water quality and pollution sediments.
  • IB:

  • How do you figure out, right now, what the important reefs of the future are going to be in what will probably be a very different ecosystem? How do you do that?
  • OHG:

  • It’s basically looking at as many properties as possible and optimizing [the process]. So you get reefs that are showing the slowest rate of change, and then you look to make sure you’re preserving those reefs that are going to represent biological diversity, and then you look at the connectivity of those reefs, and at the end of the day you evolve an optimal set of reefs. Fifty is not the limit on this program. It could be that after the first (p.64) fifty, we then move to the next fifty. And it’s also not about saying that these reefs are the only ones you should preserve.
  • IB:

  • So have you created a set of scientific criteria for choosing these fifty reefs?
  • OHG:

  • We’ve taken twelve of the leading scientists on coral reefs and we’re now looking at all these different types of questions. How do you isolate those fifty areas of the world that have a really good chance of surviving the coming climate change challenge? Because even with the Paris agreement, we still have to go up by half a degree in average global temperature. Just look at the wreck the first one degree has brought and you will realize that we’re headed toward tough times. We need to make sure that we save as much coral as possible so that in 2050, when we’re in our dirge, reefs will be regenerating again.
  • IB:

  • So, at the end of the day, Mr. Doom and Gloom is actually optimistic?
  • OHG:

  • I’m neither. I’m not crying, and I’m not shouting hallelujah. If we’re going to turn this around, we need to get busy. On the one hand, I think there’s a real good chance that this will work. On the other hand, there are so many surprises in this climate change business—[and] who knows what the next challenges [will] bring for corals … One thing’s for sure: if we do nothing, we [will] lose coral reefs within twenty to forty years.
  • IB:

  • You’re not in favor of restoration before we stabilize the climate. But how is restoration different from choosing fifty reefs and protecting them right now?
  • OHG:

  • It’s so different. At the moment, if you go out and try to restore a reef, all those wonderful corals will get hammered by the next warming episode. So, restoration is not for today: it should be about doing the research we need to make restoration a possibility in the future. For our project, we want to choose those reefs that will survive. So we’re not restoring reefs, we’re trying to protect as much as we can for when the climate has stabilized. Those fifty reefs will still be exposed to climate impacts, but the key will be to make sure that those reefs that are showing the best signs of surviving are not being destroyed by non-climate factors, such as pollution, overfishing, and so on.
  • (p.65) IB:

  • How do you feel about genetically producing hardier corals, rather than identifying and protecting them as in your 50 Reefs project?
  • OHG:

  • I think we need to try genetic engineering. … But we’ve got to be really careful not to pretend that we have a silver bullet, because there are no silver bullets. We will lose coral reefs in forty years if we don’t act quickly. That is what I predicted all those years ago. Now we need to deploy a wide variety of solutions. Some of my colleagues may criticize people for acting, but I criticize them for not acting. We need to get out there and make mistakes so that we learn how to take an ecosystem through a climate shift. That’s what we’ve got to do.
  • IB:

  • You’re not much of a doom-and-gloom guy. You’re very disappointing [laughs].
  • OHG:

  • [laughs] Oh, on the right day, you can certainly catch me gloomy. But then I think it through and realize that there will be an urgent shift to alternative technologies. What we’re seeing with Trump in the American presidency is the last gasps of the fossil fuel industry. Yes, it will be terrible for about four years. [But] with the backdrop of increasing storm disturbances that will be harming Americans, and [with] a loss of coral reefs on a scale like you’ve never seen before, what will happen is that even the dumbest politician is going to get on board. And that’s already going on. Let’s take the Republicans. Five years ago, they weren’t able to utter the words “climate change.” But there’s been a subtle shift in that party, and now most of the reasonable ones are going, “You know what, we can’t deny it any longer. It’s happening.”
  • IB:

  • It seems like the Australians have until recently been more focused on a protection scheme, whereas the Caribbean scientists have been working more on restoration and other technologies. Could you explain these regional differences in management approaches?
  • OHG:

  • The Caribbean definitely felt the impacts of climate change first. It was hidden among ideas that it was about local pollution, but if you look back you can see that the disease outbreaks were probably triggered by warmer-than-normal temperatures. The Caribbean is a smaller sea—it has probably undergone more changes than the Pacific. The people in the Caribbean were living that change since the 1970s. Since then, they lost at (p.66) least 80 percent of their coral populations. That came well before the big events that characterized many other parts of the world. So the Caribbean has been a bit of an experimental playground. And this has taught us a lot of salient lessons as we go forward. But the key point is that the Pacific is now showing impacts on that scale. We’re probably about twenty years behind the Caribbean. These differences have shaped local perspectives. Up until 2016, we’d only had one bleaching event in Australia, and we lost maybe 5 or 10 percent total.
  • IB:

  • In the past, Australian scientists veered toward more traditional conservation. Do you think they are now moving toward more interventionist efforts, like in the Caribbean?
  • OHG:

  • Definitely. That’s where we are headed in Australia—we’re headed toward more intervention. It’s the difference between trying to manage for the past, to restore what you had, versus developing an ecosystem that functions like a coral reef, but has different elements. Because things can’t live where they used to live, they’re going to be different. And so we may see the same old ecosystems in some places, but with different players. But we may also see novel ecosystems—things that have not existed before, like lionfish on Caribbean reef systems. And we need to manage for those. I know that in Australia people are now looking at management with a new lens. Rather than preserve the old-growth forest that just burned down and try to recreate it, we’re moving toward maybe plantation corals, like plantation forests. These are the ways things are changing. We’re not trying to restore the past. We’re trying to create something that functions like a reef and provides ecosystem services like the reefs of the past, but is maybe composed of very different organisms than the ones that were there fifty years ago. Conservation is not about trying to get the past to come back. We need to design a strategy to preserve the diversity of coral reefs in these very unusual and dangerous times.
  • IB:

  • Even if you don’t know which diversity to focus on because it’s going to change significantly?
  • OHG:

  • That’s right. So, one of the criteria would be a very broad portfolio of reef systems, so that you capture as many opportunities to get those reefs through and to the future. You see what I mean?
  • (p.67) IB:

  • Yes. Thanks. To wrap up, could you tell me how you feel about what has happened in the last thirty years, from a more emotional standpoint?
  • OHG:

  • If you mean to ask if I am emotional about this, then yes, I am emotional. I was crying in the 1990s. But at a certain point, you get over that grief and you get on with finding solutions. This is the last bus on the line, our last chance to stabilize conditions in the ocean through switching away from fossil fuels within the next twenty years. There couldn’t be a more important question in the history of our species than whether or not we destroy the planet’s biosphere. And so this keeps me captivated and I probably will never retire because I wouldn’t feel comfortable about retiring until we’ve done our utmost best to make sure that this nightmare doesn’t end the way many scientists think it will. …
  • We had lots of time in the 1990s to put in place a transition to renewable technologies at a pace that wouldn’t have been too painful. But we’ve left it right up to the last moment. So it’s going to be a very painful transition, but it’s still possible. Go another decade, and it won’t be possible. And it won’t be only corals that will be in trouble, it will be all of us.
  • IB:

  • You were involved in the Paris Agreement. Can you tell me about it?
  • OHG:

  • I decided that what we needed to do was to bring the issue of coral reefs to the attention of as many leaders as possible as they gathered in Paris. So we worked toward having exhibits [and] we had a big night at the museum of oceanography in Paris, where we brought together Sir David Attenborough, Sir Richard Branson, and various others. We talked about the fate of the Great Barrier Reef. Then, two months later, it was actually happening—the reef was dying. So I spent all that time trying to get the message across that this ecosystem, like many other ecosystems, in fact all other ecosystems, was doomed.
  • Science has to get outside of its ivory tower. And that’s not to say that we don’t do good science, but we must communicate it to everyone. As I said, it’s that American dad, Ethiopian grandmother, and Swedish teen. Everybody on the planet has to understand this. So it’s about getting outside our comfort zone and communicating our science effectively so that people understand the problems.
  • IB:

  • When people understand, do they actually care?
  • (p.68) OHG:

  • They do. You get a lot of, dare I say, self-assured sort of businesspeople who think they don’t need to listen to the science. But once you slow them down and get them to listen, they become really concerned. They become concerned that it’s so desperate, and they become concerned they haven’t heard about it before. … That’s [an issue of] communication. Regular citizens need to take their households, their communities, and their electoral districts to zero carbon as quickly as possible. We need to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that we’re putting into the atmosphere. That’s the problem, and of course that’s the solution as well. (p.69)
  • (p.70)

    Notes:

    (1.) Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, “Climate Change, Coral Bleaching and the Future of the World’s Coral Reefs,” Marine and Freshwater Research 50 (1999): 839–866.